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Cleveland Plain Dealer
When it comes to reading, kindergarten is the new first grade, says Ohio State University study
By Karen Farkas
April 13, 2017

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Kids are learning to read in kindergarten, entering first grade in 2013 with significantly better reading skills than similar students 12 years earlier, according to an Ohio State University study.

Even low-achieving students saw gains in basic reading skills over this time period and actually narrowed the achievement gap with other young readers, the study showed. But the research showed that the gap between low-achieving readers and others actually widened when it came to advanced reading skills.

"Overall, it is good news," Jerome D'Agostino, co-author of the study and professor of educational studies at Ohio State, said in a news release. "We have evidence that the increased emphasis on learning important skills earlier in life is having a real impact on helping develop reading abilities by first grade."

The Ohio State study is published in the current issue of the journal Educational Researcher.

The study involved 2,358 schools from 44 states.  A total of 364,738 children were assessed during the 12 years of the study. This included 313,488 low-achieving students who were selected to participate in Reading Recovery, a literacy intervention for first-grade students, Ohio State said.

Another 51,250 randomly selected students from the same schools also participated.

All children were tested at the beginning of first grade, before the Reading Recovery students began their intervention program. They were measured on four basic skills (letter identification, word recognition, ability to identify and use sounds and print awareness), as well as two advanced skills (writing vocabulary and text reading).

The results showed that average scores on all six parts of the test increased over the 12 years, suggesting that many children end kindergarten with the skills they used to learn in first grade.

The results also show that strategies to help preschoolers who are having trouble with language skills need to be adjusted, said co-author Emily Rodgers, an associate professor of teaching and learning.

"We're probably spending too much time emphasizing basic skills for the low-achieving students, when we should be giving them more opportunities to actually read text," she said.

According to the study, in the four basic skills, low-achieving students narrowed the achievement gap with other readers. But in the two advanced skills - including actually reading text - the gap widened.

Why have reading scores for entering first-graders improved since 2002?

D'Agostino and Rodgers said two influential national reports released in the 2000s (the National Reading Panel in 2000 and the National Early Literacy Panel in 2008) urged changes in reading instruction.

Both reports, as well as the No Child Left Behind law, led to an increased emphasis on learning important skills related to reading achievement in preschool and kindergarten, the researchers said.

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