State Tests Are Here! Why Invest in PreK?

Obviously state tests take significant attention as an administrator. Stakes are high. Student achievement and growth are important metrics of your school’s performance. A lot depends on students’ scores in 3rd -5th grade.

It’s easy to pass by your preschool classrooms – children learning number concepts and how to share — and focus instead on the seemingly more pressing need to get third graders’ using algorithms!

Data Source: Harvard Center for the Developing Child

But research clearly tells us that paying attention to children’s experiences in PreK can have major consequences for them in 3rd grade and beyond. Lets look at 4 reasons why investing in PreK can help ensure better state testing outcomes — and a host of other long-term benefits
#1 Skills beget skills
Brain research shows that the first 5 years is the period of maximum cognitive growth—90% in fact!

Neuronal connections build from simple to complex. Early learning makes later learning more efficient.
If we want children learning more, more efficiently in later grades, we should pay attention to the critical period before age 5!
#2 Achievement gaps start early—but so can prevention
A recent study found that 1 in 3 children in Virginia isn’t ready for Kindergarten. The rate of Kindergarten readiness is even lower for children who experience poverty (almost 40% “not ready” in 1 or more learning domains).

*FRL= Free and Reduced Lunch
Source: Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Project, Fall 2014

As Kristi Kauerz of the National P3 Center cites: children at-risk can be developmentally delayed behind advantaged peers by 14-18 months at Kindergarten entry! There is evidence that these gaps begin as early as 9 months.

Source: istock.com/FatCamera

Yes, that’s depressing.

But, the good news is: achievement gaps can be successfully narrowed through quality PreK. Furthermore, early intervention in PreK reduces special education referrals through 3rd grade.

If we can reach children at (or before) age 3-4, why wait until they reach age 5 (Kindergarten) or 8 (3rd grade), when intervention is less effective and more expensive?

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

#3 Effective preschool experience predicts 3rd and 8th grade achievement
A 2007 Virginia Joint Legislative report found that students who attended public PreK (VPI) had higher 3rd grade achievement than similar peers without PreK. A 2015 Virginia study found that children who attended VPI were more likely to have higher literacy achievement on state tests (SOLs) and less likely to be held back in 8th grade.

#4 Early Childhood investment pays off even in the long(er) run
Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman found such impressive returns for quality early childhood–including higher IQ, better health, lower crime, higher earnings — that this article referred to his research with this memorable title: “How Investing In Preschool Beats the Stock Market, Hands Down.”

Here is Dr. Heckman describing his work on the value of Early Childhood:

I’m ready to invest in early education. Are you?

What’s next?
As we’ll demonstrate in future posts, the quality of Pre-K matters. Future posts will detail what quality looks like – but if you want a sneak peek check out our searchable video library – with great examples of effective math, literacy, science and social skills teaching in preschool. To reap the impressive benefits demonstrated above, children need cognitively stimulating, emotionally supportive experiences throughout the day.

Your instructional leadership is critical to guide improvements that will maximize impacts for all students in your school (including those 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders!)

Let us know your thoughts below and look out for next month’s post: What makes “rigorous” PreK—and what can I do to support it? Subscribe, and we’ll make sure you don’t miss it.


What can I do now?

Call to Action:
Observe one of your preschool classrooms. Write down 3 things you saw that connected to your third grade learning standards. Make this a point of conversation in your next school-wide meeting/training.

Share your strategies:
What is 1 way that you support quality PreK in your school/program? We’ll use your comments to help share positive examples from across the state (and nation).

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