Preschool to Third-Grade Education



To better understand the myriad preschool through third grade issues, this landing page is designed to provide a snapshot of NCSL's coverage and relevant resources. You will find coverage of early literacy, third grade reading retention legislation, early STEM and numeracy, the research on preschool effectiveness and school readiness and a look at building high-quality preschool through third grade systems. 


Early Literacy and Third-Grade Reading Retention Legislation

Reading proficiently by the end of third grade has become a significant milestone in a student's educational trajectory as it marks the time when the focus is placed on reading to learn instead of learning to read. To encourage local schools and districts to take this milestone seriously, several states have enacted legislation that requires students not reading proficiently by the end of third grade to be retained. Other states have built legislation that allows for promotion to fourth grade for non-proficient readers but requires participation in intervention services, summer reading camps, demonstration of proficiency through a reading portfolio and/or many other standards. Click below for more information.

Early STEM and Early Numeracy

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is vital to our nation’s global competitiveness, economic growth and overall standard of living. However, when looking at the early years of a child's development (prekindergarten through third grade, P-3), STEM subjects are often given a backseat to more rote learning and developing literacy skills. Students as young as two use STEM skills on a daily basis, whether it's building towers with blocks to using water tables or observing and interacting with their environments through play. 

Research has demonstrated that young children’s minds are very receptive to math and logic and that early mathematics skills are the strongest predictor of future academic achievement. Developing math skills, along with other STEM skills in high-quality, P-3 environments couples the predictive power of learning STEM skills with the academic growth and trajectories that high-quality early learning can provide. Click below for more information.

Preschool Effects: Consensus Research

Between 2002 and 2017, state spending on pre-K programs increased from $2.4 billion to $7.6 billion, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Adjusted for inflation, this constitutes an increase of nearly $4 billion, more than doubling states' investment over the last 15 years.

While mostly pointing to the positive educational benefits of high-quality pre-K, some educational research has found the effects may fade out over time. In Spring 2017, lead early childhood education researchers came together to release the findings of their consensus report on the multitude of pre-K research. They attempted to answer questions such as: 

  • Do pre-K effects last?
  • What does high quality pre-K look like and how much does it cost?
  • Who benefits the most from high quality pre-K? 

This is timely information as state policymakers need accurate, unbiased information to make critical decisions on pre-K education decisions. Click below for more information.

School Readiness and Transitions

Research has demonstrated that low-income students are nearly 20 months behind their high-income peers when entering kindergarten at age five. Gaps are also present for African-American and Latino children that range from six-11 months behind in reading and 11-13 months behind in math, respectively.

These gaps can be considered gaps in opportunity and often persist throughout their educational careers, creating the achievement gap. Increasing access to high-quality preschool has been shown to dramatically reverse these trends, and in some cases, completely close this gap at kindergarten entry. While preschool access is voluntary, it is linked to several enhanced educational outcomes.

This page is dedicated to understanding the importance of school readiness as it affects long-term achievement by highlighting preschool access, funding, length-of-day, transitions to kindergarten and issues related to social-emotional development leading to suspension and expulsion from prekindergarten programs in an effort to help policymakers understand the breadth and depth of this issue and its implications. Click below for more information.

Kindergarten to Third-Grade Quality

With the increasing focus and funding on preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, high-quality programs and their subsequent benefits have been sweeping across the nation. Once these students enter the primary grades—kindergarten through third grade—it is possible that this high level of quality may diminish, leading to fade-out of high-quality preschool effects.

To capitalize on their early investments, state policymakers can continue to expand access to high-quality early care and education, but also can turn to the kindergarten through third grade spectrum to continue enhancing quality and set up children on successful, lifelong trajectories.

Areas such as full-day kindergarten (FDK), social-emotional learning (SEL), kindergarten entry assessments (KEAs), English language learner reclassification procedures (ELL) and student-teacher ratios (Ratios) are strong areas to focus and summarized in the link below.