By Dr. Elizabeth Primas (Program Manager, NNPA/ESSA Public Awareness Campaign)

While education officials in Ohio have identified six components for rating schools on their school report cards, they are giving more attention to making sure students don’t fall behind to begin with. Over the last four years, education leaders in Ohio have tripled their investments in the “K-3 Literacy component” and its corresponding preschool program. Ohio has also increased access to high-quality education programs for children living in poverty and low-income families. This investment is aligned with the state’s birth to third grade support system that is designed to ensure that students enter school with the skills necessary to be successful and reach third grade with skills needed to read proficiently.

In December 2011, Ohio began using Early Learning and Development Standards that address five essential domains of school readiness for children from birth to five years-old. Those same standards will continue with the state’s ESSA plan. The five domains include: social and emotional development; physical well-being and motor development; approaches toward learning; language and literacy development; and cognition and general knowledge. These standards have been expanded to provide a continuum of learning for children from birth to five years of age; that implies that there are different expectations for children depending on their age and development. Once parents and caregivers understand that children develop on a continuum, or with skills built upon what was previously learned, educators and parents can begin to work in tandem with each other; ensuring that children are learning and developing appropriately.

Ohio’s Early Learning and Development Standards provide parents with information and expectations for each of the five domains; allowing them to get a jumpstart in preparing their child for school readiness. Standards are organized by topic and age: Infants (birth to around 8 months); young toddlers (6 months to around 18 months); and older toddlers (16 months to around 36 months). The guides are organized to allow parents to easily identify where their children should be, developmentally. For instance, the Social and Emotional Development Domain chart for awareness and expression of emotion, states that infants should express sadness, fear or distress by crying, kicking legs and stiffening the body; by pre-K, children should be able to recognize and identify their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.

In 2003, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, two researchers at the University of Kansas, published a report titled, “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3.” They found that exposure to a rich vocabulary in a child’s early years is critical and the disparities in that exposure result in an achievement gap. It is important for parents to speak to their children, all of the time, using “standard” English. Parents can introduce their children to new words by explaining things in the child’s environment. Reviewing the names of items in the grocery store, the names of animals they see in the neighborhood, and the style and color of their clothes are simple ways to make a big impact. If we are to close the achievement gap, we must start before the child arrives at the schoolhouse doors. From birth, parents should sing songs and repeat nursery rhymes. Reading rhyming books and alphabet stories promote language acquisition and literacy. Parents are a child’s first teachers. It is up to us to give our children the exposure necessary to close the achievement gap.

To find out more about ESSA and its opportunities in literacy visit

Dr. Elizabeth Primas is an educator, who spent more than 40 years working towards improving education for children of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. Dr. Primas is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow Dr. Primas on Twitter @ElizabethPrima3.

Dr. Elizabeth Primas talks about the Every Student Succeeds Act, the “30 Million Word Gap,” and Ohio’s ESSA state plan.

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