Reconceptualizing Early Education on Scientific Grounds: School Readiness in Focus

By Ionescu, Thea; Benga, Oana | Cognitie, Creier, Comportament, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Reconceptualizing Early Education on Scientific Grounds: School Readiness in Focus


Ionescu, Thea, Benga, Oana, Cognitie, Creier, Comportament


ABSTRACT

The main objective of this article is to offer a synthesis on school readiness, as it is understood today in fundamental research. In a moment in which early education is a very important issue in Romania, school readiness is a hot topic in international research. Looking at it from this perspective, all we would learn about school readiness from other educational systems can be informative for an optimal reconceptualization of our educational system. The article begins with a broad definition of school readiness and a description of the multiple levels of this concept. Afterwards, we try to understand when and how to assess school readiness, and outline the variations that exist between cultures, communities and individuals. The paper ends with recommendations for the reconceptualization of early education in the Romanian educational system, where the focus should be on child development and progress, and not on child assessment per se.

KEYWORDS: school readiness, abilities, assessment, preschool development.

Being a hot topic in research and education today (see the special issue on school readiness of Early Education and Development, 17(1), 2006), school readiness is a very important concept for reconceptualizing education at present time in Romania. This is so because early education and intervention are on stake now, when we think about preventing early school failure and offering equal chances for as many children as possible. Yet, educational policies have to be based on scientific grounds. In the absence of consistent Romanian studies, we suggest that informed decision-making and evidence-based practices should rely on the experience gained by foreign educational systems.

The main objective of this paper is to offer a synthesis on critical aspects of school readiness that could inform educational policies, through the lenses of developmental psychology.

Achievement gaps - disparities in academic performance tied to socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity - have been acknowledged for the last two or three decades, predominantly by US studies, which showed consistent differences on standardized tests, as well as grade-point averages or other measurements. Educational policies have changed in order to target the reduction of such disparities - e.g., the No Child Left Behind Act (2002), according to which each child must meet the academic expectations of each grade level by the end of the school year. Longitudinal studies have suggested that such gaps are stable, and become even deeper in time; according to the data driven from the U.S. Department of Education's Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), 80% of the variance in academic achievement at the end of the fourth grade can be predicted by children's performance at first grade.

A growing body of research has recently reoriented from school-aged children to preschool children, developing around the concept of school readiness. From this perspective, it is considered that the above-mentioned disparities are already present among children entering kindergarten and first grade. Children entering school not yet ready to learn, because of academic, social and/or emotional deficits, continue to have difficulties later in life (Rouse, Brooks-Gunn, & McLAnahan, 2005; Sadowski, 2006). Any serious attempt to close the achievement gaps has to focus on early ages.

Historically, the roots of school readiness are to be found in compulsory education laws back in the 19th/early 20th centuries, that have developed systems with a defined beginning age. Yet, modern conceptualizations translated into policies are linked to much later initiatives. For example, in US, the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP, 1997) is the critical approach that shifted attention towards early childhood and school readiness (however, we must not forget that preschool education is based on an unitary curricula for each country in Europe for decades, though research in this field is dominated now by US teams). …

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