Panel Paper: Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment in Early Childhood Education: Examining Alignment across Multiple State Systems

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 7 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Anamarie Auger Whitaker1, Jade Jenkins2 and Jennifer K. Duer2, (1)RAND Corporation, (2)University of California, Irvine

To generate systematic improvements in the learning experiences of children in public early childhood education (ECE) programs, researchers, administrators, and policymakers must understand the policy levers currently in place that aim to improve their effectiveness. State policy analysis is essential to this understanding because states are the central locus of child policymaking. However, there exists limited research on state ECE systems. Furthermore, ECE policy implementation and administration are dispersed across state agencies, with different government agencies responsible for different aspects of ECE policy. Scholars have characterized this field haphazard, idiosyncratic, incoherent, and that such disorganization hinders alignment and synergy of state policies. In turn, many state-level practitioners and researchers have called for stronger connections and alignment of ECE programs at the state and local levels.

Our study adapts a K-12 education policy framework to assess alignment in state ECE policy systems; this narrows our focus to three policy levers: 1) standards; 2) curricula; and 3) assessment, operationalized as states’ Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). Early learning standards created provide ECE programs with guidelines on content, skills, or knowledge children should have prior to kindergarten entry. Often policies mandate that ECE programs use published curricula to shape preschool program instructional quality in ways that promote child development. To regulate program quality and in response to the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant mandates, states have either adopted or are in the process of introducing QRIS that use classroom observations and basic program structural information, including curricula and the incorporation of standards, in their ratings.

To conduct a descriptive analysis of policy alignment, we compiled a 50-state dataset from multiple sources to examine preschool early learning standards, curricular guidelines, and QRISs in 2017. Standards and curricular policies were coded from all 50 states’ child care subsidy program (CCDF) and from 43 states with prekindergarten (pre-k) programs, and QRIS information for 41 states with operating QRISs. We proposed a set of questions to assess alignment: (1) To what extent are preschool curricula and early learning standards included in state or local QRISs? (2) Are specific curricular packages recommended or do states provide guidance for selection? (3) Are curricular requirements and guidance similar for state’s CCDF and pre-k programs?

Our preliminary findings indicate that the two-thirds of QRISs include curricula in rankings, but less than half of those that do listed specific packages (HighScope, Creative Curriculum most common). In a majority of states, curricular guidance was inconsistent across their CCDF and pre-k programs. All states have early learning standards, but less than a third of states with QRISs integrate standards in their rating scales. Additionally, post-hoc analyses of QRIS lead agencies indicate substantial dispersion of responsibility, ranging from 1-9+ agencies, with no pattern in agency type (e.g., Dept. of Education).

Overall, our findings show poor alignment amongst key state ECE policies. Researchers and policymakers should closely examine why key ECE policy levers are relatively siloed, and whether each component is redundant or uniquely add value.