Recent Research
Supports Developmentally Appropriate Practice
In The Primary Grades

Ten recent research studies support the concept of developmentally appropriate practice in the primary grades. Here are some of their findings:

Diane C. Burts and others discovered that children in developmentally inappropriate kindergarten classrooms exhibited significantly more stress behaviors than children in developmentally appropriate kindergarten classrooms. (Frequencies of Observed Stress Behaviors in Kindergarten Children: A Comparison of Developmentally Appropriate and Inappropriate Classrooms, 1990.) In another study, Burts and her colleagues found that higher levels of stress during standardized testing may negatively affect performance on the test. On end-of-the-year standardized test scores they discovered no significant differences between the scores of children in developmentally appropriate kindergartens and those in developmentally inappropriate kindergartens. The emphasis on academics in developmentally inappropriate classrooms did not result in higher test scores. Burts writes that developmentally inappropriate practices are potentially damaging to the psychological well-being of young children and that they are not effective in promoting achievement in kindergarten students (Achievement of Kindergarten Children in Developmentally Appropriate and Developmentally Inappropriate Classrooms, 1991).

Ellen Frede and W. Steve Barnett found that large-scale public school programs can provide developmentally appropriate experiences for disadvantaged young children which contribute to their increased skills in first grade (Developmentally Appropriate Public Preschool: A Study of Implementation of the High/Scope Curriculum and Its Effects on Disadvantaged Children's Skills at First Grade, 1992).

Margaret Gallegos compared the academic skill mastery levels between 'play curriculum' and 'direct teacher' instruction groups of preschoolers and kindergartners. Of the 14 skill sections she assessed, the preschool play group scored additional gains over the direct instruction group in 13 of them. The kindergarten play group scored additional gains over the direct instruction group in 11 of the 16 skill sections. Gallegos concluded that, in order for increased academic learning to occur, it is necessary to include play in the curriculum of early childhood programs (Learning Academic Skills through Play, 1983).

Maryann Manning and others studied inner city students for three years (from their entrance into kindergarten until their completion of second grade) and found that those students taught with whole language were better writers, viewed themselves as writers of real texts, had confidence in themselves as writers, and outperformed the students in a skills-oriented program on measures of spelling achievement (Writing Development of Inner City Primary Students: Comparative Effects of a Whole Language and a Skills-Oriented Program, 1990).

Rebecca A. Marcon investigated 295 four-year-olds who were being instructed in three different preschool models in a large, urban school district. Her findings indicated that those children being taught in the child-initiated model demonstrated the greatest mastery of basic skills. As a group these students did even better than those in programs where academics were emphasized and skills were specifically taught (Differential Effects of Three Preschool Models on Inner-City 4-Year-Olds, 1992).

Robbie B. Roberts studied African-American students in two heterogeneous first-grade classrooms in a low socio-economic area of an inner city. Roberts discovered that those students who had been instructed using a whole language curriculum scored significantly higher on all areas of assessment than those students who had been taught using a traditional curriculum emphasizing skill mastery (Writing Abilities of First Graders: Whole Language and Skills-Based Classrooms, 1991).

Lawrence J. Schweinhart and David P. Weikart presented evidence that teacher-directed academic instruction may not be as effective in improving children's social development as early childhood programs that emphasize child-initiated learning (Education for Young Children Living in Poverty: Child-initiated Learning or Teacher-directed Instruction?,1988).

Carol F. Stice and Nancy P. Bertrand conducted a two-year pilot study about the effectiveness of whole language instructional techniques on the literacy development of 100 at-risk first and second graders. The results of the study concluded that the children in whole language classrooms appeared to feel better about themselves as readers, writers, and learners; seemed to know more about the reading process and to learn the mechanics of reading and writing as well as or better that their traditional counterparts, without high levels of direct skill and drill instruction; and appeared to be on their way to becoming more independent learners than the children in the traditional program (Whole Language And the Emergent Literacy of At-Risk Children: A Two Year Comparative Study, 1990). In an additional study, Stice and others found that the whole-language philosophy created a classroom where children were encouraged to think, make choices, problem-solve, and collaborate on learning in ways quite different from a traditional classroom. Their results also indicated that the whole language teacher spent more time actually teaching during the reading/language arts block than did the traditional teacher (Literacy Development in Two Contrasting Classrooms: Building Models of Practice Toward a Theory of Practice, 1991).


Reprinted with permission by the Colorado Department of Education, 201 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80203, 303-866-6674. Of Primary Interest, Published co-operatively by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Association for the Education of Young Children, Winter 1993 Vol. 1 No. 1

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