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Early Learning Student Successes From 3 Amazing Case Studies.

Sprig Learning develops early learning programs for preK to Grade 3. 

Student success is often top of mind for educators and administrators. 

Other early learning outcomes are all indirectly related to the main outcome of student achievement.

Given the high gravitas student success carries, Sprig Learning covers case studies highlighting what works in a school setting to achieve equitable results for all students.

It may be easier to raise the performance standards for some students, but it’s a much more difficult task to ensure all students receive the academic support they need. 

Whether it’s creating the right vision for early learning, or writing a high-performing school improvement plan, Sprig aims to present what has worked for schools.

This article is the latest installment of our early learning school improvement series. We present 3 case studies from the US that resulted in early learning student success. Each case is followed by a takeaway. 

 

Concerted Effort for Early Learning Student Success

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Credit: Google Earth. Charlotte-Mecklenburg School.

In the early 2000s, Houston Independent School District, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Sacramento Unified School District were able to reduce the achievement gap for disadvantaged and minority students. 

They demonstrated an upward trend of overall student achievement for at least three years.

Improvement was consistent and the rate of improvement was higher than in comparison districts. 

All three of these large urban school districts shared commonalities regarding what worked for them in improving student success.

They were able to align curricula with state standards and translate these standards into instructional practice.

In particular, attention was paid to the lowest performing schools to help them with resources, teachers and administrators. 

Data from early and ongoing assessments were provided to educators and principals to help identify both student and teacher weaknesses, so improvements could be made.

Rather than making all changes at once, the reforms started at the elementary grade levels.

There was also a high degree of shared accountability between the board and superintendent of student success. In each case, vision and goals were refined jointly and the relationship was lengthy.  

 

Systematic and Acute Planning for Better Student Results

There were so many things done right at these three school districts. At the heart of it all was directed planning.  

It was decided from the beginning that the goal would be to improve the assessment scores of those students at the lower end of the achievement distribution.

Every other decision was made in support of this ultimate goal. 

The alignment between the board and the superintendent was ensured from the beginning, to solidify the vision.

The standard of content and instruction were raised that would benefit the students once the changes were made.

On a day-to-day level, the frequent usage of assessment data came into practice, which really helped educators identify students in need of greater support.

From top to bottom, the plan was created and executed to accomplish the set goal of reducing performance disparity.

 

Partnering for Early Learning Student Success

Andover Public Schools

Credit: Andover Public Schools

Andover Public Schools was able to decrease the share of K–2 students scoring below benchmark on the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assessment by ten percentage points for the 2018-2019 school year. 

DIBELS is a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of literacy skills. 

In that same school year, there was a 14% decrease in out-of-district placements. An out-of-district placement occurs when it is determined that a student needs more intensive support than can be provided in the district. 

Andover partnered with the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Professions, to develop literacy micro-credentialing coursework throughout the first half of the school year. There were 25 Instructional Assistants from 5 elementary schools that were selected.

The training included ten hours of instruction on leading literacy interventions. It also consisted of structured observations of both advanced and struggling readers.

 

Training Paraprofessionals

Andover Public schools realized that their educators needed more support in providing the type of specific interventions that were required to help struggling readers. 

Such help was ensured very smartly through a collaboration with a local institution, so certain members of the early learning workforce could be appropriately upskilled. 

Seeing the success of involving the instructional assistants, Andover will continue to measure students’ growth in literacy over time, to deploy the right resources to services involving paraprofessionals.

It’s important to partner with the right organizations who have the capacity to train specialists who are adept at doing a particular task. They greatly help teachers in assisting those students who demand more attention. 

 

Involving the Whole Community for Early Learning Student Success

Sunflower County Consolidated School District.

Credit: Google Earth. Sunflower County Consolidated School District.

The community in Indianola, Mississippi was able to increase the rate of kindergarten readiness by nearly 25%, despite struggling with lack of access to resources and intergenerational poverty. 

There is an assessment level that predicts whether a student will be reading at grade-level by the end of the third grade. From 2014 onwards, there was an upward trend of the percent of students entering kindergarten who met or exceeded this assessment threshold. 

This was accomplished by working with the Indianola Promise Community to create better early childhood programs and services in the area and the local school district.

The Early Head Start Child Care Partnership program’s Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®1) scores from different teachers were analyzed to identify teachers making the most gains with their students.

(CLASS®1) is a PreK teacher-child observation instrument used to assess preK children. 

These high-quality teacher-child interactions were studied for modeling purposes. 

The strategic use of data to align early childhood strategies continued into elementary school. The Sunflower County Consolidated School District in Indianola had to build the culture of using data at the classroom level. 

The district created a tracker that each teacher, principal, superintendent, school could use.

The data from this tracker was used to identify students who needed extra support. Targeted interventions were subsequently personalized to meet students’ needs. 

The school district also regularly sent data cards home to families and provided activities to help parents interpret the data. 

 

A Joint Effort Between Early Learning Programs, the School District and Families.

What happened in the community of Indianola is a classic example of involving the whole community to be more child centric. 

By sharing data between the early learning programs, the school district, and the parents, it became easier to track student progress as they moved through the education system.

 

Early Learning Student Successes You Can Replicate

Early Learning in Student Success

These case studies all demonstrate that it is indeed possible to ensure school readiness, achieve greater scores and reduce the performance gap by taking the right actions. 

Sprig Learning was developed particularly for early learners. 

In line with these case studies, assessment is a big part of what we do, where every data point is collected for a particular purpose. Literacy specialists and intervention specialists use our products. We also involve the whole community in what is a holistic approach to early learning. 

To learn more about how you can bring these ideas into life, give us a shout. 

Improving Student Achievement in Early Learning [Findings From Over 30 Schools and 3 Case Studies]

Sprig Learning is a purpose-built company that aims to provide every child a fair shot at success. Doing so requires the cooperation of many — administrators, teachers, parents, etc.

In order to best serve all learners, there should be a needs assessment conducted by school districts followed by school improvement plans that are written in accordance with the discovered needs.

By assessing what is working versus what is not, an action plan for school improvement can be set in motion. 

Information unearthed during a needs assessment can be very circumstantial while also specific.

But some findings can be quite predictable yet general as well, such as the need to support teachers and the need to improve student achievement. 

It’s the meeting of, or addressing of, such needs that often becomes a head-scratcher.

But with the help of case studies, doubts and unclarity over improving student achievement can be cleared. 

In this article, we look at three examples of the type of actions taken to improve student achievement in early learning.

These are great examples because they include not just one, but an assortment of actions that have delivered results. 

Sprig Learning unpacks it all below, organizing the findings into themes where appropriate.

 

Creating the Right Learning Climate

Creating the Right Learning Climate

Credit: Abc 7 Chicago

The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research conducted a study on 6 elementary schools in Chicago Public Schools. Three of the schools had improving Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) Scores, while three of them had declining or flat ISAT scores. The ISAT (now discontinued) measured achievement in both reading and math from grade 3 to grade 8. 

The schools with improving ISAT scores shared the following traits. The names were anonymized in the case studies. 

The findings provide an insight as to what can be done to achieve higher learning gains on standardized tests.

The lessons congregate around two themes — individualizing student goals and systematizing approach to meeting goals. 

 

 

Individualizing Student Goals

Differentiating instruction is the first step of the personalization of instruction. It usually refers to differentiating by groups of students. 

For example, in the case studies, the staff identified different tiers of support for student groups. 

Tutoring programs were made available for students who needed extra support. Counseling was made available for students with attendance issues. 

But beyond differentiated group instruction, a culture had been created to support and nurture each and every student at an individual level, without constraining any of the existing resources.

The staff encouraged students to set their own learning goals. Learning was very personalized where students took ownership over what they learned and met the goals they set for themselves. 

Indeed, activating early learners by getting them to own their learning is one of the suggested best practices of formative assessments, a type of assessment used widely by educators across North America. 

If anyone steered off track with lower grades or missed assignments, teachers met with the students and parents to find out what’s happening. 

There were also homeroom teachers in place to make interventions after observing a student and their behaviors across the different classes. 

In the Sprig Learning platform, it’s possible to filter down to the individual level, where a history of assessments and activities completed can be seen for any student. 

 

Systematizing Approach to Meeting Goals

The expectation for schools in the case studies, was for every student to reach high academic levels. 

The staff met in grade level teams to set growth targets in reading, math and attendance for the year. 

Teachers and administrators collaborated to monitor progress towards goals by regularly meeting in grade-level and vertical-planning teams.

Administrators helped educators break down the data by student, classroom, and grade level. 

The Sprig platform also allows teachers, staff and administrators to filter data by classroom and grade, facilitating grade-level and vertical-planning meetings.

Even where leadership was decentralized and educators were given more freedom to take actions best suited to help their students, there was some sort of mechanism in place to ensure progress was being made.

At regular intervals (every 5 weeks, in one example), the principals or instructional coaches looked at student progress reports to identify trends. In grade-level meetings, teachers are asked to explain their choice of assignments. Coaches would provide feedback to teachers on their assignments.

Teachers would also get together to give each other advice about how to help students. 

Though collaboration time and preparation time were scheduled, teachers would often meet before and after school and during lunch breaks to discuss such matters.

Lack of time for educators is often cited as one of the major challenges in early learning. Even in success stories, it’s seen that teachers have to improvise work hours in order to accomplish everything that they want to. 

It helps to have a platform that keeps all student data in one place, and makes that platform available to all educators and professionals who consult on a certain student’s learning. 

It certainly speeds up things in getting everyone on the same page when it’s time to discuss learning needs, thereby saving valuable time for all educators involved. 

 

Adopting a More Balanced Approach to Early Learning

Balanced Approach to Early Learning

The educational approach has a great impact on classroom instruction and student learning. 

The kindergarten year especially, can influence an early learner’s expectations for school. It can also shape their attitude towards learning. 

In a study conducted in a large urban school district (location anonymized), it was found that kindergarteners from low-income schools (24 schools in total) spent more time on reading, mathematics and non-instructional activities than students from high-income schools. 

The latter category of students, however, were more physically active and had more freedom to choose their learning activities. 

Educators teaching students from low-income households spent more time on academics, employing a more didactic instruction approach. 

Compared to students from high-income households, disadvantaged students had less access to center-based, hands-on learning experiences. 

Such findings are crucial to unpack and understand, because they potentially speak to an inherent bias that early learners from low-income households require a different approach to learning.

Rather, the standards of high-quality early learning should be the same everywhere, and include centers and play-based activities. 

Challenging academic instruction does not have to replace student-initiated activities. The latter can be more playful and naturally engaging. 

What should differ is the personalization of education, where various types of support can be provided to students based on their interests, needs and strengths. 

When there is a curiosity for learning, support can be provided to enrich the learning experience. In order to keep this curiosity alive, however, a more balanced approach should be adopted.

Sprig Learning uses a holistic approach to learning that gives importance to academic, social, physical and spiritual development.

Such a balanced approach early on, keeps the joy and curiosity of learning alive, and pays dividends later in the form of learning gains. 

 

Using Data to Create a Collaborative Culture

Data Collaborative Culture

The Maryland State Department of Education did a cross-case analysis of some of its schools that were classified as high-performing or high-growth for disadvantaged student groups, such as students from low-income families, minority students, and English language learners. 

The performance or growth of such performance, was measured using the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the Maryland School Assessments. 

Looking at five elementary schools (Chillum, Bel Air, Chadwick, James. H Harrison and North Frederick) from four different counties, many common characteristics were identified. 

Sprig has organized these discoveries sequentially into two groups— Finding and Doing. 

 

Finding

  • Ongoing data-based decision making.
  • Creation of collaborative school cultures with shared responsibility for student achievement.
  • Organization of teachers into collaborative work groups that meet regularly..

 

Annual assessment data and formative assessments data have to be integrated into the teaching practice. 

Teachers and other instructional staff have to regularly meet to discuss the data to adapt instruction as necessary.

The above points are thus all involved in finding out the current situation, by looking at data, but also setting up practices to discuss such data.  

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot to think about when making data-informed decisions in early learning. 

 

Doing

  • Revision of curriculum and instructional approaches. 
  • Adoption of new instructional materials.
  • Provision of multiple interventions, including tutoring and extended day academic help.
  • Summer school programming.

 

It’s very important to have multiple intervention strategies, including extended day academic help and summer school programming, as mentioned in the points above. 

These strategies are extremely beneficial to those students who need it most. Insights from Spig Learning’s holistic assessments identify the students who would be more suited for such learning opportunities. 

Zooming out to the whole class, there could be enough evidence gathered to merit exploring a new instructional approach or adopting new instructional materials. 

Incorporating such practices could raise the quality of education offered in early learning, by making the learning content more grade-rigorous, but also matching the particular learning style of the students. 

Closing the loop and taking these actions would all stem from first creating a collaborative culture using data. 

 

Improve Student Achievement in Early Childhood Education

Improve Student Achievement in Early Childhood Education

Improving student achievement remains a topmost priority for all school districts and schools in North America. 

The findings from these three case studies, comprising over 30 schools from multiple school districts, provide invaluable insight. 

Sprig hopes that these shared experiences from school districts across the continent are useful to you. 

We’ve helped schools create the right climate, culture, and balance in approach to improve student learning. 

To book an initial strategy session, contact us

High-Performing School Improvement Plan [With 3 Actual Cases from Early Learning]

Sprig Learning designs high-quality and culturally enabling early literacy and numeracy programs for pre-K to Grade 3. 

High-quality early learning programs are used by school districts all over North America to produce meaningful results and deliver the best outcomes for young students.

The schools in these school districts listed here go above and beyond to meet their goals and objectives, and are thus categorized as high-performing schools. 

What sort of practices do these schools and school districts engage in?

 

Creating a School Improvement Plan That Will Be High-Performing

High-Performing School Improvement Plan

Those trusted with creating school improvement plans have a strong understanding of what’s at stake and the school’s current situation.

The basics are common knowledge to those involved in elementary-secondary education. 

Afterall, the key outcomes always support student achievement, education equity, attendance rates, graduation rates, etc.

The challenges are perennial in nature, and are both systemic (e.g., a lack of professional development) and operational (e.g., teacher recruitment and retention). 

It helps to look at actual case studies from early learning to appreciate the reality on the ground and inside the classroom. 

By observing these schools and districts, it’s possible to learn and take inspiration to solve similar challenges or implement a model or solution that best supports all students. 

Three case studies are examined below, each followed by a discussion.

 

1. Adding Instruction Time for All Students

Adding Instruction Time

Credit: Boston Public School YouTube Channel

​​Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Massachusetts, is a welcoming school in a very diverse community that includes multiple ethnicities and dual-language speakers. 

The school has a set of wonderful learning initiatives such as intervention blocks, which were added so teachers were able to implement trauma-sensitive practices that help students cope with socio-emotional difficulties. Compared to math, its literacy proficiency rate for students was relatively low.

To address this, it extended the learning time at school by 40 minutes in 2015 for those struggling with literacy, to help bolster their critical foundational skills. 

At the same time, students assessed at meeting literacy standards used the time for accelerated learning, strengthening their reading comprehension skills with access to complex texts.

The dedicated time for intervention ensured that personalized learning opportunities were maintained throughout all grades. Grade-level texts were coupled with grade-level tasks, with scaffolding for struggling learners and extension activities for those requiring additional challenges. 

The school also adopted an interest-based learning approach, where students were asked what they wanted to learn about. Lessons and units were adjusted with the students’ interest in mind. 

As a result of all these efforts, English proficiency skills nearly tripled between 2015 and 2019!

 

What Worked

Certainly, all high-quality early learning programs consider the length of instruction time into their planning. 

The more time teachers are able to spend directly with their students, the better the student outcomes usually are. 

It’s also interesting to note the inclusive approach where the extended learning time was for all students. Both texts and tasks could be modified to suit the level of every learner.  The focus was to  ensure every learner benefitted from this increment of instruction time. 

Sprig Learning has an intuitive platform that easily aligns to the various schedules of teachers, leaving room for more direct instruction time! Its holistic approach is also strength-based, akin to the model adopted by Harvard Kent school. 

To really ensure that all learning strengths are being identified, Spig helps schools to monitor students in different outcome categories that are mapped to the local curriculum. 

Dynamic storybooks are a part of its educational materials, and the level of difficulty of recommended activities are a key feature of both the oral language  and math platforms. 

 

2. Using the Right Frequency of Assessments

Right Frequency of Assessments

Credit: Google Earth

Cornell Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa, faced the challenge of continually assessing new students who may or may not need extra support. 

To keep eyes on all students, it monitored progress in the core curriculum for new students in the district. 

They followed a three-tiered responsiveness-to-intervention model.

Kindergarteners’ initial sound fluency was assessed in the fall, and their phoneme segmentation fluency was assessed in the winter. 

For Grade1 students, nonsense word fluency was assessed in the fall, and oral reading fluency was assessed in the spring. 

Students scoring below benchmark levels were matched with the right type and intensity of instruction. Either they remained in the core curriculum with changes to instruction or received supplemental support. 

Examples of supplemental support included: more systematic instructional sequences, more precisely targeted instruction at the right level, and more opportunities for corrective feedback. 

The United States Department of Education listed Cornell Elementary School as one of the exemplary schools to implement the responsiveness to intervention model. In particular, its progress monitoring practice was praised as commendable. 

 

What Worked

Assessing for the core elements of early literacy and numeracy at different junctions throughout the year ensured that no student was left behind.

As soon as the problem area was identified, the right action could be taken at the right time.

It was important to ensure all students are successful throughout the core curriculum, but it was also helpful to have the checkpoints along the way to ensure the unique learning needs of each and every student were being met.

While the assessments were already in sequential order, students who needed more support, received more systematic instructional sequences. It was almost like the core curriculum was too rushed for them, and so they needed to master the basics first. 

Sprig Learning has a very similar approach with its early learning programs, where there are not only enough assessment opportunities in a holistic formative assessment model, but all the fundamental learning components are connected to the students’ strengths, needs and interests.  

When it is time to do the assessment, proficiency in newly learned concepts are measured, along with a host of other information, such as a change in the learning environment, learning strengths, learning styles etc. 

 

3. Packing High-Quality Learning Early On

High-Quality Early Learning

​​Credit: Jesse Costa/WBUR.org

Boston Public Schools (BPS) wanted to mitigate access and achievement gaps among students of various races, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. 

To achieve this, it piloted a pre-K to Grade 3 initiative that included a new curriculum, a robust focus on vocabulary, differentiated instruction and professional development. 

More developmentally appropriate instructional materials were highlighted in all the early elementary grades. 

Storytelling was added to the preschool curriculum, and more student-centered instruction was incorporated into the grade 1 curriculum. 

Different learning activities, opportunities and lessons were provided to students matching their varied needs. For example, the same classroom activity could be worked on with visual aids or manipulatives or in smaller groups. 

Following the implementation of all these practices, a noticeable increase was observed in the students’ abilities to think critically and work collaboratively. 

The students were using a higher level of vocabulary compared to cohorts in previous years. 

 

What Worked

Using student-centered educational materials and curriculum as early as pre-K made a world of difference!

Personalization of education was introduced as early as grade 1, and existing instructional practices were bolstered by time-tested, high-quality early learning activities like storytelling. 

By raising the bar of high-quality early learning and making it readily available to every student walking through its doors, irrespective of their background, BPS was able to drive equity by closing the achievement gap. 

Sprig Learning is a big advocate of personalized instruction that is developmentally appropriate.

It has hundreds of learning activities in its early literacy program that support verbal communication skills such as storytelling. Similarly, it has numerous classroom and group activities that are designed to improve vocabulary.

The earlier the important language and cognitive concepts are grasped, the better it is for the student. 

There are few learning solutions out there that focus exclusively on early learning. Sprig is one of them. 

 

 High-Performing School. It’s Possible. 

High Performing School

​​The practices outlined in these three schools and districts outline how it’s possible to become a high-performing school district. 

High-performing schools and districts are able to surpass performance benchmarks and make a difference in the lives of educators, students and parents.

Everyone has a stake in the improvement of preschools and elementary schools in their locality. 

When writing the next school improvement plan, see how you can increase instructional time for students, have a systematic approach to assessment, and offer high-quality personalized learning materials in the earlier grades.

Sprig Learning can help you do all three. We are passionate about early education. To discuss more, give us a shout

3 Critical Reasons to Focus on Early Childhood Education Programs

Sprig Learning creates holistic and inclusive early learning programs for pre-K to Grade 3 students. 

Early childhood education is defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the National Association for the Education of Young Children as birth to 8 years of age. This corresponds to pre-K to Grade 3 in the school system.

Creating the learning programs for grades 4 and 5 is a part of the roadmap, but it’s particularly the early learning grade configuration of pre-K to grade3 that is most critical.

There are many reasons for this. Chief among which are:

  • Pre-Kindergarten is an underserved market 
  • There is a strong connection between pre-kindergarten and post-kindergarten
  • ECE is the greatest driver of educational equity

 

Each reason is expounded on below. 

Following each reason is an ideal scenario that would sufficiently address the point raised.

 

1) Pre-Kindergarten is An Underserved Market 

Pre-Kindergarten

Funding for K-12 schools are treated differently than funding for preschools in both Canada and the US. 

There simply aren’t as many preschool programs as there are elementary schools operated by school districts.

To demonstrate, approximately 1.6 million children attend preschools in the US. This number includes both private pre-kindergarten programs, and also federal- and state-funded public preschool programs. 

Contrast that with the 3.4 million children in the US that attend kindergarten in public schools. Even without including private or charter schools, it’s more than twice the amount of preschool children. 

Preschool is a vital part of early childhood education, but with preschool enrolments significantly lower than that of K12 education, there is a direct connection to less funding opportunities. 

Being underfunded results in a lack of long-term vision and a dearth of solutions that step up to innovate in early learning. Sprig is adamant that this market be appropriately served. 

Ongoing research has shown that the greatest brain development in children occurs between birth to age 8. 

Take a look at these early learning statistics, they all speak to the importance of healthy early childhood development. There are a hundred of them. 

 

Ideal Scenario

Government, Foundations and private organizations step up to finance early learning centres (Sprig covers many of them in its newsletter. Be sure to subscribe), or if universal preschool becomes a reality.  

 

 

2) There Is a Strong Connection Between Pre- and Post-kindergarten

Connectoion Between Pre-K and Post-K

​​The primary goal of a preschool system is focused towards ensuring school readiness. In order to ensure readiness, the quality of pre-kindergarten education has to match that of post-kindergarten education.

It’s similar to secondary school students taking advanced placement (AP) courses to get ready for college or university. High-quality material is introduced even before actually arriving at the next destination. 

Similarly, are preschool students gradually introduced to the skills and concepts that they will need to apply in kindergarten to make the best of their learning? 

If this is not the case, then there is a risk of a chasm developing, one which is difficult to cross for early learners. 

Sprig has a myriad of high-quality evidence-based activities that work on essential language and math development components.

In a study done in Virginia at a mixed-urban school district, pre-kindergarten attendance had a significant effect on the literacy achievement of Grade 1 students. 

Students who attended the district’s preschool program had a higher percentage of students meeting or surpassing the reading benchmark versus those students who did not.  

There are many more studies that demonstrate that when there is adequate availability of preschool programs, and the programs are of high quality, student success follows.

 

Ideal Scenario

Preschool programs innovate to ensure greater quality. We’ve written before on what a high-quality early learning program looks like. 

Some of the items on the checklist are: adequately equipping the classroom with educational materials, ensuring ongoing communication and offering opportunities for multiple kids of play. 

 

3) Increased Educational Equity

Increased Educational Equity

​​The world is heading towards more education autonomy for those who are curious about a subject and want to teach themselves. We so often hear of success stories from people who did not go to college, or in some cases, did not even graduate high school.

But even for those individuals, early education was important! 

There was a teacher, or some other mentor in the early grades, who left a profound impression on them. It motivated them to go on and develop expertise in their fields in traditional or non-traditional ways.

Other than this spark of inspiration that allowed this curiosity or inquiry based learning to flourish, developing the fundamentals of early literacy and numeracy was important as well. 

It allows all of us to use our foundational skills to build on, innovate, generate ideas, and execute them later.

In light of this information, it’s sad to think that many young students are deprived of a high-quality early education. Even that little bit of inspiration and fundamental learning skills are kept from them. 

 

Ideal Scenario

If the accessibility and quality of early learning programs improve, as stated in reasons 1 and 2, it should automatically make a difference in providing the right type of education to young students who need it most.

If there is a check on the over-reliance of standardized assessments and the role of implicit bias in early learning, it’s even better for improving educational equity. To understand how these two things affect equity, check out this article.

There are many things Sprig has developed to tackle these challenges. 

One is deploying holistic assessments, which take multiple learning perspectives into account and keep track of the data over time to build accountability. 

 

Moonshot: Taking Early Childhood Education Where it Needs to Be

Taking Educational Equity Where it Needs to be

​​Sprig Learning wants to ensure every child has a fair shot at success. 

This is the ultimate aspiration. 

It involves: establishing the importance of early education in the popular culture, raising the quality of education for the pre-K-3 configuration, and being accountable to the success of every child.

To join us and discuss ideas on how, together, we can raise the bar of early childhood education, please get in touch with our team.

 

The Essential Terms in Early Childhood Educational Equity and How They Increase Quality

There are many organizations that are committed to the cause of achieving equity in education. Sprig Learning is one among many. Our ultimate mission and purpose is to provide every child with a fair shot at success, by uncovering and supporting their unique learning strengths, needs and interests.

Words are powerful! There are hundreds of terms that are used by researchers, professors, administrators and practitioners of early childhood education. These words shape the discourse on equity in education and eventually lead to policies that affect change. 

New words often arise from research and policy that are added to the ever expanding pool of early childhood education lexicon. Thus there is new discourse, and the cycle continues. 

In a sector that can be so fragmented when it comes to solutions, claims to alleviate inequity and close the opportunity gap are difficult propositions to accept. Without a clear understanding of relevant terms with respect to achieving equity, it can be difficult to find the right tool, resource or solution.

One way to narrow down options for picking the right tool is to see how all of the relevant terms that are used in this discipline are being addressed by organizations and companies.

So what are these terms? Let’s have a look.

 

The Essential Terms To Advance Equity in Early Childhood Education

We are going to look at words that are related to early education and not early childcare. Even though the two are often rolled into one option in preschool programs. 

But there are certain words like “child-care access” and “community-based child care” that are particularly geared towards the practical aspect of finding caregivers, and not always towards  learning. 

While access to the same opportunities ensures equality, it is the delivery of the program to each and every child that promises equity. Proper differentiated delivery that leaves no child behind is a mark of quality. 

These terms focus on achieving equity in early learning, by way of increasing the quality of programs.

 

Accommodation: Refers to the adjustments made in standards and assessment tools to allow certain students to learn and demonstrate their learning in their own way. 

However, the content of learning is not changed for them, it follows a curriculum. Rather, the process of learning is adapted to suit the student’s needs, such as difficulty with the English language.

When deciding on a tool to improve early learning quality, it’s best to see how it differentiates instruction from the teacher’s point of view, and personalizes learning from the child’s point of view. Both are equally important. 

 

Adult-child ratio: Refers to the appropriate number of early education educators for a certain class size. The Administration For Children & Families in the US recommends 1 trained adult for 6-10 preschoolers (aged 3-5) and 1 trained adult for 10-12 school age children (aged 5 and above). 

It also recommends a maximum class size of 12 and 24 students for the two categories above, meaning each class should be managed by two educators. 

The Canadian Child Care Federation recommends a 1:8 ratio of adults to preschoolers.

The preferred scenario is smaller class sizes, where each educator can devote their full attention to the students, but if the adult to child ratio is stressed, it’s good to have a resource in place that will mitigate some of the administrative tasks for educators working in a large classroom.

It’s also important to understand how any technology or resource will be used by the lead teacher and the co-teacher. Ask yourself, how is a tool suited to any of these 6 styles of co-teaching?

 

After School Program: Refers to programs serving school children outside of school hours, also known as out-of-school time programs. 

Childhood is a valuable time. It can be said that too many organized after school programs such as recreational activities, mentoring or social clubs can unnecessarily tax the development of young children. Afterall, the school is supposed to be a place to work on other developmental domains besides just cognition and language. Physical and socio-emotional development cannot only be relegated to other programs. 

But, depending on the strategy of each school district, certain support systems may be created outside of school hours that make it easier for the parents to manage their child’s schedules and ensure they are developing holistically. 

When choosing a resource or platform to increase the quality of early learning, it’s best to understand how its usage transitions from the school to the home. 

 

At Risk: Refers to those students who may need additional support for their child development and learning. 

It’s important to identify children “at risk” early on, so necessary interventions, supports and measures can be taken. Most brain development happens between birth and age 8, so it’s crucial to provide support at this stage early on.

Risk factors include lower soci-economic status, community conditions and experiences, and lack of access to high-quality education. So, by choosing to improve the quality of early learning, the at-risk factors can be mitigated to some degree. 

More holistic and comprehensive screening and assessment tools can also support young at-risk learners.   Such tools can help  apply a 360 degree account of the students needs, interests and challenges that reflect multiple learning environments. 

 

Attachment: Refers to the deep emotional connection between a parent or caregiver, and a child. Human connections contribute to the child’s overall sense of wellbeing. It is an indicator of healthy child development and learning. 

Technology is a poor substitute for the emotional bonding that can happen between an adult and a child in their formative years. That being said, the context matters in which a particular tool or resource is being used. There are 4 attachment styles, of which secured attachment is the best. 

Technology can also be used to encourage parental involvement or promote activities that work on establishing secure attachment between the child and the people who care for, and  educate them. 

 

Continuity of Care: This is a term that is more commonly associated with child care and it refers to the transitions from one person or setting to another person or setting. However, it can also be applied to early education. Preschool programs are a type of setting where the young student spends a considerable amount of time. 

Maintaining consistency in the type of people and environment the child is associated with in the early years, promotes greater brain development and learning. 

When deciding tools and resources that  improve quality in early childhood education, see if they focus on maintaining this continuity where educators, parents and any other caregivers are able to collaborate on the best outcome for the child. 

 

Cultural Competence: Refers to the incorporation of cultural knowledge, customs and language of a particular group of people into the educational standards, policies and practices. 

Classes are more diverse than ever before. Thus the need for cultural competence is at an all time high. Understanding the community of learners and their contexts can support the development of appropriate culturally responsive materials. 

In order to advance quality in early learning programs, it’s best to confirm if culturally appropriate learning materials are available that are reflective of the student body.

 

Curriculum: Refers to an outline of what children will be learning, and the learning materials and processes available to them to achieve those learning outcomes. 

Having a set outline, course content and process for learning seems straightforward, but often, only general guidelines are released. This leaves a lot of room for flexibility when it comes to implementing the curriculum. 

The learning outcomes are perhaps the most rigid aspect of the curriculum, because they are developed and agreed upon by the local, regional or national governing bodies on education. However, such curriculum guides can be general in nature. There is much room for input from the school board, directors of curriculum, and building-level teachers and administrators.

Private solution providers can step in to make this “top-down but flexible” process easier on the schools. But it’s good to understand if the solution has actually made their own version of the curriculum, or if it promises to align to the local, state or provincial curriculum. 

 

Developmental Domains: The wide range of research defines somewhere between four to seven developmental domains, which refer to the specific aspects of growth and change in young children. 

Attached to these developmental domains are developmental milestones. They allow educators, parents and caregivers to keep track of appropriate development or intervene when there is a cause for concern. 

A lot of research has been conducted that connects reaching the developmental milestones to success in later life in what is known as developmental outcomes. There are other determinants as well such as family income and health, but developmentally appropriate early education is certainly a leading indicator of success. 

It’s best to find a tool that has mechanisms in place to understand the unique personality of every child, their learning style and their family background. Activities, practices, settings and behaviors can be modified to match the learning needs of the student. 

While language, cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development are standard domains, adaptive/self-help and spiritual/moral domains are more rare. A holistic learning approach considers all of the above. 

 

Executive Function: Refers to cognitive skills that help children regulate their behavior such as their ability to focus, remember instruction and control certain inhibitions to complete a task.

Executive function is extremely important in early childhood education as there is a stong connection to both academic and social success. 

Before choosing a learning solution or resources, it’s a good idea to ask what activities or exercises are offered to promote executive function. 

 

Bias: Bias in early childhood education can be both implicit and explicit. Implicit bias is an automatic or unconscious reaction someone has toward other people. With explicit bias, individuals are aware of their prejudices and attitudes toward certain groups.

While it’s not possible to get rid of bias completely, there are measures that can be taken to mitigate it. Using more culturally responsive assessments and having an assessment process that considers more viewpoints are great tactics in the battle against bias in early learning.

When picking a tool or platform, it helps to know how inclusive and culturally responsive the assessment process is. Perhaps it’s not an out-of-the-box solution due to the level of customization that is needed, but it is definitely reassuring to know if such arrangements can be made. 

 

Motor Skills: Refers to fine motor skills and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills involve control of the small muscles in the body to complete activities like drawing or writing. Gross motor skills involve control of the large muscles in the body for activities such as running and jumping.

Motor skills are absolutely crucial for early education because physical development is a big part of growth. Cognitive and soci-emotional skills enable early learners to conceptualize and solve problems or acquire early literacy and numeracy, but in order to perform certain activities that show those skills, motor skills are needed.

Also, young students have a lot of energy, which is why play-based learning has emerged as one of the most popular learning styles in preschools and kindergartens. 

To boost quality in early learning programs, it cannot be all desk-based or stationary activities. There has to be a healthy mix of mobile activities, both inside and outside the classroom. 

 

Observational Tools: Refers to instruments that are used to assess and communicate the level of quality in early education programs. 

Classroom assessment scoring systems and environment rating scales are used in the US to improve the quality of teacher effectiveness and learning environment respectively. The Federal Secretariat on Early Learning in Canada also recommends these two scales to measure quality.

It’s good to know if you will be implementing observational tools at your school to report the level of quality, and the type of quality they would measure. For example, when it comes to process quality, 30 years of research papers on the subject were studied to show that positive staff-to-child interactions and development-focused curricula were its best drivers. 

 

Parent Involvement: Refers to the active participation of the parents in the child’s education. It requires communication between the parents and the child’s educators. When this communication extends to a relationship with regular interactions, it is known as family engagement. 

It’s ideal if a quality improvement platform is able to measure parental involvement and engagement. 

 

Protective Factors: Refers to the characteristics that counteract the effects of risk factors in early learning. One in six children face developmental problems at school entry. 

To minimize this risk, protective factors include community and social support and knowledge of parenting and child development.

Explore if your solution takes a strengths-based approach, which attempts to maximize all the strong points for health development, rather than focus on the negatives.

The at-risk factors will of course be there for certain children. But it’s the reaction to those at risk factors that will determine the eventual outcome.

 

The Short of It — Internalizing All The Terms

There were plenty of terms that were left out in this document because of their overly technical nature. Terms relating to funds, or terms related to the various types of child care that do not specifically speak to any educational quality component. 

At the end of the day, achieving equity is a long-term oriented goal.

To begin the arduous task of closing opportunity gaps, it’s helpful to understand the relevant terms that determine the quality of education in an early childhood setting. Only when these concepts are properly understood, they can be fine tuned in an existing program or included in a new program. The end result can be an enhancement in quality. 

When the quality of early childhood education is raised, there is a higher chance of any existing accessibility and equality translating into equity.

Sprig Learning builds culturally relevant resources and assessments to provide a holistic learning experience to all students. To learn more about how your program can address inequity in early learning, give us a shout.

The Equity Issues in Early Childhood Education That Will Stop You in Your Tracks.

Sprig Learning is a purpose-built company: to help every child succeed irrespective of all needs and circumstances.This article reviews systemic challenges that have long impacted equity in ECE. 

These challenges have deepened inequity in education. Some by faulty design, and others due to natural demographic changes. 

But first, why does equity matter?

 

Why Is Equity Such a Priority?

Equality of opportunity is the basic building block of education where every child receives the quality education needed to succeed. High-quality education in early years is especially important as so much learning and childhood development happens between birth to age eight. 

To this endeavor, there are federal, state and provincial programs that expand high-quality early childhood education programs so children from various backgrounds are able to have the same chances to succeed academically.

But the responsibility of the schooling system does not stop there. It’s how every child interacts with these early learning programs that ultimately determines achievement outcomes in academia and other socio-emotional domains. 

Every child is unique. Each child requires the collaboration of educators, parents, the community, researchers, administrators and policy makers to ensure equity. 

When families and children are left to fend for themselves in order to achieve equity and fairness, discrepancies in outcomes begin to take place.

These discrepancies usually correlate to families from low socioeconomic backgrounds and/or  non-native English speakers.

Here are two main causes of inequity in early childhood education.

Too Much Value is Placed on Standardized Testing

Child development specialists and educators recognize the importance of the early learning years. 

Observational formative assessments have always been used to monitor the growth and development of young students and catalog their progress.

In the late 90s in the US, there was an increase in formal standardized testing to categorize students into groups of different abilities or make a decision on whether to place them at a certain grade level. 

It’s a trend that has not abated. More instances of standardized testing in early childhood education have been making their way into large school systems in the US such as the Chicago Public schools. California and other states have been moving towards established assessments for k-2 students. 

Boys and non-English speakers are at a disadvantage when it comes to such types of early screenings. They are more likely to be held back or placed in a special group and miss out on the benefits of continued learning opportunities. 

LaParo and Pianta found in a meta analytic review, that only a quarter of variance on academic/cognitive skills on first and second grades tests were accurately predicted by preschool or kindergarten tests.

Standardized testing has its place in the system, but not at the onset of the early learning period. This early on, there’s too much at stake to mistakenly limit a child’s potential by holding them to a lower standard because of a standardized assessment taking place during a small moment in time.  

Yes, standardized tests are often valuable for education systems to understand the degree to which children are represented in different developmental domains. But this should not limit an individual child’s potential or learning trajectory.

The Role of Implicit Bias Is Unchecked Due to Lack of Data

Researchers have studied the effects of stress and ambiguity on educators who work in a school setting that foster unconscious attitudes, stereotypes and reactions. Implicit bias is real. Luckily, by being aware of it, we can mitigate its effect. 

The expectations teachers place on their students have been linked to student success. It’s an opportunity for educators to base those expectations on the back of evidence, rather than using any mental heuristics which are prone to implicit bias, or even explicit bias. 

Incorporating a data-driven decision making approach for educators can support teachers when planning daily instruction in their classrooms.. Data-driven instruction has been shown to positively impact the childhood education experience and enhance student outcomes. 

With an evidence-based approach that collects multiple data points during assessment and throughout the delivery of instruction during the school year, educators can best adapt instruction to the strengths, needs and interests of the child. Sprig Learning’s AI Engine was built to collect such data to personalize instruction for students,and support differentiated instruction in the classroom.

 

Diversity Necessitates Inclusion

In the beginning of this article, it was discussed how equity is the goal to strive for, beyond equality or access to education. But there are two things that also require discussion. Diversity and inclusion. 

In order to achieve equity, the diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds of all children need to be recognized and included. When a child’s culture is reflected in the education system,  this increases a child’s sense of belonging and engagement when it comes to learning. 

Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) has 175 schools and over 100,000 students in its system. To ensure every student felt included and was treated fairly, teachers, parents, local businesses, community groups, and others were interviewed to gather their feedback.

As a result, and in an effort to ensure an equitable education for children from economically-diverse communities, it adopted adaptive technology that personalizes learning for all students.

Christina Byers, Executive Director of Leadership Development for BCPS elementary schools, says “Adaptive technology can help ensure that kids aren’t penalized because of their zip code or their race or what school they happen to go to”.

To  foster and support diversity in education, it is clear that diverse communities need to be engaged and included. 

The percentage of students from a low socio-economic status, who are English-language learners and who have diagnosed disabilities have all increased by 5 or more percentage points in the US over the last five decades.

Diversity is not only restricted to demographic and socioeconomic factors. There is also neurodiversity. Nearly half of all students in the public education system have some sort of learning diversity. In order to achieve ultimate equity in education, learning has to be personalized at an individual level.

 

Main Lessons in Equity

Building Equity Accountability Through Data

Whether it’s structures and processes in place such as the standardized tests, our own implicit bias, or the growing diversity in today’s classroom, there is a lot to be done on the road to achieving equity in early learning. 

Early learning is especially important as that’s where equity issues can first start to surface. Recent research across the US found that preschoolers are expelled at rates three times higher than school-aged children.  Nearly half of those expelled were African American children, despite representing only 18 percent of enrolment 

Rather than punitive measures, it should be better understood why certain children are acting the way they are, so they can be better supported from the start. 

For improved early learning equity, the Education Trust, a think tank, recommends building strong vertical data systems that track student progress over time. Sprig agrees, as it uses portfolios in its program to build a learning profile for young students which follows the child as they progress from grade to grade and year to year.  

There are benefits to be gained by monitoring learning over time, so we can better isolate the factors that could be causing inequity. To this point, the Education Trust, also recommends tracking preschool data at a program level, complementing  data at the district or county level.

Building Identity Through Culturally Responsive Resources

Educare Chicago is an innovative early learning research-based program that serves low-income preschool children in Chicago. It helps children develop the literacy, language, early math and social-emotional skills they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

But they also address the issue of equity head on. Their approach “emphasizes a teacher’s capacity to help a child recognize how they are simultaneously different and similar to others.” 

As a result, children feel grounded in who they are and also able to comfortably engage with people from all backgrounds.

It’s important for students to develop a strong identity with relevant classroom resources and materials, so students see themselves reflected in their curriculum. 

There is lots to think about. 

By honouring diversity with culturally-relevant classroom materials, and monitoring student data over time, it’s conceivable to move forward in our shared goal of education equity for all. Sprig is leading this front, with expertise in both these areas. Contact us to learn more.