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This issue of the Education Statistics Quarterly highlights America's Kindergartners, the first report to present findings from the NCES Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). Longitudinal studies such as ECLS complement the NCES core cross-sectional surveys. While the cross-sectional surveys provide a comprehensive range of descriptive statistics on the state of American education, the longitudinal surveys are designed to explain the educational, vocational, and personal development of students as they move through the education system. In addition, these surveys collect data on personal, familial, social, institutional, and cultural factors that affect students. development. Thus, the Center's longitudinal surveys make it possible to examine the "why" of the core descriptive statistics.
NCES initiated its first longitudinal survey over a quarter of a century ago to reflect the paradigm shift in research from a study of phenomena based on an input-output model (or black box) approach to a process model approach. The Center's first longitudinal study sought to identify and explain the processes that linked traditional education inputs, such as student characteristics, to outputs, such as degrees and earnings received. Since 1972, longitudinal studies at NCES have expanded to include 10 studies that examine learning across the life span, literally from birth through elementary, middle, secondary, and postsecondary school to work.
Elementary School Longitudinal Studies
ECLS, the most recent addition to the NCES portfolio of longitudinal studies, completes the picture of the American education system with surveys of two cohorts of America. s youngest learners. the kindergarten class of 1998. 99 (ECLS-K) and newborns of 2001 (ECLS-B). These surveys will study the early development and learning experiences of children, during the critical years of birth through age 8, in an attempt to better explain their outcomes later in life.
ECLS-K will follow a nationally representative sample of about 22,000 kindergartners through fifth grade, measuring their home and academic environments, opportunities, and achievements. This study includes a set of assessments. cognitive, psychomotor, and social. administered to the cohort in the fall and spring of their kindergarten and first-grade years of school and in the spring of the third and fifth grades. Questionnaire data are also being collected from children. s parents and teachers on the same schedule, with children. s school principals being asked to complete a questionnaire in the spring of each survey year.
Beginning next spring, ECLS-B will follow a nationally representative sample of about 15,000 children born in calendar year 2001 from birth through first grade. Survey data on children’s learning and development, and on their neighborhood and home environments, will be collected from children’s parents. Children’s cognitive, social, and physical development will also be measured. And when children enter school, data will be collected from their teachers and school principals.
Secondary School Longitudinal Studies
Secondary school surveys constitute the longest running series of NCES longitudinal surveys. The three studies in this area—the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (NLS:1972/1986), the High School and Beyond Longitudinal Study (HS&B:1980/1992), and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 Eighth-Graders (NELS:1988/2000)—represent the educational experiences of high school students from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. These studies permit analysis at the cross-sectional, longitudinal, and cross-cohort or trend levels.
The fourth in this series of studies, the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002), will build upon the features of the three earlier studies. This study will extend the trend comparisons into another decade, and new questionnaire and assessment items will expand the types of longitudinal and cross-sectional analyses that are possible. ELS:2002 will also provide a basis for cross-cultural comparisons through assessment score links to two contemporary international cross-sectional studies—the 2002 International Life Skills Survey (ILSS) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Postsecondary Longitudinal Studies
Because older students are increasingly enrolling in postsecondary education, studies that follow high school cohorts into postsecondary education are not representative of all postsecondary participants. To fill this gap, NCES began a series of postsecondary longitudinal studies in 1992.
The Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:1990/1994 and BPS:1996/2001) and the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:1993/1997 and B&B:2000/2001) both use the cross-sectional National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) as their baseline. BPS follows the progress of cohorts of beginning postsecondary students through their post-secondary education, and B&B follows cohorts of bachelor’s degree recipients through their graduate-level education and workforce participation.
Over the past 28 years, NCES longitudinal studies have generated more than 1,300 publications in the form of journal articles, presentations, dissertations, and other reports. The secondary and postsecondary longitudinal data sets have provided a rich resource for researchers analyzing educational experiences. NCES expects that the addition of the elementary cohorts will provide useful information for researchers studying the earliest stages of learning.