Study: West Virginia Universal Pre-K provides significant benefits

Cropped Photo: U.S. Department of Education / CC BY 2.0
Cropped Photo: U.S. Department of Education / CC BY 2.0(KNOE)
Published: Aug. 23, 2016 at 1:15 PM EDT
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First-year findings in a long-term National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and Marshall University study of young students and early education classrooms in West Virginia reveal performance advantages among children attending Pre-K and provide useful information on classroom quality.

The initial West Virginia Universal Pre-K Evaluation showed, on average, children with Pre-K experience outperformed those without Pre-K in every measure. Benefits were “large and statistically significant,” with the widest margin in print knowledge.

“We recognize that our state’s future depends on early investment in our youngest citizens,” said State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano. “We must ensure that every child has access to high-quality preschool to build the foundation for success.”

In addition, the study scored both Pre-K and kindergarten classrooms above average for emotional support, such as fostering and nurturing and safe environment, and organization.

These findings are detailed in a new report, the first in a series spotlighting Pre-K education in West Virginia. NIEER is proud to partner with Marshall University on behalf of West Virginia Department of Education on this five-year study of how the state’s Universal Pre-K program affects child outcomes, with a specific focus on reading outcomes.

The study, launched in August 2015, includes 599 children starting Pre-K, and 573 children starting kindergarten who had attended Pre-K, in seven counties, Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Nicholas, Putnam, Roane and Wood. Researchers will follow the progress of these children through completion of third grade. About half the children are girls, more than 90 percent are white and about 73 percent are from low-income households. In upcoming years, additional students and families will be invited to participate.

Researchers evaluated skills including language, print knowledge, math, and executive functions such as memory, self-control, and attention.

High quality preschool education has been shown to close achievement gaps afflicting American children from minority and low-income families—and this study shows similar effects in West Virginia. The goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of children’s development over time, classroom environments and teaching practices across the participating counties, enabling WVDE to develop a data-driven approach to continuous improvement across all classrooms.

Researchers also are evaluating the quality of Pre-K and kindergarten classrooms, focusing on Pre-K and kindergarten rooms in the same seven counties. Evaluation includes both environmental factors and teacher-child interactions, measuring Space and Furnishings, Personal Care Routines, Language and Literacy, Learning Activities, Interaction, and Program Structure.

Results show a range of classroom quality, demonstrating some classrooms are of good quality and others have room for improvement. Teacher experience also varies, with Pre-K teachers generally having less experience teaching and fewer graduate degrees.

“We applaud West Virginia for its leadership in providing quality early learning opportunities,” said Shannon Ayers, Ph.D., associate research professor at NIEER. “We look forward to continuing our work with the West Virginia Department of Education and educators across the state to help achieve the best outcomes for children.”

The 5 Newsroom is talking to local experts about this story and will have an in depth report Wednesday on 5 News.

Results include:

  • Children who attended Pre-K outperformed those who had no Pre-K experience in every measure
  • Benefits of Pre-K were most profound in print knowledge
  • Classroom quality averages all exceed minimal quality, and several demonstrate higher quality
  • On average, classrooms demonstrated high quality in fostering a nurturing and safe environment