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New Study Reveals Full-Day Kindergarteners’ Academic Gains Fade by Third Grade
Researchers Compare Academic Skills in both Full-Day and Part-Day Kindergarteners

CHICAGO, July 28, 2008 – According to new research, children who attend full-day kindergarten have better reading and math skills than children who attend part-day kindergarten. However, this same research also found that these initial academic benefits diminish soon after children leave kindergarten due to issues related to poverty and the quality of children’s home environments.

These conclusions are part of a new study conducted by academics at the University of Pittsburgh and Loyola University Chicago. Published in the July/August 2008 issue of Child Development, the study sheds light on policy discussions as full-day kindergarten programs become more common in the United States. Currently, many questions remain about whether there are meaningful benefits to full-day kindergarten.

Analyzing publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Education’s, “Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999,” the team of researchers evaluated a nationally representative group of 13,776 kindergartners. The study’s authors studied children’s academic achievement in both math and reading in the fall and spring of their kindergarten and first-grade years, as well as in the spring of their third- and fifth-grade years. They also examined the type, and extent, of child care children received outside of kindergarten, the quality of cognitive stimulation children received at home, and the poverty level of children’s families.

“We wanted to pursue this research because we were interested in how early education programs can promote children’s academic development,” said co-author of the study, Christine Li-Grining, assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago. “One of the goals of the study was to provide policymakers with more information about full- and part-day kindergarten programs.”

The researchers found that children attending full-day kindergarten experienced greater growth in reading and math skills during kindergarten, compared to children attending part-day kindergarten. However, these initial academic advantages began fading once children left full-day kindergarten. From the spring of kindergarten through fifth grade, the academic skills of children in part-day kindergarten grew faster than those of children in full-day kindergarten, with the differences fading entirely by third grade.

The fade-out of the full-day advantage is partly explained by modest differences in the children that attend part- and full-day kindergarten, as well as school characteristics. For example, children in part-day kindergarten were more often from financially secure and stimulating home environments than those in full-day programs, according to the study.

“The results of this study suggest that the shift from part-day to full-day kindergarten programs occurring across the U.S. may have positive implications for students’ learning trajectories in the short run,” notes Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, and the study’s lead author. “They also highlight that characteristics of children and their families play noteworthy roles in why the full-day advantages fade relatively quickly.”

Researchers include author, Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, co-authors, Christine Li-Grining, assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago, and Carolina Maldonado, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh.

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