NWEA Releases Research and Recommendations on Preparing Early Learners Impacted by the Post-COVID “Kindergarten Bubble”

Greater age differences, wider skills disparities, and less pre-K preparation will be among challenges faced by districts, schools and kindergarten teachers this fall

Portland, Ore. — April 12, 2021 — Among the many ways in which schools are being transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in public school enrollment is one likely to have important consequences in classrooms across the nation, particularly for the youngest learners. According to recent research, U.S. districts reported a substantial drop in the number of students enrolled in kindergartens in 2020-2021, a shift that suggests a “kindergarten bubble” in the coming school year as these students enter school.

This scenario, along with recommendations to help educators mitigate the various impacts of a kindergarten bubble on young learners, is discussed in a new research brief released today by NWEA. The brief, “Preparing Early Learners: Considerations for Supporting the Kindergarten Class of 2021,” draws on recent research to offer four considerations for district, school, and classroom leaders, including:

  • Greater age differences in kindergarten (and some first grade) classrooms: In the midst of a pandemic, many families postponed their children’s school entry in light of the challenges and demands of online or hybrid instruction for young learners and concern about children’s health and safety in schools. As a result, more students will enter kindergarten later or will enter the school system at first grade, creating larger and more split-age classes for both first grade and kindergarten cohorts. In addition, many more students will be unfamiliar with in-person classroom routines.
  • Wider skill disparities upon entry: COVID-19-related school disruptions have widened typical variances in learning experiences. Students who have less early learning opportunity are also likely to have greater COVID-19-related unfinished learning, while students who have support and access to opportunity at home may learn even more than they would have in school. The combination of these two possibilities is likely to exacerbate inequity that already looms large in schools across the country.
  • Summer learning opportunities will be important for young learners: If these missing students enroll in 2021-22, more students will enter formal schooling without typical pre-K preparation. Increasingly, systems are exploring how to use the summer months more effectively to address unfinished learning and better equip first-time school attenders.
  • Data is key to driving evidence-based resource decision making and understanding long-term implications: There remain many important questions to be answered about kindergarten entry age and its short- and long-term implications, including how age affects non-academic development, such as social emotional well-being and social behavioral outcomes. Longitudinal academic and non-academic data will play a crucial role in helping educators and families understand ways to best meet the needs of young students.

“Because the academic and nonacademic skills students develop in their pre-school and early elementary school years are foundational to important longer-term outcomes, understanding these changes and finding ways to effectively support our youngest students’ learning is critical for educators and leaders,” said Beth Tarasawa, EVP of Research at NWEA. “As students enter kindergarten or first grade this fall, closing these opportunity gaps will be challenging and it’s more important than ever that we come together as a community to support educators.”

NWEA offers the following recommendations:

  • Foster a sense of belonging and purpose for students: At this critical time of transition, it is important to cultivate strong relationships with and among students; create a culture of learning; and model and practice classroom routines.
  • Collect and use a variety of data: Use data available from a variety of assessments to determine which students may have unfinished or advanced learning needs so that you can differentiate your lessons to scaffold for access to or extension beyond grade-level expectations for students who need support or challenge.
  • Leverage individual conferences and small groups: One-on-one conferences with students to discuss goals and challenges and using small flexible groups for instruction and practice can help address students’ differential needs and foster collaborative learning, to better meet the diverse learning needs of young learners.

View the Preparing Early Learners: Considerations for Supporting the Kindergarten Class of 2021 research brief: https://www.nwea.org/research/publication/preparing-early-learners-considerations-for-supporting-the-kindergarten-class-of-2021/

About NWEA

NWEA® (formerly known as Northwest Evaluation Association) is a mission-driven, not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators worldwide by creating assessment solutions that precisely measure growth and proficiency—and provide insights to help tailor instruction. Educators in more than 10,000 schools, districts, and education agencies in 146 countries rely on our flagship interim assessment, MAP® Growth™; our reading fluency and comprehension assessment, MAP® Reading Fluency™ ; our personalized learning tool powered by Khan Academy, MAP® Accelerator™; and our state solutions that combine growth and proficiency measurement. Visit NWEA.org to find out how NWEA can partner with you to help all kids learn.

Contact: Simona Beattie, Sr. Manager, Public Relations, simona.beattie@nwea.org or 971.361.9526