Thursday, December 5, 2013

High Quality Preschool Narrows Gap Between High-Risk Kids and Higher Achievers

A new study by Case Western Reserve University’s social work school found that children’s readiness in language, math and logic improved significantly by the programs offered at 24 pilot universal prekindergarten pilot program (UPK) sites in Greater Cleveland.

Specifically, researchers discovered that children at the lowest achievement levels when the study began made the greatest gains and exceeded expectations, narrowing the gap between at-risk children and higher achievers.

The Cuyahoga County’s Office of Early Childhood/Invest in Children initiative, created in 1999 to serve the needs of young children, and the Cleveland Foundation funded the research to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of the preschool program.

“High quality preschool settings are a sure bet for helping children get ready for kindergarten, and are particularly effective in helping higher-risk children close the readiness gap,” said Robert Fischer, co-director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

The analysis was presented in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk article, “Getting Ready for School: Piloting Universal Prekindergarten in an Urban County.”

Researchers studied 204 randomly selected children. Their average age was 3.6 years; 51 percent were girls. The children were from families that were mainly African-American (55 percent), had parents with at least a high school education (70 percent) and few listed English as a second language (7 percent).

Trained observers followed the children at three points between 2008 and 2009, when preschoolers received standard testing in language (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test), math and logic (two Woodcock Johnson-III tests for cognitive ability). Parents were also surveyed about their perceptions of the children’s early education experience.

Children scoring below the 25th percentile at baseline on the standardized tests showed gains 3 to 4 times greater than children scoring higher initially. A child’s baseline score was shown to be leading predictor of how much growth the child showed while in the preschool setting. Investing early in good preschool education for children between age 3 and 5 proves effective—and especially those who started at the achievement level below the 50th percentile on standardized testing for their age group, Fischer said.

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