+ Executive Summary
+ Children's Reading and Mathematics Achievement in Kindergarten and First Grade
Organization of the Report
What reading and mathematics knowledge and skills do children demonstrate in the spring of first grade? Do children's knowledge and skills differ by certain child, family, and school characteristics?
What Children Know
Researchers, policymakers, and practitioners maintain that by the spring of kindergarten children should be able to recognize the letters of the alphabet "quickly and effortlessly," and understand the letter-sound relationship at the beginning and ending of words (National Academy Press 1998; Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children 1998). Further, by the spring of first grade, most children should be recognizing words by sight and comprehending words in the context of simple sentences (National Academy Press 1998; Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children 1998).
For the most part, this study confirms these expectations. As children enter kindergarten, 67 percent recognize their letters,12 and indeed by the spring of kindergarten this increases to 95 percent. After 2 years of school, nearly all (100 percent) children can recognize their letters. At kindergarten entry, a little less than a third (31 percent) of children understand the letter-sound relationship at the beginning of words and about one in six (18 percent) children understand the letter-sound relationship at the end of words. By the spring of kindergarten, about three-quarters (74 percent) of children make the letter-sound connection at the beginning of words and about half (54 percent) of children make this connection at the end of words. And, by the spring of first grade, almost all children have mastered these reading skills (98 and 94 percent, respectively) (figure 1). About five in six children (83 percent) recognize common words by sight (sight words); and about one-half (48 percent) of children understand words in context (compared to 14 and 4 percent, respectively, from the spring of kindergarten) (figure 1, table 1).
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) produces a guide of principles and standards for school mathematics. According to this set of standards, in terms of prekindergarten through second grade mathematics, children should be learning to connect number words and numerals, count with an understanding of how many, understand the relative position of objects (i.e., ordinality), and be able to compute whole numbers with an emphasis on addition and subtraction (NCTM 2000). Analyses of data from the ECLS-K reveal children are acquiring these skills across the early grades. As children enter kindergarten, the majority (95 percent) already recognize their basic numbers and shapes. By the spring of kindergarten, a large percentage (88 percent) can count beyond 10 and understand the mathematical concept of relative size (i.e., using nonstandard units of length to compare objects). By the spring of first grade, the majority (96 percent) have mastered ordinality (the understanding of the relative position of objects); and about three-quarters (76 percent) demonstrate proficiency in adding and subtracting basic whole units. Moreover, by the spring of first grade about one-quarter (27 percent) demonstrate proficiency in multiplying and dividing simple whole units (figure 2, table 2).
12 The estimates in this report do not exactly match those found in America's Kindergartners or The Kindergarten Year, previous reports based on ECLS-K data (NCES 2000; NCES 2001). This report utilizes both fall and spring kindergarten and spring first grade child assessment scores; therefore, a different weight was used in making the estimates. The weight in this report is stricter in its response requirements and utilizes a slightly smaller sample of children. Further, this report focuses on those children who and were promoted to first grade "on-time" in the fall of 1999. Therefore, the kindergarten year estimates are based on a smaller sample of entered kindergarten for the first time in the fall of 1998 children (i.e., the approximately 5 percent of first-time kindergarten children who were eventually retained are not included in these estimates).