Although there has been a strong emphasis on early literacy skills and access to universal prekindergarten, more and more educators and policymakers have been focusing on early mathematics skills. Research suggests that prekindergarten mathematics knowledge and proficiency predicts achievement at age 15, even after accounting for early literacy skills, cognitive skills, and family and child characteristics. Further, when students start kindergarten proficient in mathematics, achievement gaps are removed, after controlling for home and classroom factors.
These tendencies point to the need to examine how early mathematics exposure and rigorous (yet age-appropriate) curriculum can be built into existing educational systems. Raising awareness of the importance of early mathematics knowledge is among researchers' top priorities.
What the Research Says
Rigorous Yet Age-Appropriate Curriculum
Providing research-based curriculum early in students' academic careers is demonstrated to greatly improve their mathematics achievement when compared to control groups receiving traditional mathematics curricula. Further, significant differences in learning trajectories emerged; early exposure and learning leads to higher outcomes. Researchers argue that instruction must be developmentally appropriate with limited assessments. Examples include hands-on activities and performance-based assessments.
Aligned Standards with K-12
Researchers have argued for a more seamless flow from early childhood education to elementary school mathematics. This will help to ensure that students have the necessary mathematical foundations for success at the kindergarten level. Researchers have recommended clear alignment with the state's standards from prekindergarten to the K-12 levels. One option to strengthen early mathematics instruction and learning is to incorporate a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) focus (see Policy Options below).
Teacher Training and Professional Development
Research has demonstrated that specific instructional techniques are related to kindergarteners' mathematics achievement. To develop strong instructional skills, teacher training programs should develop strong pedagogical skills and classroom experiences so that pre-service early mathematics teachers can be effective. Likewise, developing the skills of teachers already in the field through focused and targeted professional development is recommended by research. A strong tool used in professional development for early mathematics educators was developed by researchers at the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy.
Culturally Responsive Instruction
The growing amount of student diversity in schools suggests that mathematics educators should understand how to be culturally responsive to meet all of their students' needs. Researchers argue that instruction for English language learners (ELLs) should be informed by their unique language histories and educational backgrounds. Additionally, researchers have recommended culturally-responsive teachers have strong skills in communication, mathematical content knowledge, reflection and revision.