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Why Reading and Reading Skills Are Fundamental in Pre-Kindergarten

August 6th, 2012 by Paul Nyhan

(Editorial Note: Starting today, Birth to Thrive Online is taking a new approach. To add more depth to the important early learning issues happening in Washington and around the county, we’re giving Paul extra reporting time and fewer deadlines. Blogs will now be posted only on Mondays and Wednesdays. Later this month, we will launch an ongoing series exploring how Washington state is implementing it’s Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge  funds. Today, the blog kicks it off with a look at PreK-3rd literacy.)


We know reading proficiency by third grade is a bellwether of future academic success. In recent years, research has shown that children should begin intentionally working toward that goal in pre-kindergarten by developing the building blocks of literacy.


This research doesn’t suggest that we recreate K-3, and all of its tests, in pre-k classrooms. Instead, it shows critical connections between what is learned in pre-k and reading. Emergent literacy skills, such as knowing letters of the alphabet (and their sounds) and a child’s ability to write her name, are connected to reading proficiency in K-3, which, in turn, sets up students for success in later grades and high school graduation, according to a 2010 report on PreK-3rd Literacy. It is all tied together.


For example, one preliminary data analysis suggests “that children’s use of literature language in preschool ages, i.e. explanations talk about the past and future, is a significant predictor of their reading comprehension scores at the end of 1st grade,” according to a report, “Getting On Track Early for School Success: An Assessment System to Support Effective Instruction.”


If these connections are made, children have a better chance of success in school and life. If they are not, students start school already behind.


Why does reading by third grade matter? It is a proven predictor of later success. For example, children who did not read well in third grade were four times more likely not to complete their traditional high school years with a diploma, according to a report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation last year.


“Learning to read should be informed by research about how children begin to read. It is a developmental process which is enhanced by appropriate instruction. Reading to learn is a lifelong process that begins with fostering literacy in the PreK years,” Ruby Takanishi, president of the New York City-based Foundation for Child Development, which supports cutting edge efforts to link early education and K-3, wrote in an email.


The problem is that too often pre-k and K-3 operate in different worlds, with different curriculums, standards and wages.


We are seeing progress. Some of the most promising work in early education focuses on bridging the gap between these two worlds by creating a PreK-3rd continuum. Within that work, creating a developmentally appropriate and seamless PreK-3rd path to literacy shows great potential. That’s because, in part, reading and comprehension are fundamental to success in other subjects, including math and science.


“Being able to read with understanding is the gateway to learning everything else,” said Linda Wing of the University of Chicago’s, Urban Education Institute, which is at the forefront of key work in preK-3rd literacy.


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