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The Early Reading First (ERF) program provided grants to transform preschools into centers of education excellence with the ultimate goal of preventing later reading difficulties (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001). The intent of ERF grants was to provide preschoolers with the necessary cognitive, early language, and literacy skills for success in kindergarten (United States Department of Education, 2007). Programs that received ERF funds were required to monitor children’s progress in specific literacy and language skills (i.e., automatic recognition of alphabet letters, knowledge of the conventions of print, understanding of phonemes and letters, and use of increasingly complex vocabulary) and to identify children who may be “at risk”. However, ERF failed to provide guidelines for monitoring progress or definitions of at risk. In this article, we explore an alternative approach to identifying children as at risk in preschool using data from the third year of Project EXEL, a 2002 ERF project. Our study developed a set of benchmarks for end-of-year preschool accomplishments in the areas of alphabet recognition, concepts about print, phonemic awareness and alphabetic principle, and vocabulary development. We also explored how these benchmarks might be used with monitoring assessments to identify preschoolers who may not be making satisfactory progress toward expected end-of-the-year performance.

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