Oklahoma pre-K alumni show positive long-term outcomes

Oklahoma pre-K alumni show positive long-term outcomes

(Okla.) Students who enrolled in Oklahoma’s universal pre-K program are experiencing positive academic outcomes even into their middle school years, according to a study from Georgetown University.

Authors of the report noted that while there was evidence of diminishing program impacts on standardized test scores over time–a common sticking point for critics of universal pre-K–there was also evidence of positive long-term impacts on math test scores, enrollment in honors courses and grade retention among eighth graders in the Tulsa Public Schools who had participated in the state’s universal pre-K.

“We find enduring effects on math achievement test scores, enrollment in honors courses, and grade retention for students as a whole, and similar effects for certain subgroups,” researchers wrote. “We conclude that some positive effects of a high-quality pre-K program are discernible as late as middle school.”

Research has long held that children who participate for two years in high quality pre-school programs often have higher rates of academic achievement–at least for a few years. With that in mind, states including Alabama, New Jersey, Louisiana, Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Rhode Island, Ohio, Texas and Virginia have worked to expand access to high-quality early learning, especially among children from low-income families.

A priority of the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Education established a grant to help states expand and improve the quality of those programs. According to administration officials, those efforts resulted in hundreds of thousands more children from socioeconomically disadvantaged households having access to high-quality, state-funded preschool and other early learning programs between 2011 and 2016.

While the positive short-term effects of high-quality pre-K on early literacy and math skills have been demonstrated in Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Massachusetts and New Mexico, evidence on the longer-term effects of pre-K programs is mixed.

In Oklahoma, state-funded pre-K programs must maintain high quality standards, which include maintaining child to staff ratios of 10 to one and ensuring all teachers have a bachelor’s degree and a certification in early childhood education. School districts provide pre-K services directly or form partnerships with other providers.

Researchers focused on the Tulsa pre-K program, which had been active for eight years at the time the study was being conducted and enrolled 68 percent of all four-year-olds.

Using state and district data from the 2006-07 and 2014-15 school years for children enrolled in Tulsa Public Schools and three neighboring districts, as well as U.S. census and parent survey data, researchers found a handful of positive effects that lasted through middle school.

Overall, children who had enrolled in the district’s pre-K program were 6 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in an honors course eight years later. Pre-K enrollment also reduced the likelihood of grade retention by 7 percentage points.

The positive effects on enrollment in honors are more than twice as large for males, researchers noted, but female students who were enrolled in pre-K had marginally higher math test scores on statewide assessments and were marginally less likely to be designated as needing special education services.

Retention rates were also reduced among students eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch by up to 22 percentage points. Researchers also found that among free-lunch-eligible students, there was a statistically significant relationship between pre-K enrollment and 7th-grade math test scores and between pre-K enrollment and enrollment in honors courses.

English language learners who attended pre-K in the Tulsa district were approximately half as likely to be retained a grade as English language learners who did not, and were 13 percentage points more likely to have enrolled in an honors course.

Georgetown University researchers said the fact that Oklahoma’s pre-K program was nearly 20 years old might have something to do with the stronger long-term results, compared to more recently developed state-funded programs.

“In general, a more mature pre-K program has had more time to learn from experience and improve, by refining curriculum and professional development, recruiting talented teachers, and increasing participation,” they wrote. “Such changes may enhance program impacts on children in both the short run and the longer run.”

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