Instructional Focus in First Grade
First grade is generally the first year of mandatory full-day schooling in the United States and is thus, for many students, the first time that they will be attending school in a full-day setting (Education Commission of the States 2005). In addition to continuing the socialization into school that began in kindergarten or preschool, first grade curricula are expected to expose children more formally to instruction in reading and language arts, mathematics, and other subjects, focusing on such skills as identifying the beginning and ending sounds of words and adding and subtracting (Denton and West 2002). Learning in first grade helps lay the foundation for future learning. Research has shown, for example, that the progress that first grade students make in learning to read is a strong predictor of their later reading outcomes through high school (Cunningham and Stanovich 1997). Despite the importance of first grade as a crucial period in a young student’s academic development, little is known nationally about how much time first-graders actually spend in class on various subjects or about the kinds of activities and skills that they work on in class.
This Issue Brief details how often per week and how much time per day first-graders were instructed in subjects such as reading, mathematics, and science during the 1999-2000 academic year. It then focuses in more detail on students’ in-class work on reading and language arts. Results are based on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K). This study involved a sample of 16,165 first grade students that is representative of the 3.8 million first-graders enrolled in the United States in spring 2000. Data are based on first grade teacher reports from spring 2000.
In this Issue Brief, the measure of frequency of instruction in different subjects is based on teacher reports of how often per week children in their class usually worked on lessons or projects in various subjects, whether as a whole class, in small groups, or in individualized arrangements. Available response categories were as follows: never, less than once a week, one to two times per week, three to four times per week, and daily. The measure of duration of instruction in different subjects is based on teacher reports of how much time children in their class spent per day on various subjects. Available response categories were as follows: 1-30 minutes a day, 31-60 minutes a day, 61-90 minutes a day, and more than 90 minutes a day. For each subject, the analysis of duration excludes those students whose teachers reported that they never worked on lessons or projects in the subject. Taken together, the measures of frequency and duration of instruction used in this Issue Brief provide information on how much instruction students received in various subjects in first grade.