Portland State, Penn State partners on $3.3 million grant to study impact of kindergarten readiness program

A Portland State University professor has received a $3.3 million federal grant to study the impact of an early-learning program aimed at improving children's readiness for kindergarten and later grades.

PSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences psychology professor Andrew Mashburn will use the grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to implement the MindUP program in 120 preschool classrooms throughout Oregon's Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.

MindUP, a program started by actress Goldie Hawn's foundation, is designed to help kids develop social-emotional and self-regulation skills, including learning how to manage their emotions, get along and cooperate with others, focus their attention, follow directions and be persistent at completing tasks.

"Kids' developmental skills when they enter kindergarten are strongly predictive of later achievement down the road," said Mashburn, who is also working on the project with Pennsylvania State University psychology professor Robert Roeser. "In addition to focusing on early literacy and math skills, there's a growing recognition of the importance of these social and self-regulatory skills."

The intention of MindUP, he said, is to build some of those non-academic skills that are themselves important, but can also help improve students' academic performance. For example, some exercises, like listening to a single sound or mindful smelling and tasting, help them learn how to maintain focused attention, while other MindUP lessons help them respond more thoughtfully to stressful situations rather than be reactive.

The five-year project began July 1 and is now in the pilot stage, during which the research team will study the process of implementing the program and work with preschool classrooms already using it.

The study will then be done in three waves: Multnomah County in 2019-20, Washington County in 2020-21 and Clackamas County in 2021-22. The sample will include publicly funded, community not-for-profit and small for-profit classrooms that predominantly serve low-income students.

Mashburn expects to recruit the first set of classrooms next spring. The team will partner with three of Oregon's Early Learning Hubs to help in that effort.

Of the classrooms that are interested and eligible to participate in the study, half will receive access to MindUP, which includes training for teachers, the curriculum and materials, individual classroom check-ins with a program mentor and group meetings in a professional learning community. The other half will continue doing what they've always done for the study year, but receive access to the MindUP program the following school year.

"We'll go in and observe the teachers, see how effective the different trainings are and how responsive the children are," Mashburn said. "We really want to get a good glimpse into each participating classroom to see how well things are going and areas where implementation might be improved in the future."

While implementation comprises a big part of the project, the research team will also be studying the effectiveness of MindUP and whether it helps children develop the social, emotional and academic skills they need to succeed in kindergarten (and beyond).

Participating children will be assessed at the beginning and end of preschool. The researchers will also have access to their data from Oregon's statewide kindergarten assessment, which helps education officials determine whether children are arriving prepared for kindergarten, what achievement gaps exist and how they should go about improving early learning.

The project team includes Penn State/Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center faculty members Robert Roeser, Bennett Pierce Professor of Compassion and Caring, and Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, and Daniel Max Crowley, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies.

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