Starting Young

Massachusetts Birth–3rd Grade Policies that Support Children’s Literacy Development
Policy Paper
Nov. 23, 2015

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that is often recognized as a leader in public education, and for good reason. The Commonwealth consistently outperforms most states on national reading and math tests and often leads the pack in education innovations. Still Massachusetts continues to have significant achievement gaps between children from middle- and low-income families and between white and black students, as well as for English learners. How has the state worked to help improve literacy outcomes for all students? 

Starting Young: Massachusetts Birth-3rd Grade Policies that Support Children’s Literacy Development, a new report from the Early & Elementary Education Policy team at New America, examines state policies and local initiatives that aim to give children a strong start and offers recommendations to help ensure more students are moving up the learning staircase. Shayna Cook and Laura Bornfreund examine Massachusetts’:

  • Birth Through Third Grade Alignment Grants; 
  • Quality Rating and Improvement System; 
  • Pre-K Strategy; 
  • Supports for Dual Language Learners; 
  • Full-Day Kindergarten efforts to improve access and quality; 
  • Kindergarten Entry Assessment; and 
  • Educator Credentialing. 

“Lessons from Massachusetts are applicable for other states seeking to improve children’s B–3 experiences to help ensure they are on the path to reading well by the end of third grade. For instance, with its winning RTT-ELC grant came a mechanism, the birth-through-third grade alignment grants, to spur school districts and community partners to work together on improving coordination and transitions for families across children’s early years,” said Cook and Bornfreund.

Massachusetts has taken important steps, but to have a larger sustainable impact on children’s literacy development, more is needed. Cook and Bornfreund offer several recommendations to help strengthen the state’s PreK-3rd grade efforts to build strong readers including: 

  • Develop a clearly-communicated plan for building the early education and care workforce. 
  • Expand investment in high-quality, full-day pre-K, particularly for children in high-need communities. 
  • Improve children’s access to high-quality full-day kindergarten and stay the course for the first through third grades. 
  • Eliminate English-only instruction in K–12 and reinstitute a bilingual education model. 
  • Deepen collaboration between the Department of Early Education and Care and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and have them work together to enact the recommendations from the Early Education to Higher Education Advisory Group. This includes creating a new B–3 teacher certification system, ensuring it includes stackable credentials that lead to licensure while at the same time phasing out the PreK-through-second grade license. 
  • Require common assessments or allow districts to choose from a short list of approved assessments for students in kindergarten through second grade. 
  • Continue supporting the B–3 alignment partnerships beyond Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. 

The full report can be found here.