Building Pre-Literacy Skills in Pre-K Settings

Grandparents sit on a sofa with their infant grandchild on their laps. They are all reading a storybook together.
Written by:
Written by: Matt Weyer
April 2, 2024
This post is the first of two focused on literacy development, the next will look at the elementary grades and beyond, authored by the American Institutes for Research.

State policymakers have been actively introducing legislation to address literacy development, building on the momentum of the science of reading push in recent years. Despite limited research on the impact of these policies, the orientation toward leveraging best practices and research is promising.

Since 2023 legislative sessions began, ECS has tagged nearly 200 bills focused on literacy development across 41 states. Additionally, at least 13 governors discussed this issue in their 2024 State of the State addresses.

While much of the policy attention is geared toward elementary grades, we want to briefly unpack what’s going on in pre-K settings as pre-literacy skills are crucial for academic success.

What Are Pre-Literacy Skills?

Emergent, early- or pre-literacy skills begin at birth and continue through the pre-K years. It’s important to note that pre-literacy includes both reading and writing. Oral language is foundational and comprises six areas: phonology, vocabulary, grammar, morphology, pragmatics and discourse. These areas can all be supported through developmentally appropriate instruction in various skills in education settings as well as throughout the daily lives of young children by their caregiver(s).

How Do States Address Pre-Literacy Skills in Science of Reading Reforms?

At least six states include pre-K as part of their literacy initiatives although only some of the policy elements may apply to the pre-K space. Other states may enact pre-K literacy policies separately from their early elementary policies, which requires alignment across agencies in governance structures where the state education agency does not have direct oversight of public pre-K. Some states that align pre-literacy prior to kindergarten entry with elementary literacy instruction include:

  • Connecticut. State statute requires districts to implement a reading curriculum model or program for all pre-K through third grade students. The Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success must review and approve at least five curricula, and districts not selecting from approved curricula must demonstrate that their curriculum is based on evidence and science.
  • Florida. State statute requires pre-K instructors to complete at least eight hours of coursework on emergent literacy, foundational background on the science of reading aligned with K-12 grades, and developmental standards and curricula.
  • Indiana. B. 1558 (enacted 2023) requires, beginning in school year 2025-26, that all teachers who incorporate literacy instruction in pre-K through grade five content areas complete a literacy endorsement prior to licensure or renewal.

Connecting the Dots

Despite efforts to support pre-literacy skill development, states may also want to consider creating connective tissue between pre-K settings and K-12 systems. One approach may be kindergarten entry assessments. As of June 2023, KEAs are in statute in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, and ten additional states provide optional KEAs that districts can implement. These developmentally appropriate assessments capture rising kindergarteners’ skills across several subject areas. Specifically, 27 states plus the District of Columbia assess pre-literacy skills in their assessments, eight states allow districts to assess pre-literacy if an assessment is given and three provide literacy screeners to newcomer students, including kindergarteners. Leveraging this outcome data may prove useful for aligning curriculum, instruction, interventions and teacher training within states’ literacy frameworks.

As states continue to build out their early literacy initiatives focused on the science of reading, it may be important to consider how these systems address pre-literacy skill development as well as how alignment is ensured between pre-K and K-12 settings. To learn more about states’ approaches to supporting literacy development, with a focus on implementation, read this K-3 policy scan and this trends brief that were recently released by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Author profile

Matt Weyer

Matt Weyer

Policy Director at Education Commission of the States |

As a policy director, Matt focuses on early learning issues. Prior to joining the Education Commission of the States, Matt worked for over four years covering early learning issues for the National Conference of State Legislatures, earned his doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Denver and was a kindergarten teacher in a bilingual classroom for Denver Public Schools. When Matt is not working, he can be found snowboarding or trail running in beautiful Colorado.

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