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The ‘Race to the Top' Winners: How States Plan to Improve Early Learning Standards

Published:  February 17, 2012
Issues:  
Publication Image
The RTT-ELC is the first joint grant competition between the Departments of ED and HHS. Pictured here are U.S. Secretaries Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius, leaders of the two departments.

This is the third post in a series on winners of the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), the Obama Administration’s competition to spur improvements in early learning for children up to age 5.  Last week, we wrote about states’ plans to use and evaluate quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS). In this post, we’ll look at how states plan to improve early learning standards, birth to 5. Later posts will explore plans to develop the early childhood workforce and implement kindergarten entry assessments.

Every state that won a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant chose to describe how they have or plan to develop high-quality early learning standards, a “focus investment area” in the application. The most successful states were able to demonstrate standards across multiple domains of early learning, as well as plans to align these standards with the state's K-3 academic standards.

In the standards section of their applications, states were required to:

  • Explain how their early learning standards are developmentally, culturally and linguistically appropriate across each age group and describe how they cover the multiple domains of school readiness. These domains include literacy, cognition and general knowledge; approaches toward learning, which refers to how young children approach tasks and helps develop skills such as persistence; physical well-being and motor skills; and social-emotional skills;
  • Describe how the early learning standards are aligned with the state’s K-3 early literacy and mathematics standards;
  • Show the standards are included in program standards (such as Head Start requirements), curricula, the state’s comprehensive assessment system, the state’s early learning workforce competencies and in professional development materials; and
  • Discuss how the state is promoting or will promote the use of the standards across early learning programs.

California, Maryland and Delaware were the top three scorers in the standards section of the application, which was worth a total of 60 points. The section included four potential focus areas, from which states were required to choose at least two: 1) developing and using early learning standards; 2) supporting effective uses of comprehensive assessment systems; 3) identifying and addressing health, behavioral and development needs; and 4) engaging and supporting families. Depending on whether states selected two, three or four focus areas, their maximum possible score for each area could be 15, 20 or 30 points.           

Focus Investment Area:

Developing and using statewide, high-quality Early Learning and Development Standards

State

Points received

Total possible points

 California

 29.4

 30

 Delaware

 28.8

 30

 Maryland

 14.2

 15

 Massachusetts

 18.2

 20

 Minnesota

 27.6

 30

 North Carolina

 13.4

 15

 Ohio

 26.6

 30

 Rhode Island

 23.6

 30

 Washington

 27.8

 30

Thanks to Sara Mead – anEdWeek blogger, senior associate at Bellwether Education Partners, and former director of the Early Education Initiative here at New America – for compiling all the scores and making them available in an easy-to-read spreadsheet.

Most winning states were able to boast about existing early learning standards for birth to age five in most, if not all, the domains of school readiness, as well as alignment or plans to align with the Common Core K-12 standards:

Focus Investment Area:

Developing and using statewide, high-quality Early Learning and Development Standards

State

Already has early learning standards 0-5

Plans to align or has aligned with Common Core standards K-3

 California

 Yes

 Yes

 Delaware 

 Yes

 Yes

 Maryland

 Yes

 Yes

 Massachusetts

 Yes

 Yes

 Minnesota

 Yes

 No. Has not adopted the  Common Core State Standards.

 North Carolina

 Yes

 Yes

 Ohio

 Yes

 Yes

 Rhode Island

 Does not currently have infant and toddler standards. The development of these standards is part of RI’s proposal.

 Yes

 Washington

 Yes

 Yes

The winning states had plans to ensure early learning standards align across other early childhood program standards, such as those for Head Start, and also had plans to align learning standards to early educator competencies, assessment systems and quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS). Many states also discussed recent standards-alignment reviews or future plans to conduct alignment reviews of their early learning standards.

We want to highlight two types of initiatives many of the winning state applications described: aligning early learning standards with K-3 standards in subjects beyond literacy and math, and providing resources or professional development to early learning providers. We’ll also highlight a couple of other standalone initiatives.

Aligning early learning standards with K-3 standards in subjects beyond literacy and mathematics:

  • Maryland has aligned its pre-K through 8th grade standards in physical education, arts, English language arts, math, science and social studies. Additionally, the state has social and emotional development standards for both pre-K and kindergarten.
  • Ohio plans to develop new standards in approaches toward learning, social-emotional development and physical development for children from pre-K to grade 3. The state will engage national experts to facilitate development of these standards. A model curriculum will also be developed to support the implementation of the standards.
  • Washington plans to expand the alignment of its updated early learning standards with K-12 standards. The new alignment will address areas such as social-emotional development, which are not fully included in existing K-3 standards.

Providing resources or professional development to early learning providers:

  • California plans to produce a series of new professional development materials and trainings to help early childhood educators better use the state’s early learning standards. The series will include DVDs of the preschool learning standards in action in the classroom, which will be distributed to higher education faculty; professional development networks and specialists; and child care resource and referral agencies. The state will also expand the reach of its Collaborative on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CA CSEFEL), which will mentor early childhood programs to promote the social and emotional development and school readiness of young children. CA CSEFEL was established with a federal grant.
  • In Delaware, the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical and Community College—the primary preparers of early childhood educators in the state—will integrate new early learning standards into their courses to help new and continuing teachers understand how to use them in their classroom.
  • Maryland plans to develop a “Guide to Early Childhood Pedagogy” for pre-K to second grade teachers. The guide would support the implementation of the state’s Common Core curriculum in preschool settings and in the early elementary grades. It will include toolkits and strategies for developing:

o   Child-centered learning environments;

o   Curricular strategies to engage English Language Learners;

o   Inclusive curriculum for children with disabilities;

o   Formative assessments;

o   Family engagement plans; and

o   Leadership skills for administrators of elementary schools and early learning programs.

  • Massachusetts has developed an online, continuing education program and a credit-bearing course to introduce and expand the use of the state’s three sets of early learning standards: those for infants and toddlers, those for pre-K, and those for the pre-K Common Core in math and literacy. These courses are delivered to providers through regional “Educator Provider Support” grantees and through “Readiness Centers,” which are hubs for early learning professional development. During the first year of its grant, the state will conduct an analysis to ensure its various standards are aligned. In the second year of its grant, Massachusetts plans to provide coaching and mentoring on the standards to educators, and further develop the standards based on the results of its alignment review.
  • North Carolina is currently revising its early learning standards to reflect new research. To ensure that early learning providers understand the new standards, the state will develop a training guide to be used by higher education faculty and professional development providers. The state will also develop an online training module for providers and a promotional video for families about the new standards. Finally, relying on its current and successful “Train the Trainer” model, the state will establish “Cross-sector Professional Development Institutes” to bring together providers of state-funded pre-K, child care, Head Start, Early Head Start, Title I and IDEA programs, so educators can learn together about the new standards, review the training guide and develop plans to coordinate their own local cross-sector professional development.
  • Ohio will develop job-embedded professional development on the new content-area standards for educators, from birth through grade three. The professional development will be offered in several formats including train-the-trainer models, face-to-face workshops and online learning.

Other initiatives:

  • Massachusetts plans to begin the process to develop, adopt and implement English Language Development standards for early learning educators.
  • Maryland also plans to field test early science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs for preschoolers in programs that feed into Title I elementary schools. This initiative stems from low early science results on Maryland’s kindergarten readiness assessment and reports that preschools have been eliminating early science from their curriculum.
  • Minnesota plans to establish a review cycle for its early learning standards to ensure they reflect updated early learning research and changing K-12 standards.

Look for our next post in this series, which will explore states’ plans to develop the early childhood workforce.

 Also be sure to visit our special page on the Race to the Top  Early Learning Challenge for continuing coverage.

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