May 4-10, 2001
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IN THIS ISSUE
Arts and Sciences Academy chooses three from U.Va.
Library becomes co-publisher of Meridian
U.Va.'s Seven Society honors graduate teaching assistants

Colleagues remember Meloy as dedicated, hard working

Study finds wide variation in children's experiences with first-grade classrooms
Police chief's watch ending after 17 years
Gottesman is retiring after illustrious psychology career
President Casteen's speech on video
Download the latest in office technology
Hot Links -- The Lightbulb
From the Arctic Circle to Fluvanna, scientist studies nature and ozone
University seeks to raise shields on computers
Robert Pianta
Courtesy of the Curry School

“It’s clear from our data that schools are doing a good job in the social and emotional support component of the classroom environment. It’s also apparent that schools need to reach an understanding concerning the degree to which the instructional component of that environment ought to be emphasized as well. It’s a really challenging thing to do, but necessary if we’re going to hold students accountable for what they are learning starting in third grade.”

— Robert Pianta
William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor of Education

Study finds wide variation in children's experiences with first-grade classrooms

Staff Report

Researchers conducting a national early child care study have
released findings that show little consistency across classrooms on what constitutes an appropriate first-grade instructional program or educational experience. In fact, students’ experiences in first-grade classrooms vary as much as their skills do, said Robert Pianta, the William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor in the Curry School of Education, who is among some 30 researchers nationwide conducting this 10-year study for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The study also revealed that child care centers and high quality child care of all types benefit preschoolers in language and memory skills, noted Pianta, U.Va.’s lead researcher on the study, who presented findings on school readiness at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in Minneapolis April 19-20. However, children who spend fewer hours in such child care show fewer behavior problems, he said.

“This study took an unparalleled look at school readiness from both sides of school entry,” Pianta said. “We examined the antecedent conditions of readiness skills before children go to school. We then made comprehensive observations of the first-grade classroom’s role in supporting those skills.”

Researchers enrolled 1,300 children at birth in 10 cities 10 years ago throughout the United States. In Charlottesville and the other areas, parents and their newborns were recruited for the project while they were still in the hospital. Researchers studied them in several child-care arrangements, from the most informal (with relatives) to the most formal (center care). The researchers have followed the children through their infant, toddler and preschool years and now into elementary school.

The researchers, observing 827 children in public and private first-grade classrooms for about three hours at the start of each school day, determined that for the first-grade program study:

• Children in different classrooms are exposed to a very wide range of experiences and activities. Many involve a teacher leading a large group in a literacy-related activity. During this morning observation, teachers spent much of the time managing the children’s involvement in academic work and somewhat less time involved in directly teaching academic skills.

• Children are more engaged in an assigned activity and more positive when classrooms are rated as “more supportive” instructionally and emotionally.

• A teacher’s experience and formal education, as well as class size, do not relate meaningfully to the observed quality of the classroom environment. The researchers did find small links between a teacher’s education and total years teaching first grade and the teacher’s sensitivity to children’s needs and providing appropriate academic instruction.

• For the most part, teachers and classrooms were rated as positive toward and supportive of children.

In associated research, the effects of quality child care as they relate to intellectual and language development and on the development of preschool skills were apparent not only in a child’s first three years, but also by the time children reach 412.

Researchers found children receiving more language stimulation from their caregivers attained higher scores on intellectual and language tests than did those with less language stimulation in child care. They also reported that children who watch more television received lower test scores in arithmetic and had smaller vocabularies and more behavior problems.

Finally, the study found that children 412 years old and older who spent more time in child care when younger, were rated by caregivers, their mothers and kindergarten teachers as having more behavior problems than did those the same age who spent less time in child care, although these problems were not at high or serious levels. Researchers found the children with fewer hours in childcare were rated as less aggressive and less disobedient and defiant than would be expected, Pianta noted. Statistically, 17 percent of children who spent over 30 hours a week in child care demonstrated problem behaviors by the time they were 4 12 to 6. Only 6 percent of those who spent less than 10 hours a week in such care had the same problems. The average time that children spent in child care between the ages of 3 months and 412 years was 26 hours a week.

Following last week’s announcement of the study’s findings, which have not gone through the peer-review process or been published yet, researchers noted that asking parents to work fewer hours and spend more time with their children usually meant a loss of family income, which also adversely affects children.

“These findings don’t in any way have direct implications for whether parents should or should not have their children in child care, because the associations we observe are quite small,” Pianta said. “Having a child in child care can produce benefits to the family that are important for everybody, including [increased family] income and added resources that come with that income,” including1 the ability to afford a high quality child care experience, he said.

“It’s clear from our data that schools are doing a good job in the social and emotional support component of the classroom environment. It’s also apparent that schools need to reach an understanding concerning the degree to which the instructional component of that environment ought to be emphasized as well. It’s a really challenging thing to do, but necessary if we’re going to hold students accountable for what they are learning starting in third grade,” Pianta said, referring to the recently implemented Standards of Learning.

In February 2000, U.Va. received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to continue this childhood development research for another five years. This will take the children into their early teen years.

The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health, the biomedical research arm of the federal government. The institute sponsors research on development before and after birth; maternal, child and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. More information about NICHD is available at www.nichd.nih.gov.


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