University of Minnesota education technology startup Reflection Sciences is collaborating with Harvard Graduate School of Education to identify what works for children in a range of learning environments.

– Press Release –

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (January 29, 2018) – Most US states have early education standards in core learning areas for literacy, math, science, and social studies that offer guiding principles for learning stages a child should achieve by a given age in formal educational settings.

But what about the millions of children who are not enrolled in formal child care or preschool programs?

Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA have teamed up with University of Minnesota education technology startup, Reflection Sciences, Inc., to understand how children develop in both formal and informal childcare settings through measures of early learning, including executive function.

Through this collaboration, researchers will be able to track the development of executive function skills over the course of childhood and beyond using Reflection Sciences’ Minnesota Executive Function Scale (MEFSTM App). The MEFSTM App is a scientifically valid and reliable game-like tablet measure of executive function for ages 2 and up.

“The research literature clearly points to the critical role that early executive function plays in children’s academic and social success, so we need to make sure the study effectively captures children’s skills in this area,” says the study’s co-principal investigator, Dr. Stephanie Jones. “MEFS combines the strength of a trusted measure of executive function with the power of big data, allowing us to view the findings from our study within the context of the thousands of other children who have used the app.”

The Early Learning Study at Harvard, supported by the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative and led by Professors Stephanie Jones, Ph.D. and Nonie Lesaux, Ph.D., will follow a sample of 5,000 randomly selected families with children ages 3 and 4 years from more than 100 communities throughout Massachusetts. An estimated 40% of the children are in an informal childcare setting, such as family care; the other 60% are enrolled in a formal setting, such as an early childhood education center. Following the families over the course of four years, researchers will document each child’s early learning experiences and measure outcomes including language, executive function, and academic and social-emotional skills.

This study aims to address important questions about how formal and informal early learning environments impact learning outcomes and developmental gains. The researchers hope to achieve a better understanding of which early education features have the greatest benefits for children, which models of pre-k work best, why they work, for whom they work, and under what conditions.

Dr. Stephanie Carlson, Reflection Sciences’ Co-founder and Chief Science Officer, adds, “the Early Learning Study at Harvard is setting the standard for research on early childhood education practices and we are delighted to be able to help them achieve results using our measure.”

Ultimately, the team hopes their findings will inform public policy efforts and decisions regarding opportunities and challenges facing early childhood education.

For More Information:

  • Learn more about the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative.
  • Read a Q+A with Professors Jones and Lesaux.
  • Read a blog by Education Week about the Early Learning Study at Harvard.


Founded by University of Minnesota Professors Dr. Stephanie M. Carlson and Dr. Phil Zelazo in the College of Education & Human Development’s Institute of Child Development, Reflection Sciences provides professional development, training, and tools for assessing and improving Executive Function skills. Their Minnesota Executive Function Scale is the first objective, scientifically-based, and normed direct assessment of executive function for ages 2 years and up.


Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education promotes the knowledge, professional learning, and collective action necessary to cultivate optimal early learning environments and experiences.

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