Education

Quality pre-K helps low-income students score better on reading tests

Texas non-profits say new study supports the importance of early childhood education from academic success. New study shows low-income students performed better in third-grade reading tests when they had a strong pre-kindergarten background.
Texas non-profits say new study supports the importance of early childhood education from academic success. New study shows low-income students performed better in third-grade reading tests when they had a strong pre-kindergarten background. Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

Participating in full-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten helps low-income students perform better on reading tests in third grade, according to a study released Thursday by the nonprofit Children At Risk.

The study, a collaboration among several nonprofits, is called “Pre-K in Texas: A Critical Component for Academic Success.” The Meadows Foundation in Dallas and the the Miles Foundation in Fort Worth helped produce the report, which is described as the biggest study of its kind since 2012.

The study looks at how participation in Texas strong, full- and half-day pre-kindergarten affects performance on the third-grade State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness reading test. Researchers said youngsters performed better in reading and were on track for college readiness when they had a strong pre-kindergarten foundation coupled with strong academics in kindergarten through third grade.

“The research is very clear,” said Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of Children At Risk. “You need the high quality pre-kindergarten for the successes to happen.”

Children At Risk, whose mission is to advocate for children’s issues, tracked about 47,000 students who began pre-kindergarten in 2010 and completed third grade in 2015. Students in the study were from five major urban school districts — Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. Twelve additional school districts near these urban centers were also included. Variables in the analysis were student enrollment, district expenditures on pre-kindergarten, demographics and socio-economic characteristics.

The report outlined three key findings: full-day pre-kindergarten works for the majority of low-income students, investment in better pre-kindergarten can produce positive results for school districts, quality pre-kindergarten coupled with strong academics from kindergarten through grade three have the biggest impact.

The study found that on average, economically disadvantaged students who attended high-quality public pre-kindergarten in 2010 scored higher on the 2015 third-grade STAAR reading assessment than economically disadvantaged students who didn’t have a strong pre-kindergarten background.

At one elementary school outside Austin, students with strong early childhood education scored 81 points higher on the STAAR reading assessment in grade three.

Charles Glover, senior program officer for the Meadows Foundation, said parents can look for certain indicators to see if their children are in a strong pre-kindergarten program: words on walls, pictures, talking, touching and singing.

“Word exposure is huge,” Glover said. “Ninety percent of the brain develops by age 5.”

Texas provides funding for half-day pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, Sanborn said. School districts around the state, including Fort Worth, have been moving to offer either full-day or universal pre-kindergarten. But they have to rely on local dollars to fund such programs, he said.

Children At Risk is gearing up to push for more Texas dollars to help pay for these early education programs. For example, education advocates want Gov. Greg Abbott to offer pre-kindergarten grants in the upcoming legislative session. Last session, Abbott successfully pushed an $118 million grant program.

Sanborn said the advocates hope the grant dollars will be doubled to cover pre-kindergarten for two years. The larger goal is to gain more support for full-day pre-kindergarten to be paid for through the state’s formula funding for education.

“It’s the biggest bang for our taxpayer bucks,” Sanborn said.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

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