- In recent years, kindergarten has often been described as the new 1st grade because of the growing emphasis on academic content, particularly math and reading. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to a study led by researchers at non-partisan research institution NORC at the University of Chicago.
- Analyzing a national longitudinal sample of roughly 18,200 kindergartners who enrolled in almost 1,000 schools during the 2010-11 school year, the researchers found teaching advanced content in kindergarten — skills and knowledge usually taught in higher grades — is associated with higher test scores in math and English language arts (ELA).
- However, they also found higher-level math was associated with stronger social-emotional skills among students, such as finishing a task, keeping belongings organized, getting along with classmates and being sensitive to others’ feelings. They did not find similar benefits for higher-level reading instruction: “The results bolster the stance of researchers who believe that challenging academic content is not necessarily at odds with children’s healthy development and may even provide the type of stimulating instruction that fosters better social-emotional skills,” the authors wrote.
When researchers at Vanderbilt University released findings showing students who attended Tennessee’s state-funded pre-K program were more likely than those who didn’t to be referred to special education, and were just as likely to be retained, they suggested teachers in the early grades might not be building on the knowledge and skills many young children are now bringing into kindergarten with them. "It is doubtful that anything done in pre-k can have sustained effects if the gains made there are not supported and extended in the schooling that follows," they wrote.
The NORC study raises similar points, revealing even for children who entered school with lower levels of academic and social-emotional skills, teaching higher-level content was associated with greater gains. “Significant associations between advanced content in math and social-emotional skills were more prevalent among children who started kindergarten with low readiness skills than among children who started kindergarten with high readiness skills,” the researchers wrote.
The NORC researchers suggest teachers could have provided additional instructional or emotional support to students they thought might struggle with the material. As for the benefits to students’ social-emotional skills, they say higher-level math — but not higher-level ELA — may contribute to executive functioning skills, which have been linked to being more focused and demonstrating fewer externalizing behaviors, such as being disruptive and fighting with others.