Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? How Federal Policy and Standardized Tests are Changing Kindergarten Curriculum

A new study conducted by the American Educational Research Association titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” has garnered national media attention from NPR and the Washington Post. The study concluded that elementary schools are expecting more out of kindergarteners academically and providing less time to spend in self-directed and creative play.  The emphasis on academic performance in this age group reflects a shift on behalf of school systems and federal education policy to focus on standardized testing performance rather than social skills and creative development.

The study compared teachers’ responses to a survey conducted in 1998 and 2010. The study’s authors chose these years because in 1998, the federal No Child Left Behind law hadn’t yet changed the school landscape with its annual tests and emphasis on the achievement gap. By 2010, significant changes in school policies and kindergarten became apparent.

The response from teachers during these two years found the following differences:

  • In 2010, prekindergarten prep was expected. 33% more teachers believed that students should know the alphabet and how to hold a pencil before beginning kindergarten.
  • In 1998, 31% of teachers believed their students should learn to read during the kindergarten year. That figure increased to 80% by 2010.
  • In 2010, 73% of kindergartners took at least one standardized test. In 1998 surveyors didn’t ask kindergarten teachers that question.
  • The percentage of teachers who reported offering music every day in kindergarten dropped from 34% in 1998 to 16% in 2010.
  • The percentage of teachers who reported that their students participated in daily recess increased from 73% in 1998 to 82% in 2010.

ACS understands that now more than ever, preparation for kindergarten increases the chances for student success. ACS is honored to be working with initiatives such as PRE4CLE and The Ohio 8 Coalition and organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), that provide increased opportunity for high quality early learning experiences so that children may grow up healthy and ready to learn.


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