How High Quality PreK Impacts Literacy Achievement
As the search for evidenced-based strategies to improve early childhood literacy continues, a new topic has emerged focusing on pre-K. In this we’ve found that, while K-3 is still the most important period for children to effectively learn to read, starting this process earlier on can have major benefits for leveling the playing field for children entering kindergarten.
Earlier this year, the American Institute of Education Sciences released a study looking into the impacts of Alaska's statewide program to expand statewide access to high quality pre-K instruction. In these studies, the IES observed “a positive relationship between participation in early education and student outcomes.” Among other emerging benefits.
The study also references additional research, claiming that “attending preschool can lead to positive long-term outcomes, such as higher test scores and lower grade repetition” as well as having a positive impact on early literacy. Even more notably, these impacts were found to be most prominent for economically disadvantaged children, paving a clear road forward towards solving the equity crisis.
Alaska found success in their Pre-Elementary Grants (PEGs) program mainly due to its flexibility in both allocation and implementation of funds. The IES notes that “A key goal of the PEGs is to serve children in need of support, although the state does not restrict program enrollment to students with specific characteristics.” The Alaska Department of Education also chose not to restrict how districts used the funding, leaving the options wide open.
As a result, the program served as an indicator for which practices work best. Of the 24 PEG districts, 19 used “grant funds to support professional development activities for staff members” as well as 8 districts “that indicated that partnerships were an essential part of operating their programs.” While this data alone doesn’t sufficiently describe the benefits of these actions, the results of the program do.
Following the implementation of PEG, participating districts saw their children enter Kindergarten with higher English language proficiency. In fact, “the percentage of kindergarten-ready students was higher among state-funded preschool participants in all cohorts, after other student characteristics were adjusted for.” Meaning children were entering kindergarten better prepared to learn language than before.
However, this study also highlights the importance of continuing high-quality instruction through 3rd grade, as many of the early benefits fade by then. This understanding is also backed up by numerous studies, such as the findings from the Perry Preschool Project, emphasizing the importance of continued, immediate elementary support in order to maximize the benefits of preschool intervention. So while high-quality pre-K instruction has demonstrated its immense benefits to early education, these findings also indicate the same need for providing equally impactful instruction beyond.
Our own research has demonstrated that, using the A2i Professional Support System, children entering kindergarten with above-average reading levels can maintain that trajectory and often finish 3rd grade well above grade level. While we know it's possible for every child to learn to read regardless of where they start kindergarten, we are motivated to expand and reinforce effective practices as early as possible, including in pre-K programs. Let’s combine what helps with what works, to give our children a head start towards a better future.