Washington State Early Learning and Development Benchmarks

Executive Summary

Under the leadership of the Office of the Governor and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Washington State policymakers and those most interested in the success of young children—their parents, caregivers, teachers and administrators in early childhood and elementary settings, and others—have come together to create a description and framework of the skills, knowledge, and approaches to learning that contribute to children's success when they go to kindergarten.

The Benchmarks describe the characteristic knowledge and skills necessary for a young child to succeed in school. The Benchmarks cover all domains of early childhood development: physical well-being, health and motor development; social and emotional development; approaches toward learning; cognition and general knowledge; and, language and literacy, and communications. They include examples of indicators that demonstrate that the goal has been achieved as well as strategies to support learning for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. The Benchmarks create a continuum of learning that links early development to later success in school and life.

The development of the Benchmarks is a partnership between the Office of the Governor and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and is sponsored by the Head Start-State Collaboration Office, OSPI, Department of Social and Health Service (DSHS) and the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development (CTED).

Purposes and uses of the Benchmarks

The Benchmarks are intended to:

  • Create a continuum of learning that links early development to later success in school and life by aligning the Benchmarks with Washington State's Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) and K-3 Grade Level Expectations (GLEs);
  • Promote reasonable expectations and practical strategies for parents and those who care for and teach young children to support their learning and development; and
  • Contribute to a unified vision for the early care and education system in Washington State.

Nature of the Early Learning and Development Benchmarks.

The Benchmarks are the foundation document for development of materials for the diverse audiences that care for young children. For example, a benchmark in the area of reading will suggest that children need to understand the meaning of what is read to them. Infants who can focus attention on simple picture books, toddlers who can make up or finish a story, and preschoolers who can "read" a picture book by making up a story to go with the pictures are demonstrating pre-literacy skills. The Benchmarks will help adults support children in gaining these important skills, knowledge, and approaches to learning. The benchmarks link to related EALRs and the K-3 GLEs, thus supporting children as they move from their homes and early care and education settings into the elementary school.

Process for developing the Benchmarks. The process has:

  • Built on existing documents and research—using significant work already completed by Washington early care and education professionals, lessons learned from other states, and findings of research;
  • Involved key stakeholders—by drawing upon the expertise of those who will use the Benchmarks in their work with children and families and families themselves;
  • Been guided by a Core Team-comprised of representatives of the Office of the Governor, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Division of Child Care and Early Learning, the Head Start-State Collaboration Office, and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program; and
  • Been led by a renowned expert in early childhood learning—Dr. Sharon Lynn Kagan and a team from the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia University.

Key dissemination strategies.

Dissemination and implementation are critical to assure that the Benchmarks reach intended audiences and can be incorporated into the everyday practice of early care and education professionals. Dissemination and implementation will be viewed as a professional development opportunity for the early care and education, and be applicable to the range of users. Well-designed dissemination is essential to effective implementation. Key strategies will be to:

  • Develop publications in a variety of formats;
  • Distribute to a variety of stakeholders via multiple means;
  • Develop informational materials and technical assistance tools targeted to specific audiences; and
  • Develop strategies for redistribution to assure that high turnover in early care and education settings is not a factor in limiting use of the Benchmarks.

Evaluation of the project. The initial dissemination and implementation activities are expected to take approximately a year from the time the Benchmarks are initially completed. During this time data will be collected to assess how useful the Benchmarks have been to parents, how many early care and education professionals have been reached and their responses to the Benchmarks, initial effects on program practice, and initial responses of kindergarten teachers and elementary administrators and specialists.