Ladders of Learning: Fighting Fade-Out by Advancing PreK-3rd Alignment

Published: January 2006

Ladders of Learning: Fighting Fade-Out by Advancing PreK-3rd Alignment by Kristie Kauerz, an Issue Brief published by the New America Foundation Education Policy Program, argues that alignment of standards, curriculum and assessment from Prekindergarten through Third Grade can reduce fade-out and improve academic achievement. The brief discusses three types of alignment: horizontal, vertical and temporal.

Horizontal alignment refers to the alignment of standards, curriculum and assessment within grade levels from PK through Third Grade. When schools are horizontally aligned, what children should know and be able to do at each grade level (standards) is supported by what is taught in the classroom (curriculum), both of which are reflected in assessments. The federal government has taken small steps toward horizontal alignment, but much work remains.

Vertical alignment refers to the alignment of structural and process features across grades. When schools are vertically aligned, standards, curriculum and assessment from each grade level serve as a foundation on which to build the standards, curriculum and assessment of the next grade. In this way, skill begets skill. While vertical alignment of standards in K-12 exists in many states, this alignment frequently does not include PK. Kauerz argues for two-way alignment. At the same time that cognitive standards are extended to PK, social, emotional and behavioral goals need to be incorporated into the K-3 standards.

Temporal alignment refers to the alignment of children's learning experiences throughout the entire year. Thus, children's learning experiences must be aligned not only within grade levels, but also between grade levels, with a focus on the summer months. For this temporal alignment to occur, PreK-3rd summer learning opportunities must be expanded, and these programs must be aligned with children's experiences in the grades before and after the summer months.

For PreK-3rd initiatives to expand, Kauerz believes the federal government must support states' and local school districts' efforts. She recommends that the federal government convene a National PreK-3rd Commission to establish common strategies and goals for federal PK and primary education programs. For alignment at the state level, she calls for federal government support of state PK-16 Councils to create the infrastructure needed to encourage school districts to implement PreK-3rd. For alignment at the local level, she calls for the dedication of new Title I funds to support PreK-3rd efforts.

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