Creating Alignment Across the Birth-to-Eight Continuum

How do we best support children growing into successful learners when they experience widely varying environments during the most critical time of their brain development?

A growing body of research underscores the importance of the years from birth to age eight as a critical and unique developmental period, in which the foundational architecture of the brain is being developed.[i]  Yet the experiences children have during these years differ profoundly and the systems designed to meet their needs are often disconnected.

A team from North Carolina will be considering these challenges, along with representatives from states across the country, at the National P-3 Center’s Institute, Making it Work: Implementing a Comprehensive P-3 Approach. The Institute is focused on implementation and evaluation of comprehensive P-3 approaches. Participants will hear from researchers, expert-practitioners and others about promising approaches to create greater alignment and coherence across the PreK – 3rd grade continuum. The North Carolina state team includes representatives from:

  • Division of Child Development and Early Education, NC Department of Health and Human Services
  • General Assembly
  • NC Early Childhood Foundation
  • NC Partnership for Children
  • Office of Early Learning, NC Department of Public Instruction
  • Office of Governor McCrory

What is P-3? Kristie Kauerz, one of the Institute’s expert presenters, defines it this way: “The continuum of learning that spans the traditional boundaries of pre-school learning opportunities (birth-to-five) and the early grades (K-3).”  She identifies three essential tenets:

  • High quality learning opportunities in pre-school (“P”) help children be ready for school.
  • High quality full-day Kindergarten is a transition year for all children.
  • High quality early grades sustain the gains and lay the foundation for later learning.

Kaurez and co-author Julia Coffman from the Center for Evaluation Innovation outline a framework for helping states and school districts move from theory to practice. The Framework for Planning, Implementing, and Evaluating PreK-3rd Grade Approaches addresses eight areas that are based on research and have been shown to be essential to high-quality and comprehensive PreK-3rd grade approaches. These include cross sector work, administrator effectiveness, teacher effectiveness, instructional tools, learning environment, data driven improvement, engaged families, and continuity and pathways. The Framework provides tools for planning, implementing and evaluating a PreK-3rd grade approach.
What has NC been doing? North Carolina has been a national leader in early learning and development across the birth-to-eight continuum, including:

  • Building the Quality Rating and Improvement System (NC’s five-star rating scale) into the child care licensing system and investing in child care quality;
  • Establishing a state PreK program that meets all 10 of NIEER’s quality benchmarks.
  • Establishing a Birth-Kindergarten teacher license;
  • Creating aligned standards across the birth-to-eight continuum; and
  • Establishing an Office of Early Learning within the State Education Agency to focus on early grade reform.

In addition, as part of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant North Carolina is creating an integrated early childhood data system and is currently pilot-testing a kindergarten entry to third grade formative assessment
Why now? Advances in brain science are revealing critical information about how young children learn and develop. In just the past few years, scientists have demonstrated that babies recognize words in the womb [ii], that infants can tell the difference between sounds of all languages until about 8 months of age [iii], and so much more! 
At the same time there has been a growing focus on third grade test scores, particularly reading. End of third grade reading proficiency is the single greatest predictor of high school graduation and later success.[iv] In response to chronically low reading scores across the nation, many states, including North Carolina, have passed laws requiring third graders to demonstrate reading proficiency (with some exceptions) to be promoted to fourth grade. As of 2012, 14 states and the District of Columbia had enacted such policies. [v]
Reading proficiency is the product of a child’s cumulative experiences beginning in utero. To get the best outcomes and support effective policies and programs, greater alignment – that reflects both the latest science and lessons learned from decades of early childhood research – is needed.
Learn more:


i. Tout, K., & Trends, I. (2013). The research base for a birth through age eight state policy framework. Washington, DC: Child Trends.
ii. Skwarecki, B. (2013, August 26). Babies Learn to Recognize Words in the Womb | Science/AAAS | News. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
iii. Months before Their First Words, Babies’ Brains Rehearse Speech Mechanics. (2014, July 14). States News Service. Retrieved October 23, 2014, from
iv. Early Reading Proficiency in the United States A KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot. (2014). Baltimore: Annie E. Case Foundation.
v. Ross, S. (2012). Third Grade Reading Policies. Denver: Education Commission of the States.