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How do we better understand children’s early development?

Charting early childhood development with ECLS-K:2024

Challenge

The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), provides a wealth of national data on child development, early learning, and school progress. Beginning with children’s status at birth, the data deliver insights into their status at various points thereafter, including their transition to nonparental care, early care, education programs, and school, and incorporates their experiences and growth through the elementary grades. Westat is conducting the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2023-24 (ECLS-K:2024) following our studies of the ECLS-K:1998-99, the ECLS-K:2010-11, and the ECLS-B (Birth Cohort). The ECLS-K:2024 will provide data about children who will be kindergartners in the 2023-24 school year, with a focus on their early school experiences through 5th grade. It will be especially meaningful, as it will provide important information about the experiences of children whose early lives were shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To gain a complete portrait of their learning experiences, Westat will gather data from the children, their parents/guardians, teachers, and school administrators. Our findings will guide educational practices and policies to elevate the chances of school success for all children. The study requires top-level expertise in survey design, sampling, field staff training, data collection, statistical analysis, and subject matter knowledge, and the ability to connect with both children and adults—expertise for which Westat is well known.

Solution

Westat will train approximately 350 field data interviewers who will travel to 1,000 schools nationwide to directly ask children—with their parents’ consent—age-appropriate math- and reading-related questions during a one-on-one session. The parents of participating children will be invited to enter a Westat-designed portal to complete a web survey containing questions about their family, their child’s experiences, and learning activities that their child participates in outside of school. Field interviewers will attempt to complete the web surveys over the telephone with nonresponding parents.

Accommodations will be made for children with disabilities or who speak a language other than English. The parent survey will be available in English and Spanish, and interpreters will be on hand for parents who speak a different language.

Teachers will also be invited to enter a Westat-designed portal to complete a web survey about their professional background and teaching practices, as well as surveys about the abilities of each of their participating students. Beginning in spring 2024, school administrators will be able to answer web-posted questions through that portal about their school and their own professional background. The longitudinal nature of the ECLS-K:2024 data enables researchers to learn how a wide range of family, school, community, and individual factors are associated with school performance.

For the ECLS-K:2024, Westat is designing the surveys, conducting sampling, recruiting districts and schools, creating and leading a 5-day in-person training, and cleaning and delivering data. Our findings will impart critical intelligence needed to guide educational practices and policies to strengthen the potential of all children to excel in school.

Westat brings valuable knowledge and skills to this study, including a deep understanding of the kindergarten-elementary school population, the ability to access schools, and decades of large survey expertise that will provide educators and policymakers meaningful information in their quest to improve the school experience for children nationwide.

Elizabeth Bissett, Associate Director Large Surveys

Results

The multifaceted, comprehensive data collected across the years through the ECLS-K:2024 will provide data on how various home, classroom, school, and community factors between the kindergarten and 5th grade years relate to children’s development cognitively and on multiple other levels, impacting their school performance. The ECLS-K:2024 study is used as a model for other education studies, reflecting Westat’s survey and data collection expertise.

18,000 children The ECLS-K:2024 will follow 18,000 children of all ethnic and racial groups in 1,000 public and private schools nationwide, beginning in their kindergarten year through 5th grade.

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