New Source of Data on Young Children
Until recently, we have lacked systematic information about what children know and can do at school entry. The data that have been available depended on reports about children's skills from the parents of preschool children (Zill, Collins, West, and Germino-Hausken 1995; Zill 1999), rather than on direct assessments of the children themselves. With the launching of the U.S. Department of Education's Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K), in the fall of 1998, however, measures of the knowledge, skills, health, and behavior of a large and nationally representative sample of American kindergartners are available.
In fall 1998, trained assessors conducted standardized, one-on-one assessments with about 19,000 children from a national probability sample of kindergartners attending 940 public and private schools.1 Of the children assessed, 95 percent were in kindergarten for the first time. These children are the focus of this essay. The remaining children were either repeating kindergarten or attending the second year of 2-year kindergarten programs. Information about the children, their families, and their schools was also gathered through interviews with parents, questionnaires to teachers and school administrators, and abstracts of school records. The ECLS-K plans to follow the sample of American kindergartners through the 5th grade.