Section I: Introduction

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1 ANALYSIS OF RACE TO THE TOP: EARLY LEARNING CHALLENGE APPLICATION SECTION ON SUSTAINING EFFECTS INTO THE EARLY ELEMENTARY GRADES 1 JUNE 2012 Section I: Introduction In 2011, as part of the Race to the Top education reform initiative, the US departments of Education and Health and Human Services jointly announced a new, $500 million grant competition called the Early Learning Challenge. The purpose of the Race to the Top- Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) was to improve the early learning and development of young children (from birth to age 5) by supporting states efforts to increase access to high-quality early learning programs, especially among low-income and high-needs populations, and to develop and implement a more integrated early care and education system that promotes a coordinated strategy for quality improvement. State applicants were asked to develop plans that had the following components: Successful state systems High-quality, accountable programs Promotion of early learning and development outcomes for children A great early childhood education workforce, and Measurement of outcomes and progress In addition, states had the option to address a few invitational priorities that were of interest to the departments, but did not contribute to the scoring of the applications. One of these priorities sustaining program effects in the early elementary grades dealt with the linkage and alignment of reform activities at the early childhood level with those at the early elementary grades. Even though states did not receive any credit for developing a plan for this priority, they could invest RTT-ELC funds to support the activities if they were awarded the grant. 1 Thank you to Harriet Dichter, currently Director, Delaware Early Childhood Education Race to the Top Office and formerly Vice President, National Policy, Ounce of Prevention Fund and Albert Wat, Senior Policy Analyst, National Governors Association for researching and writing this analysis.

2 Of the 37 RTT-ELC applications, 18 included a plan for this invitational priority. 2 Based on an analysis of these plans, this brief highlights: Trends and promising ideas from states proposals for sustaining impacts from early childhood programs into the early elementary grades Further opportunities that state policymakers can take to strengthen their work in this area Through this discussion, we hope to surface opportunities where states whether they have a RTT-ELC grant or not can collaborate with each other to address common goals and challenges. The brief can also inform the strategies of state or national philanthropies and technical assistance providers to support states efforts to sustain children s learning and development by aligning early childhood practices and policies with those in early elementary grades. Section II: Trends in State Proposals The RTT-ELC guidance did not restrict approaches to sustain the impacts of early childhood programs into elementary grades, but did suggest that states could develop plans around the following goals: Enhancing the state s current standards for kindergarten through grade 3 to align with the Early Learning and Development Standards across all Essential Domains of School Readiness Ensuring that transition planning occurs for children moving from early learning and development programs to elementary schools Promoting health and family engagement, including in the early grades Increasing the percentage of children who are able to read and do mathematics at grade level by the end of the 3 rd grade Leveraging existing federal, state and local resources, including but not limited to funds received under Title I and Title II of ESEA, as amended, and IDEA Table 1 summarizes the strategies that states mentioned, including those that went beyond the topics suggested by the federal government s guidance. 3 2 The 18 states completing this section are: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington 3 This table includes only strategies that the 18 states described in this section of the RTT-ELC application. It s possible that states including the 19 that didn t address this priority discussed other relevant strategies in other parts of their grant application, but they would not be captured by this analysis. 2

3 Table 1 Summary of Major Responses to Invitational Priority on Sustaining Program Effects in the Early Elementary Grades Strategy States Currently States Planning to 1. Standards: Enhancing all or some K 3 standards beyond math and reading by adding comprehensive domains of development 2. Standards: Aligning some or all of the state s early learning standards with Common Core or K 3 standards 3. Assessments: Use of comprehensive assessment approach in all or part of the K 3 continuum 4. Leadership credentialing and professional development: Integrating early learning content into public education leadership credential requirements and/or professional development opportunities 5. Teacher professional development: Provide professional development opportunities that help early learning and early elementary teachers align their approaches and practices 6. Local/regional alignment initiatives: Community-based efforts to increase alignment and continuity between early learning and K 12 Implementing 1 HI 3 MS, NE, OH 1 PA 4 OH, WA, HI, PA Implement or Expand 10 AZ, CT, CO, KS, MA, NE, NC, NM, OH, WA 2 AZ, NV 3 CO, MA, NC 2 CT, NC 6 AZ, CT, KS, MD, NE, NV 5 CT, DE, MA, NV, NC Strategies that were encouraged by the RTT-ELC application guidelines. 3

4 7. Transition planning from 2 AZ, OH 2 AZ, NE early learning to kindergarten 8. High-needs children: Ensuring 1 OH 3 NC, OH, PA high-needs populations have access to high-quality services from early childhood through the primary grades 9. Focus on reading and math: 3 RI, WA, AZ 5 AZ, MA, NV, OK, PA Developing a 0 8 or PreK 3 4 plan for increasing grade level proficiency in math and/or reading 10. Governance: Reform 1 NC 1 CT governance structures to facilitate P 3 alignment 11. Improving family communications and engagement, including health 3 AZ, HI, OH 4 MA, NE, NV, CO Strategies that were encouraged by the RTT-ELC application guidelines. 4 This brief uses the term PreK-3 to describe reforms that affect policies and practices in these 5 grade levels. The term, P-3, is used to refer to reforms efforts that increase alignment and coordination of policies and practices between any part of the early childhood spectrum (0-5) and the K-3 grades. 4

5 LEARNING STANDARDS The most common plan by the states is enhancing their current standards for kindergarten through 3 rd grade by aligning them with the comprehensive domains of development typically found in states early learning standards. Hawaii s existing K 12 General Learning Outcomes (GLO) already focuses on student effort, work habits and behavior through goals related to children becoming self-directed learners, community contributors, complex thinkers and effective communicators. Other states indicated that they planned to expand their early elementary standards to include comprehensive domains of development. For example, Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington indicated that they plan to address most or all of the domains of schools readiness in their K 3 standards. Nebraska proposed to tackle expansion of the domains of development for their kindergarten standards. Some states focused more narrowly on aligning standards only for certain content areas (usually reading and math) or certain grades. Mississippi and Nebraska both reported that they had already aligned their early learning standards with their kindergarten standards, with Nebraska specifying that this was restricted to math and reading. Arizona indicated that it planned to fully align the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which focus on reading and math with the state s early learning standards. ASSESSMENTS Two states proposed to broaden their approach to assessment in the early grades. North Carolina described a plan to extend authentic assessment of all domains of readiness starting at kindergarten through 3 rd grade. Massachusetts proposed to develop comprehensive formative assessment measures, along with environmental quality measures, to measure growth for children from pre-k to 2 nd grade. TEACHER AND LEADER DEVELOPMENT Some states proposed strategies to increase K 12 instructional leaders capacity to support high-quality practices in early elementary grades. Existing work in Pennsylvania includes an Early Childhood Executive Leadership Institute, a 5-day annual training held in regions across the state that helps principals, superintendents, early childhood directors and other administrators to better support instruction from birth to grade 4. Connecticut described a 3 to 3 Leadership Development Initiative with similar goals. North Carolina proposed to organize professional development institutes for principals, teacher leaders and central office staff to increase school and district capacity to implement PreK 3 reforms. Other states focused on teachers training and professional development. Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska and Nevada all proposed to provide joint professional development for early learning and early elementary teachers and 5

6 administrators. In Arizona, local PreK-3 leadership teams would receive training on transition and instructional strategies, using the Response to Intervention approach as a common framework. Connecticut proposed to provide training to PreK-3 teachers to help them understand the to-be-aligned standards from age 3 to grade 3 and implement evidence-based practices to support the standards. Kansas described plans to train teachers on using early childhood assessment data, including those from the state s kindergarten entry assessment, to make classroom decisions and provide support to families with high needs. Maryland proposed to launch new institutes Leadership in Early Learning Academies for pre-k through 2 nd grade educators in Title I schools with high-needs children to focus on instructional practices in areas such as the Common Core, revised early learning and development standards, assessment and data, transition planning, and health and family engagement. In Nebraska, specialists from the state department of education would help develop school-community partnerships that provide joint training for both schools and community-based providers so that they can help children successfully bridge early childhood and early elementary systems. Finally, Nevada proposed to develop a community of practice to support Common Core implementation that includes both early childhood educators and public school teachers. TRANSITION PRACTICES Transition planning involves focusing on the time period between preschool and kindergarten. In Arizona, schools are required to submit information about their transition practices to the state. The state now proposed to extend this work by creating a model Kindergarten Transition Plan that can inform districts strategies. Through the SPARK initiative, Ohio has a long history of supporting families to prepare high-needs four-yearolds for kindergarten. The state described plans to expand this model into rural communities. Nebraska proposed a multi-prong strategy. The state proposed plans to use coaches through its QRIS to help early childhood providers support children s transition into kindergarten. Meanwhile, the state would provide early learning coordinators in regional Educational Service Units to work with K 12 teachers to improve coordination with early learning providers. Another prong would use Health and Community Resources consultants to address the health, dental care and social-emotional needs of children through the transition into kindergarten. Finally, districts operating state-funded pre-k programs would be encouraged to organize joint professional development for prek and kindergarten teachers and enhance their communication and coordination with each other. LOCAL OR REGIONAL ALIGNMENT INITIATIVES Several states discussed promoting continuity across early learning and early elementary grades through a place-based or regional strategy. Since 2008, Ohio has implemented a Ready Schools Initiative that helps schools and early childhood providers work together to align and coordinate their services and practices. (The state has created a resource guide to help more schools adopt this model.) In Washington, state and private funding have supported multiple initiatives across the state to implement local PreK 3 reforms, 6

7 including annual conferences, regional grants to support district improvements, and PreK 3 alignment grants to districts. Similarly, Hawaii s P 3 initiative currently works in five regions of the state with 11 early childhood programs and 49 elementary schools to promote a P 3 framework aligning reading standards, curriculum and assessments, while building stronger linkages in other key areas such as health and family engagement. States that proposed local or regional approaches include Nevada, where a local pilot is planned for PreK 3 reform to increase professional development alignment, teacher preparation, instructional tools and practices, and family engagement. North Carolina has identified certain high-needs communities as Transformation Zones, and proposed to focus its PreK 3 reforms, such as improving the use of classroom and child assessment data, in these areas. Delaware described plans to create Readiness Teams in up to 20 high-need communities with low-achieving elementary schools. These teams would use a ready families plus ready communities plus ready schools model to address issues such as transition from preschool to kindergarten, linkages between the early learning standards and the Common Core, and aligning expectations and practices across early education programs and elementary schools. Other states are providing funds for districts or communities to design their own alignment efforts. In Pennsylvania, the Local Education and Resource Network (LEARN) teams provide resources to schools and early childhood stakeholders to develop a comprehensive approach to school readiness and transition planning and implementation. In Massachusetts, the Department of Early Education and Care and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education jointly administer grants to districts to help them form local PreK-3 partnerships that better coordinate schools practices and services with early childhood providers. Massachusetts also proposed to use the state s top educational leadership to communicate with superintendents, private donors and educational stakeholders about the connections between early learning and public schools. The state proposed holding regional meetings to address early intervention in public school transition, family engagement, and supports for high-needs children and English language learners. A comparable set of regional meetings on these topics would be held with the early childhood education community. FOCUS ON MATH AND READING Some states have already begun working on sustaining learning gains in the areas of math and reading. Rhode Island is currently requiring screening of all PreK 3 students each year to identify children who need more intensive reading interventions. Washington has also been working on literacy through a Birth through Grade 12 Comprehensive Literacy Plan that provides guidelines for standards, assessment, leadership and systems change. The state also provides regional coordinators to help districts align strategies in both math and literacy from pre-k through the later grades. Looking forward, as part of its Move On When Reading initiative, which requires schools to retain 3 rd -graders who fall far below on reading assessment, Arizona proposed to 7

8 provide additional training for teachers and engage with communities on school readiness, chronic absenteeism, and summer learning loss to avoid 3 rd grade reading retention. Nevada s State Literacy Plan aims to promote collaboration with early childhood education organizations to ensure the use of consistent, research-based methods, coordinate P 3 activities, provide professional development to align literacy curriculum, and offer training to home visitors and other parent support professionals. Under new legislation, Oklahoma will integrate early identification strategies in its pre-k program while conducting ongoing assessments during the K 3 years to identify children in need of more intensive support. In Pennsylvania, leveraging its early childhood education and K-12 longitudinal data systems, the state proposed to work with the Mid- Atlantic Regional Education Lab to conduct research on factors that contribute to gradelevel proficiency in math and reading by the end of kindergarten as well as 3 rd grade. FAMILY ENGAGEMENT Federal guidelines suggested states address aligning family engagement and health services, but most states focused on the former. To sustain gains made through early learning programs, Arizona includes in its Response to Intervention model a family engagement component, in which parents and early elementary teachers meet three times a year for 75 minutes to review academic student performance, set parent-student academic goals, and discuss and practice targeted skills, among other activities. A number of states included family engagement strategies to support children s development from the earliest years into the elementary grades, in part, through connecting them to other community resources (e.g., health) and building their capacity to support their children s learning and growth at home. As mentioned before, Nebraska discussed plans to put Health Resource Hubs in public schools, allowing for continuous health services for families who have children transition from early childhood to the public education system. Nevada proposed creating a new Office of Parental Involvement and Family Engagement within its department of education that will oversee and support districts efforts in this area from preschool through high school. In Ohio, local school boards are required to adopt a family engagement policy for pre-k through grade 12, with recommended integration of these policies with Head Start, HIPPY, and public schools. In Massachusetts, both the Department of Education and Department of Early Care and Education planned to use the Strengthening Families framework to design family engagement strategies that are aligned from birth through 3 rd grade. The state also proposed to allocate some of their RTT-ELC grant to identify the core elements that have made community-family partnerships across the state successful and design a plan to expand them to high-need communities. 8

9 Section III: Promising Approaches and Future Opportunities This analysis of the 18 plans to sustain program effects in the early elementary grades also surfaced some critical areas that states may need to address more substantively to ensure that practices and policies in the later grades reinforce the reforms they make in their early care and education systems. In some cases, a few states have developed promising approaches that other states may want to examine more closely. IMPROVING K 3 INSTRUCTION AND OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN Few proposals focused on improving, not just aligning, instructional practices. With increasing research demonstrating the need to improve K 3 instruction 5 and the benefits of high-quality full-day kindergarten, 6 states may need to determine whether early elementary grades have the capacity to sustain the benefits that children reap from early learning programs while providing a strong foundation for these children s future success. Of the 18 states submitted proposals in this section, only one Washington discussed their plans for expanding full-day kindergarten across the state. North Carolina was the only state that mentioned using research-based observation instruments, the CLASS and Snapshot, to assess and improve the quality of instruction in PreK 3 classrooms. Moreover, to the extent that states proposals discussed sustaining impacts in specific content areas or skills, they tend to focus on literacy (Arizona, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts), and of these, some also included plans for promoting math proficiency. Even though many states proposed making their K 3 standards more comprehensive and reflective of early learning best practices, no proposals went beyond the application guidelines and mentioned K 3 strategies that build on the gains that children have made in social-emotional and other non-academic skills before kindergarten or 1 st grade. USING ALIGNED STANDARDS TO INFORM P 3 RD GRADE HUMAN CAPITAL POLICIES In order to make aligned P 3 learning standards that address comprehensive domains of development meaningful, states need early elementary teachers and instructional leaders who are equipped to work effectively with younger students and to integrate the skills of social-emotional development, self-regulation, and executive functions, into everyday 5 Measuring and Improving Teacher-Student Interactions in PK 12 Settings to Enhance Students Learning, 6 Full-Day Kindergarten: Expanding Learning Opportunities, 9

10 classroom interactions. Many of the states proposals discussed in-service professional development strategies to support this goal. However, no state addressed teacher and administration preparation and credential programs. Research shows that typical teacher preparation programs tend not to focus on educators ability to foster these soft skills or to implement developmentally-appropriate practices. 7 States may consider re-examining their requirements for elementary credentials (especially those covering the PreK 3 or birth-to-3 rd grade continuum) to ensure that teachers and principals in training have adequate opportunities to understand and practice these concepts. State applications also didn t tackle the thorny challenge of designing a teacher evaluation and support system at the PreK 3 level that supports more comprehensive learning standards. For both research and practical reasons, states cannot apply their teacher evaluation processes from the later elementary grades to PreK 3 educators, especially if these teachers are also responsible for students development in such skills as social-emotional development and self-regulation. Without a comprehensive evaluation strategy, states have no way to assess teachers ability to sustain and reinforce the impacts from early learning programs. Emerging research is pointing to the potential of using data from rigorous teacher observation instruments, rather than, or in addition to, test scores, as one critical measure of teacher effectiveness. 8 For example, the CLASS instrument examines teachers ability to provide emotional and instructional support, and when paired with an intensive coaching model, it has been shown to improve practice over time. Still, at this point in time, instruments like these are likely more appropriate for formative purposes (i.e., inform efforts to improve teacher practice) than for high-stakes decisions. SUSTAINING IMPACTS IN THE CONTEXT OF COMMON CORE IMPLEMENTATION Almost all states have adopted and are implementing the CCSS, which encompass language arts and mathematics. In order to sustain the benefits that children gain from early learning programs, states will need to develop strategies to maintain developmentally appropriate practices that support children s development in multiple domains, even as they dedicate resources to help teachers and districts reach the CCSS. As mentioned before, many states are proposing to extend the comprehensive domains of development into the K 3 learning standards. North Carolina is going a step beyond. The state will be developing K 3 assessments that cover all the essential domains of development outlined in the Early Learning Challenge. Maryland is developing an Early Education Pedagogy Guide for PreK 2 teachers that help them implement the CCSS 7 The Road Less Traveled: How the Developmental Sciences Can Prepare Educators to Improve Student Achievement: Policy Recommendations, Getting in Sync, 8 Implementing Observation Protocols, Watching Teachers Work, 10

11 through developmentally appropriate practices. By including early care and education professionals, Nevada s Community of Practice could serve as a model that other states can adopt to facilitate discussions about the implications of early learning research and best practices on CCSS implementation, and vice versa. MAINTAINING SUPPORTS FOR HIGH-NEEDS POPULATIONS Overall, states did not discuss how they intend to extend supports for high-needs populations such as dual-language learners and special needs children as they transition from early care and education programs to the public education system. Instead, as discussed before, some states chose to design regional or place-based initiatives that serve high-needs communities, such as those in rural parts of the state or those with a concentration of low-income families. REDESIGNING GOVERNANCE TO SUPPORT P 3 REFORM Connecticut was the only state that discussed changing governance structures within its state department of education in order to support future alignment activities between early childhood and early elementary grades. As states pursue P 3 reforms, they may consider whether reorganizing budgets and responsibilities for program monitoring and oversight could facilitate this work. In recent years, states like Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania have implemented governance changes to increase coordination between the early childhood and public education sectors. Section IV: Conclusion Prompted by initiatives like the various Race to the Top competitions (including the Early Learning Challenge) and Common Core State Standards, many states are aiming to reform both their early care and education and public school systems at the same time. The heightened interest and urgency to improve educational outcomes for children across the age continuum present states an opportunity to rethink how best to support children s development as they transition from the early childhood years to the early elementary grades. As seen from the proposals in the Sustaining Impacts section of the RTT-ELC, states will be working to align learning standards, expectations for students and teachers, and approaches to teaching and learning from birth through at least 3 rd grade. Interestingly, the most common reform effort mentioned in these proposals is to broaden K 3 standards to include more comprehensive domains of development that high-quality early learning programs focus on, such as social-emotional development, approaches to learning, health and physical development, and executive function. Our analysis shows, however, that generally, states did not propose a thorough strategy to implement more comprehensive standards. While states proposals include strategies for supporting 11

12 existing teachers and administrators, there was relatively less attention to address credential and licensure policies for educators, assessment or curriculum development in the early grades, governance structures, and investments in programs, like full-day kindergarten, that support better outcomes in the early years especially among highneeds communities. This analysis also shows that a number of states already have a history of support local alignment initiatives, and many are proposing regional strategies to expand this work. Moving forward, states should systematically examine these projects to discern what makes them effective or ineffective and what policy lessons can be drawn from these local experiences. 12

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