Kindergarten and 1st grade represent a time of rapid growth and learning for children. During these years, children acquire the reading knowledge and skills that prepare them for future schooling and life. Until recently, little national data have been available on young children’s reading skills. While the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has regularly assessed the reading skills of U.S. 4th-graders since the early 1970s, few national studies have assessed the reading skills of children when they enter kindergarten and have documented the development of these skills through 5th grade.
The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 (ECLS–K), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), strives to help fill this gap in knowledge. The study, which follows the academic progress of a nationally representative sample of children from kindergarten through 5th grade, provides information about children’s reading achievement in early elementary school. In particular, the ECLS–K assesses children’s reading skills and collects detailed information about children’s home literacy environment and the reading instruction they receive from their teachers and schools.1
This special analysis summarizes findings from the ECLS–K on children’s reading skills throughout the first 2 years of school and the classroom experiences of beginning readers. It starts with a brief description of how children’s reading skills are assessed in the study and then presents what this assessment tells us about the development of children’s early reading skills across kindergarten and 1st grade. The next section explores some of the factors that relate to kindergartners’ reading skills, such as the literacy environment in the home. The focus of the following section is on differences in the instructional practices used to teach reading in kindergarten and the emphasis that is placed on various reading activities and skills. Because kindergartners’ school day can vary in length, information about these differences in classroom experiences are presented separately for full-day and half-day kindergarten programs. This special analysis concludes by examining the relationship between the type of kindergarten program children attend (full-day vs. half-day) and their early reading skills and achievement. Understanding the nature of this relationship is particularly important given the increase in the percentage of children who attend full-day programs (Walston and West 2004).
1In addition to assessing children’s skills in reading, the ECLS–K assesses their skills in other cognitive areas. In kindergarten and 1st grade, the study collects information on their performance in the areas of reading, mathematics, and general knowledge. In 3rd and 5th grades, it assesses performance in reading, mathematics, and science. This special analysis focuses on reading. (back to text)