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Study: Full-Day Kindergarten Reduces Early Retention for ELLs

A study of the Los Angeles Unified School District has found that English-language learners who attended full-day kindergarten were much less likely to be retained before 2nd grade than such students who attended half-day kindergarten in the same school district. The ELLs who attended kindergarten full-time were 5 percentage points less likely to be retained before 2nd grade, which is a large effect, the researchers say, given that not many children are retained anyway in those early grades.

Full-day kindergarten, however, didn't have a significant effect on most academic outcomes and English fluency through the 2nd grade. ELLs in full-day kindergarten experienced a short-term benefit in that their reading scores in kindergarten were higher than for ELLs in half-day kindergarten. But that edge did not show up in 1st grade.

The researchers for the study analyzed student-level data for 159,566 English-language learners in Los Angeles public schools. They examined data from seven cohorts of students entering kindergarten from the fall of 2001 to the fall of 2007. The findings were published online last month in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

The researchers qualify their findings on the significant impact of full-day kindergarten on early retention rates for ELLs by noting that in California, school districts are given the discretion to set retention policy, so it is unclear if school districts other than LAUSD would see the same impact on retention with full-day kindergarten as experienced in LAUSD.

The study found a difference in the benefits of full-day kindergarten for ELLs, depending on their fluency in the language upon entering kindergarten. Those who entered kindergarten with higher levels of fluency in the language (though they were still officially ELLs), have better outcomes than ELLs entering with lower levels of English fluency in the following ways: those entering with the higher English skills are more likely to be redesignated as proficient in English by the end of 2nd grade and they have higher 1st and 2nd-grade reading skills.

The researchers wrote that those differences in outcomes among children with different fluency levels suggest that school districts should provide more programs for ELLs at the preschool level. The researchers also add that "the results suggest that policymakers should focus on low-performing schools first when considering a change from half-day kindergarten to full-day kindergarten."

The researchers for the study are Jill S. Cannon, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, in San Francisco; Alison Jacknowitz, an associate professor of public administration and policy at American University, in Washington, D.C.; and Gary Painter, an associate professor in the school of policy, planning, and development at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

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