Past Press Releases


First Grade Classrooms May Not Be Ready to Meet Children's Needs

April 2001

Researchers conducting the NICHD Study of Early Child Care will report that there seems to be no agreement on what constitutes a proper first grade instructional program or educational experience. The researchers will add that the experiences offered to children in first grade classrooms vary so much that they may not help address the wide-ranging needs of children. The findings will be presented at 2:30 p.m., on April 20, at a meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development at the Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The NICHD Study of Early Child Care enrolled just over 1,300 children at birth at 10 research sites throughout the United States. Children participating in the on-going study were placed in a variety of child care arrangements, ranging from the most informal (care with relatives), to the most formal (center care). Periodically, researchers associated with the study provide updates on the children's progress as they proceed through the childhood years. To date, the researchers have followed the children through infancy, toddlerhood, and the preschool years.

The researchers observed 827 of these children in their first grade classrooms for approximately three hours at the beginning of the school day. All teachers met state credentialing requirements. There were approximately 687 public school classrooms and 140 private school classrooms in the study. There were no discernible differences between public and private school classrooms. The researchers found that:

  • Children in different classrooms were exposed to a wide range of experiences and activities. Many of these involved a teacher leading a large group in a literacy-related activity, but with very little time spent on science, math, or social studies. Across almost two hours, teachers were mostly involved in managing the classroom, including managing children's involvement in academic activities. During the same time period teachers were minimally involved in directly teaching academic skills.
  • More than 15 percent of classrooms are rated as lacking in both literacy instruction and in positive emotional support for the children, as exemplified by sensitivity to children's cues for attention and help. Moreover, more than 35 percent of classrooms were rated as low on providing instructional feedback to children during lessons.
  • Children are more engaged in an assigned activity and more positive with other children when classrooms are rated as more supportive instructionally and emotionally.
  • Teachers' experience and amount of formal education, as well as class size, do not relate in meaningful ways to the observed quality of the classroom environment. Small links were found between teachers' education and years of experience teaching first grade, on the one hand, and the teachers' sensitivity to the needs of the children and their providing appropriate academic instruction, on the other hand.

The researchers found that there did not seem to be any agreement on what constitutes a proper first grade instructional program or educational experience. The investigators concluded that the experiences offered to children in first grade classrooms vary so much, that, taken as a whole, these findings suggest that classrooms may not be meeting children's needs.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (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. NICHD publications, as well as information about the Institute, are available from the NICHD website, http://www.nichd.nih.gov, or from the NICHD Clearinghouse, 1-800-370-2943; e-mail NICHDClearinghouse@mail.nih.gov.

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