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Early Reading First (I-B-2)


The Early Reading First Program will prepare young children to enter kindergarten with the language, cognitive, and early reading skills necessary for reading success. The goal of the program is to prevent reading failure by providing a high-quality early education to young children, especially children from low-income families.

It is vital that early education programs attend to all the developmental domains of early childhood. Those domains (social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and physical) are closely related, and growth in language and cognition optimally will occur in the context of the other areas of development. Early care and education programs have long done a good job in addressing the social, emotional and health needs of children and families. However, the language and cognitive domain's often have not been strongly or systematically addressed. For example, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 56 percent of beginning kindergartners at risk of school failure (because of factors such as low family income and low parent education) cannot identify more than two or three letters of the alphabet by name, 61 percent cannot identify the beginning sound of a word, and 83 percent cannot identify the ending sound of a word.

New research illustrates the importance of the intellectual competencies of young children and suggests specific ways to support learning through the use of strategies such as explicit and scaffolded instruction (in which adults build upon what children already know to help them accomplish a complex task by providing support where needed). An extensive body of evidence is now available stressing the importance of early reading skills, including phonological awareness and vocabulary development. Early Reading First is designed to improve these skills.

WHAT'S NEW--The No Child Left Behind Act

Focuses on What Works

  • Requires programs to use scientifically based research to teach children cognitive and language skills. Programs must base their activities, services, and professional development on scientifically based reading research.
  • Emphasizes the cognitive and language domains. While early childhood programs serve an important function in children's social, emotional, and physical development, research also shows the importance of the early cognitive and language development of young children. Many programs serving young children have not adequately addressed these areas in the past.

Increases Accountability for Student Performance

  • Evaluates the effectiveness of local programs through annual performance reports on their evaluation results. Local grantees are required to describe how they will evaluate their success in enhancing children's early reading skills. Grantees must report to the U.S. Department of Education annually on their progress and the results of their evaluation.
  • Evaluates the effectiveness of the program through an independent national evaluation.

How It Works

The new Early Reading First Program is a federally administered discretionary grant program. The U.S. Department of Education will make competitive awards for up to three years to local school districts eligible under statutory criteria for the Reading First program, other public or private organizations within those eligible districts, or collaborations between both. Eligible LEAs were identified by states, or if not by states, by the Department, and posted on the Department's Web site. These organizations will apply for awards on behalf of one or more preschool programs for the purpose of strengthening the literacy components of existing early childhood centers.

Key Requirements

Grantees must use Early Reading First funds to provide preschool-age children with high-quality oral language and literature-rich environments; provide professional development to staff that is based on scientific research to assist in developing children's language and cognitive skills; identify and provide activities and instructional materials that are grounded in scientifically based reading research; acquire, provide training for, and implement screening reading assessments or other appropriate measures to determine whether preschool-age children are developing the early language and cognitive skills they need for later reading success; and integrate these instructional materials, activities, tools, and measures into the grantee's preschool programs.

How It Achieves Quality

In order to prevent reading difficulties for children, Early Reading First programs must focus on skills most related to later reading success and instructional methods and activities that have been scientifically demonstrated to produce learning gains for children in these skills. These programs are required to support children's development of oral language (including vocabulary), phonological awareness (familiarity with individual sounds in words), print awareness, and letter knowledge.

Early Reading First programs must conduct the following activities that have been shown to be effective in developing the language, cognitive, and early reading skills of young children:

  • provide high-quality oral language and literacy-rich classroom environments,
  • provide professional development to staff that is based on research knowledge of early language and reading development,
  • identify and provide activities and instructional materials based on research to develop children's language, cognitive, and early reading skills,
  • use screening assessments or other appropriate measures to determine whether young children are developing the cognitive skills they need for later reading success, and
  • integrate these materials, activities, tools, and measures into preschool programs.

How Performance Is Measured

Grantees are required to evaluate the success of their programs in preparing children for school and to report this information annually to the U.S. Department of Education. The law also requires an independent national evaluation of the program.

Key Activities For The State Education Agencies

State education agencies can:

  • Make relevant state standards for reading and language arts available to applicants.

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Last Modified: 09/14/2007