NC Pre-K Children Outpace Expectations

Students who were enrolled in the NC Pre-K Program are making significant gains across all areas of learning through the end of kindergarten, according to a new report from scientists at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG).

“Students made progress on most skills through kindergarten at an even greater rate than would be expected for normal developmental growth,” said Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, director of FPG’s National Pre-K and Early Learning Evaluation Center.

Peisner-Feinberg pointed to significant gains throughout this period in students’ language and literacy skills, math skills, general knowledge, and behavior.

“Although children made gains over the entire period from the beginning of pre-K through the end of kindergarten, there were differences in the amount of gains each year,” she said. “In pre-K, for instance, there was a relatively greater rate of growth on some measures of language and literacy skills, as well as on basic self-knowledge and social skills.”

Peisner-Feinberg leads the FPG team that has studied the NCPre-K Program and provided it with recommendations for more than a dozen years. Since the statewide program’s inception as “More at Four” in 2001, it has served over 292,000 at-risk 4 year-olds, helping to prepare them for kindergarten.

“Earlier studies have shown that at the end of third grade, children from low-income families who had attended pre-K had higher reading and math scores on the North Carolina end-of-grade test than similar children who had not attended the state’s program,” she said. The vast majority of the program’s students are from low-income families.

Prior evaluations of NCPre-K also revealed that children with lower levels of English proficiency made greater gains than their peers while in the program. Peisner-Feinberg’s new findings show that this continues to hold true through their first year of elementary school.

In 2013-2014, the NCPre-K Program served almost 30,000 children in nearly 2,000 classrooms, yet still maintained an average class size of only 16 children. According to Peisner-Feinberg, the majority of the NCPre-K sites achieved the highest five-star licensing level.

She also explained that an important and continuing trend in the NCPre-K program has been a steady improvement in the levels of teacher education and credentials. More teachers in the program than ever before hold B-K (birth-kindergarten) licen-ses, bachelor’s degrees, or higher degrees.

“Classroom practices were of higher quality when teachers had B-K licenses,” she added.

Peisner-Feinber said FPG’s history of bringing researched-based recommendations to NCPre-K has helped the program maintain its quality as it has grown.

“The state has examined the evaluation findings to ensure that all children are benefitting from NCPre-K and to consider areas where they might improve practices,” she said. “It’s been very positive from our perspective to see the program make such good use of our research.”

The NC Department of Health and Human Services houses the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) and reports the results of FPG’s evaluations to the state legislature each year.

Smart Start of Transylvania County is the contract administrator of the NCPre-K Program in Transylvania County and receives funding from DCDEE.

Over the past four years, Smart Start’s sub-contractors – Western Carolina Community Action and New Adventure Learning Center – had served some 220 at-risk, four-year-olds from Transylvania’s low-income families.

(Joe Castro, executive director of Smart Start of Transylvania.)

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