Source: Research Results of SPECS for Pre-K Counts (Click on image for larger view.)
Pennsyvlania’s Pre-K Counts program has prevented delays in children’s cognitive development, reduced rates of behavior problems, and has helped 80 percent of its participants to meet standards for kindergarten readiness, according to a recently released report on a study tracking children’s progress over three years.
The study examined Pre-K Counts, a preschool initiative for at-risk children started in 2004 that now serves over 10,000 high-risk and vulnerable children, ages 3 to 5, across the state. It was conducted by researchers from SPECS (a group named for “Scaling Progress in Early Childhood Settings”).Between 2005 and 2009, researchers worked with Pre-K Counts school districts to collect data on the progress of every Pre-K Counts child that had parental consent to participate.
Among some of the report’s findings (an executive summary of the findings is also available
- At the beginning of PKC, 21 percent of children were classified as developmentally delayed; by the end of PKC, that number dropped to 8 percent
- 80 percent of PKC children met state standards for school readiness at transition into kindergarten.
- 3-year-olds with the longest participation in PKC showed the strongest gains in early learning skills over the course of their time in preschool.
- Keystone STARS, a quality-rating system with coaching and professional development for pre-k teachers, was a key factor in raising quality in the classroom.
- Children in programs with higher quality ratings gained significantly more than those in low-quality ones.
- A higher level of quality (between a Star 3 and Star 4) is necessary to keep children progressing, especially for those children in at-risk categories or who have developmental delays.
The study did not include a control group, so it is not possible to make direct comparisons between gains in Pre-K Counts to what may be happening in other programs or among groups of children who receive no preschool experiences.
Currently, Pre-K Counts consists of 21 public-private community partnerships between PKC, school districts, Head Start, and other early education services. Its goal is to align services in a single system and, in doing so, to improve the quality of care, standards, teaching, professional development, and program evaluation for pre-K. Partnerships take many forms. For example, Pittsburgh Public Schools PKC, for example, collaborates with HealthyCHILD Developmental Healthcare Support Program from University of Pittsburgh/Children’s Hospital mentors teachers to help them better build social and self-control skills for children. (As Early Ed Watch has noted before , examples of aligned systems of early education, childcare, and intervention services for young children are rare, despite the prospective benefits such arrangements can have. Its encouraging to see these partnerships in Pennsylvania.)
The study also found that the Keystone STARS program was helping to increase the quality of the PKC program. It showed that two key factors made the difference: providing teaching and mentoring for teachers, and improving program quality by aligning it with professional standards (such as those of the NAEYC).
At the same time, the report emphasized that Keystone Stars, as effective as appears to have been, could improve on many levels. It concludes that the Keystone Stars process “is neither uniform, strategic, nor easily measurable,” and recommends that those in the early education field work to create a uniform, evidence-based system of mentoring and professional development for teachers.
The report serves as a reminder not only for the importance of high-quality pre-k programs for young children, but that continues to be a lot of work to do to help programs get there.