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Early childhood

Leiah Groom-Thomas, Monica Lee, Cate Smith Todd, Kathleen Lynch, Susanna Loeb, Scott McConnell, Lydia Carlis.

Many preschool agencies nationwide continue to experience closures and/or conversions to virtual or hybrid instruction due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the importance of understanding young children’s learning and development during the COVID emergency, limited knowledge exists on adaptable practices of assessing young children during the pandemic. We detail practices used to assess learning in 336 Head Start children across four states during three different time periods in the 2020-21 school year, using adaptation of traditionally in-person assessments of early numeracy, early literacy, and executive functioning. In doing so, we distill early lessons for the field from the application of a novel, virtual assessment method with the early childhood population. The paper describes adaptations of assessment administration for virtual implementation and incorporation of feedback into continued virtual delivery of assessments. Applications and limitations in broader contexts are discussed.

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Reagan Mozer, Luke W. Miratrix, Jackie Eunjung Relyea, James S. Kim.

In a randomized trial that collects text as an outcome, traditional approaches for assessing treatment impact require that each document first be manually coded for constructs of interest by human raters. An impact analysis can then be conducted to compare treatment and control groups, using the hand-coded scores as a measured outcome. This process is both time and labor-intensive, which creates a persistent barrier for large-scale assessments of text. Furthermore, enriching ones understanding of a found impact on text outcomes via secondary analyses can be difficult without additional scoring efforts. Machine-based text analytic and data mining tools offer one potential avenue to help facilitate research in this domain. For instance, we could augment a traditional impact analysis that examines a single human-coded outcome with a suite of automatically generated secondary outcomes. By analyzing impacts across a wide array of text-based features, we can then explore what an overall change signifies, in terms of how the text has evolved due to treatment. In this paper, we propose several different methods for supplementary analysis in this spirit. We then present a case study of using these methods to enrich an evaluation of a classroom intervention on young children’s writing. We argue that our rich array of findings move us from “it worked” to “it worked because” by revealing how observed improvements in writing were likely due, in part, to the students having learned to marshal evidence and speak with more authority. Relying exclusively on human scoring, by contrast, is a lost opportunity.

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Amanda P. Williford, Pilar Alamos, Jessica E. Whittaker, Maria R. Accavitti.

We documented (1) the use of strategies, beyond suspensions and expulsions, that exclude young students from learning opportunities and (2) how teacher-reported use of these strategies varied according to student racial/ethnic composition. In a sample of 2,053 teachers and 40,771 kindergarten students, teachers reported on their use of five exclusionary strategies including isolated seating, removal from an activity, and loss of recess. Teachers reported substantive use of all exclusionary strategies and use varied depending on strategy. Teachers reported using certain exclusionary practices (break outside of classroom, loss of recess or free time, and limit talking) more frequently when they rated more Black versus White students to be lowest on self-regulation and social skills. Findings illustrate the value of looking beyond suspensions and expulsions in the early years to advance equity in young children’s opportunities to engage with teachers, peers, and learning tasks at school.

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Laura Bellows, Daphna Bassok, Anna J. Markowitz.

This paper provides a longitudinal examination of teacher turnover across all publicly-funded, center-based early childhood sites in Louisiana. We follow 4,465 early educators teaching in fall 2016 up to seven times through the fall of 2019. We provide the first statewide estimates of within-year turnover in ECE, as well as the first statewide study tracking turnover rates in ECE over multiple years. We find high within-year turnover: about 10% of teachers observed in the fall are not teaching the following spring. We also show that over 60% of fall 2016 teachers are no longer teaching at the same site in fall 2019. Turnover is particularly high among child care teachers, teachers of toddlers, and new teachers.

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Walter Herring, Daphna Bassok, Anita McGinty, Luke C. Miller, James H. Wyckoff.

Third grade is oftentimes the first year standardized literacy assessments are mandated. In turn many policies aimed at improving literacy have focused on third-grade test scores as a key indicator. Yet literacy struggles begin well before third grade, as do racial and socioeconomic disparities in children’s literacy skills. Kindergarten readiness assessments provide a unique opportunity to better understand the emergence of literacy disparities. We use unique kindergarten literacy data from nearly every school district in Virginia to document the relationship between children’s early literacy skills and their later reading proficiency. Comparing children with similar literacy skills at kindergarten entry, we find significant racial and socioeconomic differences in the likelihood a child is proficient on their third-grade reading assessment.

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Benjamin W. Domingue, Heather J. Hough, David Lang, Jason Yeatman.

Education has faced unprecedented disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic; evidence about the subsequent effect on children is of crucial importance. We use data from an oral reading fluency (ORF) assessment—a rapid assessment taking only a few minutes that measures a fundamental reading skill—to examine COVID’s effects on children’s reading ability during the pandemic in more than 100 U.S. school districts. Effects were pronounced, especially for Grades 2–3, but distinct across spring and fall 2020. While many students were not assessed in spring 2020, those who were seemed to have experienced relatively limited or no growth in ORF relative to gains observed in other years. In fall 2020, a far more representative set of students was observed. For those students, growth was more pronounced and seemed to approach levels observed in previous years. Worryingly, there were also signs of stratification such that students in lower-achieving districts may be falling further behind. However, at the level of individual students, those who were struggling with reading prior to the pandemic were not disproportionately impacted in terms of ORF growth. This data offers an important window onto how a foundational skill is being affected by COVID-19 and this approach can be used in the future to examine how student abilities recover as education enters a post-COVID paradigm.

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Qing Zhang, Maria Sauval, Jade M. Jenkins.

COVID-19 has created acute challenges for the child care sector, potentially leading to a shortage of supply and a shrinking sector as the economy recovers. This study provides the first comprehensive, census-level evaluation of the medium-term impacts of COVID-19 on the county child care market in a large and diverse state, North Carolina. We also document the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on different types of providers and disadvantaged communities. We use data from two time points (February and December) from 2018 to 2020 and a difference-in-differences design to isolate the effects of COVID-19. We find that COVID- 19 reduced county-level child care enrollment by 40%, and reduced the number of providers by 2%. Heterogeneity analyses reveal that family child care providers experienced not only less severe reductions in enrollment and closures than center providers, but a small growth in the number of family providers. Declines in enrollment were most substantial for preschool-aged children. COVID-19 did not appear to further exacerbate inequities in terms of enrollment amongst low-income communities, communities with a larger share of Black residents, or rural communities, although communities with a larger share of Hispanic residents had more provider closures. Our findings underscore the importance of family child care providers in the child care sector and providing continuing and targeted support to help the sector through this crisis. Implications for future policies are discussed.

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Gary T. Henry, Shelby M. McNeill, Erica Harbatkin.

Test-based accountability pressures have been shown to result in transferring less effective teachers into untested early grades and more effective teachers to tested grades. In this paper, we evaluate whether a state initiative to turnaround its lowest performing schools reproduced a similar pattern of assigning teachers and unintended, negative effects on the outcomes of younger students in untested grades. Using a sharp regression discontinuity design, we find consistent evidence of increased chronic absenteeism and grade retention in the first year. Also, the findings suggest negative effects on early literacy and reading comprehension in the first year of the reform that rebounded somewhat in the second year. Schools labeled low performing reassigned low effectiveness teachers from tested grades into untested early grades, though these assignment practices were no more prevalent in reform than control schools. Our results suggest that accountability-driven school reform can yield negative consequences for younger students that may undermine the success and sustainability of school turnaround efforts.

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Jon Valant, Lindsay Weixler.

In order for school choice reforms to fulfill their potential, school choosers must be informed about their options. We conducted a randomized controlled trial during the school choice application period in New Orleans to assess the effects of providing information to parents. Families with children entering pre-K, kindergarten, or ninth grade were assigned to one of two treatment groups or a control group. A “performance” group received lists of the highest-performing schools or programs available (via U.S. mail, email, and text message). A “neighborhood” group received lists of the schools or programs in their home geographic zone. We find that the performance treatment made applicants significantly more likely to request high-performing schools, though the effects were concentrated among high school choosers. The performance treatment had especially strong effects among families of students with disabilities. The neighborhood treatment had only modest effects. We consider these findings in the context of questions about the role of information in school choice markets, as well as which families may be in particular need of support.

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Rebecca Unterman, Christina Weiland.

While there is a consensus that attending preschool better prepares children for kindergarten, evidence on the factors that sustain the preschool boost into the early elementary years is still emerging.  To add to this literature, we use lottery data from applicants to oversubscribed schools in Boston Public Schools (BPS) prekindergarten program to estimate variation in the effects of the program across school sites through the end of third grade.  Student outcomes include children’s kindergarten-through-second-grade retention, kindergarten-through-third-grade special education placement, and third-grade state English Language Arts and math test scores.  We find statistically significant variation in effects in all student outcomes and we predict this variation with multiple proxies for early elementary school quality.  We find that the academic proficiency of third-graders within the schools for which prekindergarten children competed is most strongly associated with prekindergarten program effects. Prekindergarten gains persisted if students applied to and won a seat in a higher-quality elementary school. Our findings appear to be driven by the schools themselves and not by student selection in higher-scoring schools, nor by the counterfactual.  These findings imply that policymakers and practitioners interested in sustained gains may need to also invest in improving the quality of children’s K-3 experience.

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