Longitudinal Study Is First To Track Kindergartners

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The Education Department this month awarded a contract to a Chicago-based research center to conduct what will be the first national longitudinal study to track children from the time they enter kindergarten.

The study, known as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort, is scheduled to begin during the 1998-99 school year and will follow 23,000 kindergarten students as they progress through elementary school.

The $2.18 million contract to conduct the study was awarded to the National Opinion Research Center, a nonprofit survey-research group affiliated with the University of Chicago. Researchers from the Educational Testing Service, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago will assist in the project.

"There's been greater attention in recent years on getting more information on children's first encounter with school,'' Jerry West, who is overseeing the study for the federal National Center for Education Statistics, said. "Most children are now going to kindergarten, but we have relatively little information on a national level on what that experience is like for them.''

Measuring Progress

Insuring that all students by 2000 "start school ready to learn'' is the first of eight education goals that state and national political leaders have set for the nation. The new study is aimed in part at providing a yardstick for measuring progress toward that goal.

It will also provide data on children's key transitions through the primary grades, on their experiences while in kindergarten, and on how those experiences relate to later success in school.

The study will also take into account non-school-related factors that bear on learning success, such as health status or family and economic background.

"In order to advance our understanding of why some children adjust easily to the environment of school and appear to make critical transitions without much difficulty, it is important that the discipline boundaries surrounding much of the past and current research on young children's learning and schooling be broken down,'' Mr. West said in a paper on the project written for the American Educational Research Association.

The study is the second national effort launched by the center in recent years to provide a window on children's early learning experiences. The government began collecting data on 3-year-olds in 1990 when it launched the National Household Education Survey. Unlike the new longitudinal study, however, the household survey does not track the progress of individual children.

Vol. 13, Issue 31

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