Back to search

FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren

Leveling the playing field: An intervention to promote school readiness and human potential

Alternative title: Agderprosjektet: En god start for alle

Awarded: NOK 10.5 mill.

Project Manager:

Project Number:


Application Type:

Project Period:

2014 - 2020


Subject Fields:

Partner countries:

Many countries invest heavily in universal preschool programs, but we have limited understanding of the conditions under which preschool is effective. Specifically, one quality concern is the relatively non-specific and unstructured curriculum of many universal preschool programs, which can give rise to large differences in learning across centers. The Agder-project develops and tests an intervention that introduces a structured curriculum for five-year-olds into the universal preschool context of Norway. As the current curriculum is very non-specific and unstructured, and there are large differences in learning across centers, Norway provides an excellent platform for investigating the effects of a structured curriculum on children?s skills. The intervention consisted of a nine-month long comprehensive curriculum with age-appropriate intentional skill-building activities in mathematics, language and executive functioning and accompanying teacher training. Our field experiment had 691 five-year-olds in 71 preschool centers. We randomly split the centers between a control and a treatment group using block randomization. Treated centers received the comprehensive structured curriculum for the five-year olds in addition to the teacher training while the control group continued with business-as-usual. We assessed the children?s skills in language, mathematics and executive functioning at baseline, post-intervention, and in a one-year follow up. At all assessments, the testers were trained, certified and blind to treatment status. The structured curriculum intervention had a significant positive effect on a summary score of children?s skills in math, language and executive functioning at post-intervention. A significant treatment impact, with a magnitude of about 12 percent of a standard deviation, persisted one year following the end of the treatment. The treatment effect was particularly pronounced in mathematics. The effect on mathematics skills in the one-year follow up was quite large ? 23 percent of a standard deviation. By way of comparison, it takes on average about five months of learning and development at this age to improve children?s mathematics skills by this magnitude. The treatment effect for math learning also represents about two-thirds of the difference in average mathematics skills between children of mothers with and without a college degree in our sample. Since large differences in learning across centers is a major concern in preschool systems with unstructured curricula, we investigated differential treatment effects across centers identified as low- and high-quality centers at baseline. We utilized center fixed effects at baseline as a proxy for quality, i.e. the center mean difference between observed and predicted assessment scores, given child observables. Because most of the children have been in the same preschool since age one, limited emphasis on pedagogical content in certain centers is presumed to contribute to a lower quality score at baseline in these centers. This is supported by survey data demonstrating that, prior to the intervention, the five-year-olds in low-quality centers have fewer hours with structured pedagogical activities compared to the high-quality centers. As such, our structured curriculum intervention should be particularly effective for the low-quality centers because there is a larger contrast in practice between treatment and control among these centers. Consistent with this conjecture, our analyses demonstrate that the treatment effect was mainly driven by centers defined as low-quality (via a median split) at baseline. In these centers the treatment effect on the sum score was 16 percent of a standard deviation post-intervention and increased to 22 percent in the one-year follow up. This suggests that a structured curriculum can reduce inequality in early childhood learning environments by raising center quality at the bottom of the distribution. We also investigated differential treatment effects across child skills at baseline and across parental education. We expected the treatment to be particularly beneficial for children with fewer learning opportunities at home versus a more limited impact for children with more highly-educated parents who provide on average more stimulating home learning environments. Our analyses suggest that children in our intervention benefited equally from the treatment regardless of their initial skill level or their parents? education.

Prosjektet gir ny kunnskap om hva som er viktig pedagogisk innhold for førskolebarna i barnehagen. Førskoleopplegget utviklet og testet i Agderprosjektet kan bidra til at flere barn i norske barnehager får et godt grunnlag for læring i barnehagen og får mulighet til å tilpasse seg godt både faglig og sosialt på skolen. Gjennom nettportalen og boken Lekbasert læring når vi frem til barnehager. Nettportalen er full av støttemateriale for barnehagelærere som vil ta i bruk Lekbasert læring med ny og viktig kunnskap. Boken Lekbasert læring utgitt av Gan Aschehoug kan kjøpes i alle landets bokhandlere og på nett. Forfatterne har sagt ifra seg forfatterhonorar mot en redusert utsalgspris som er kontraktsfestet med forlaget og indeksregulert. Per juni 2020 har boken blitt solgt i ca. 3000 eksemplarer. I tillegg er den kjøpt opp og oversatt av et svensk og et dansk forlag.

Norway's gaps in learning outcomes between children of advantaged and disadvantaged families are substantial, despite its generous welfare system. Research shows unequivocally that high-quality early-childhood preschools can have substantial impacts on ch ildren's learning trajectories. Norway may be missing a key opportunity to close the gaps between children of advantaged and disadvantaged families. This is because the learning framework of Norwegian daycare centers does not fully reflect international e mpirical evidence from the early childhood education literature linking key curricular foci to successful development for all children. Our project aims to understand whether Norwegian daycare centers can improve children's developmental trajectories by more systematically cultivate key school readiness skills known to promote future learning. To do so, we will design and implement a randomized field experiment in which we offer five-year-olds at Norwegian daycare centers a school readiness intervention. The intervention will cultivate four sets of school readiness skills - self-regulation, interpersonal, vocabulary and numeracy skills - which numerous studies have identified as foundational for future learning and development. About 150 daycare centers will participate in the field experiment, with 50 randomly selected centers in the treatment group. We will examine intervention effects by assessing children's skills with official mapping tests in first grade and more intensive measuring instruments u tilized both at the end of day care and at the end of first grade. Important questions are: Can a more systematic cultivation of self-regulation, interpersonal, vocabulary and numeracy skills of five-year-olds in Norwegian daycare centers improve these ch ildren's success in the transition to formal schooling? Is the intervention particularly beneficial for children from disadvantaged families?

Publications from Cristin

Funding scheme:

FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren