Panel Paper: Aligning Three Measures of Children’s Pre-K and Kindergarten Math Skills in the Making Pre-K Count Study

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Stetson BC (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Shira Mattera1, Pamela Morris2 and Natalia Rojas2, (1)MDRC, (2)New York University

Correlational research has suggested that children’s early math competencies are an important predictor of children’s later math and reading outcomes (Duncan et al., 2007) and even high school completion and college attendance (Duncan & Magnuson, 2009). And, children have historically received little math instruction in pre-k, with teachers placing the lowest priority on teaching early math skills to children (compared to focusing on children’s social and emotional development, physical health, and pre-literacy skills; Ginsburg et al., 2008).

Given the seeming importance of early math learning and the lack of math instruction in pre-k, Making Pre-K Count set out to rigorously test the importance of early math skills for short- and long-term outcomes by evaluating Building Blocks (BB), a high-quality math curriculum, combined with extensive training and in-classroom coaching, as compared to pre-k-as-usual in New York City. The sample included over 1300 children in 173 classrooms within 69 pre-k sites. Half of the preschools were randomly assigned to receive the math curriculum, alongside training and coaching to support teacher’s delivery of the program, while the other half were assigned to the control group. The current study is focused on the question of whether there are overlap and unique components of three measure of children’s math skill in pre-k and kindergarten, delving into how different measures of the same construct conceptualize and assess that construct. This study focuses on the three math measures collected in pre-k and kindergarten to assess children’s math skills: the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B; Najarian, Snow, Lennon, & Kinsey, 2010), the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ-III ACH; Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather, 2001): Applied Problems, and the Research-Based Early Math Assessment–Kindergarten (REMA-K).

We view mathematics achievement as a multidimensional construct that includes different mathematical competencies. We relied on a variety of standards documents, frameworks, prior empirical analyses outlining children’s core competencies in mathematics, and our qualitative review of the measures to create eight meaningful and distinct categories of mathematical competencies, including numbers, operations, patterning, geometry, geometric measurement, measurement, relational thinking/early algebra and spatial thinking. Within the three math measures, we coded items into those eight mathematical competencies. We found that across the measures, most of the items fell into the Operations (REMA: 22 items; WJ-III: 17 items; ECLS-B: 11 items), Numbers (REMA: 7 items; WJ-III: 9 items; ECLS-B: 30 items), and Geometry mathematical competencies (REMA: 5 items; WJ-III: 2 items; ECLS-B: 11 items). We examined the delivery of each of the items (i.e., use of images, manipulatives or abstract), the complexity of items, and we coded items that tapped into multiple competency areas.

The present study provides much-needed information to the field about the unique properties of each of these widely used measures and further evidence that the importance of selecting the appropriate measure to assess children’s skills in a given domain. Information about which math competencies are collected, how, and with what predictive ability can help guide policymakers as they consider which measure is most aligned with their needs.