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Overview

The International Early Learning Study (IELS) is an international play-based assessment of 5-year-olds’ knowledge and skills in four key areas: emergent literacy, emergent numeracy, self-regulation, and social emotional skills. In 2018, IELS began with a pilot study to inform future cycles.

IELS aims to provide U.S. educators, policymakers, and parents with the opportunity to better understand the skills and competencies of American children at the beginning of primary school and how they compare to the skill profiles of 5-year-olds in other countries. This innovative new study fills important gaps in international comparisons of education systems and helps countries better understand how their early childhood education and care systems prepare children for primary school.


IELS is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries, and is administered in the United States by NCES. The United States, England, and Estonia participated in a field test for IELS in the fall of 2017 and then conducted the IELS Pilot Study in fall 2018.

IELS 2018 included:

  • Play-based direct assessment: Children completed game-like activities on a tablet designed to measure their early literacy, early numeracy, self-regulation, and social emotional (empathy, trust, prosocial and disruptive behavior) skills;
  • Parent questionnaire: Parents provided an indirect assessment of children’s early cognitive, behavioral, and social emotional skills, family demographic information, information on the home learning environment, and children’s early childhood education and care history; and
  • Teacher questionnaire: Teachers provided an indirect assessment of the early cognitive, behavioral, and social emotional skills of each study child in their class.

More detailed descriptions of the above study components can be found on the Study Components page. For other information or questions, see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).