May 7, 2013 1:03 PM by MELISSA CANONE(PHOTO COURTESY OF MGN Online)
LAFAYETTE, La. - Four-year-old students participating in prekindergarten through the statewide Nonpublic Schools Early Childhood Development (NSECD) program are experiencing benefits of PreK that last well into their school careers, according to a report released by the Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The results also reveal that the nonpublic PreK program had the greatest impact on African American children of poverty, who comprised almost 75% of the children in the program.
"The state has made significant strides in early childhood education, and studies show that our efforts are paying off," said State Superintendent of Education John White. "Improving outcomes and setting up future success for our youngest, most at-risk, learners is crucial to starting them on a track to attain a college degree or succeed in a professional career."
The NSECD program provides free, high-quality services to at-risk 4-year-old children in a nonpublic school and/or Class A child care settings. In addition to providing developmentally appropriate PreK classes and enrichment activities before and after school, the program offers vision, hearing and dental screenings through collaborations with community, health-based and social service organizations.
The study compared the 3,061 preschool students who participated in the NSECD program from 2004 to 2009 with more than 50,000 students who attended the same public schools as the NSECD children but did not participate in any publicly-funded prekindergarten program.
The findings of this first longitudinal look reveal:
Proportionately fewer of the NSECD children were retained, or held back, in kindergarten. Eight percent of non-NSECD children were retained, whereas 6% of NSECD children were.
The difference in kindergarten retention rates is even greater for children of poverty (10% of non-NSECD children of poverty were retained vs. 6% of NSECD children in poverty).
NSECD children were 14% less likely to be classified as special education by first grade (as compared to children who did not participate in the program).
NSECD children of poverty were more likely to score at the Basic and above levels on the iLEAP and LEAP standardized tests than non-NSECD participants.
For example, 72% of the NSECD African American children of poverty scored at the Basic or above levels on the iLEAP English Language Arts test, and they were 20% more likely to do so than the non-NSECD African American children of poverty.
No differences were found between the NSECD and non-NSECD children who were not in poverty (regardless of their race) as well as Whites in poverty.
These findings, which were presented recently to the American Educational Research Association, are consistent with other national studies, such as the Abecedarian Project in North Carolina, Oklahoma's Early Childhood Program, the HighScope Perry Preschool Study, and Louisiana's LA 4 Program.
"These results strengthen the body of evidence indicating that the benefits of early prekindergarten interventions stay with children as the progress through school year after year," said Picard Center Executive Director Dr. Billy R. Stokes. "As Louisiana prepares to implement early childhood pilot programs from birth to 5 as a result of Act 3, this growing body of evidence suggests that children, especially children of poverty, can achieve lasting gains through a variety of early education models when a program is implemented with quality and fidelity."
Stokes added that the NSECD findings highlight the importance of professional development for prekindergarten teachers, a key element of the NSECD program, in ensuring the level of quality that is essential for children to receive the maximum benefit.
"Our findings are promising because they reveal continued improvement within the NSECD program as a result of high-quality early education experiences," said Tamika Carmouche, project director for NSECD research. "Years of research at the Picard Center have shown that children who are exposed to developmentally appropriate practices at an early age are more successful in their educational pursuits, careers and life in general."
"What the NSECD research shows is that once you tap into a child's love for learning, eventually, the question of poverty is no longer a factor. Children in the NSECD program start their academic lives in successful environments and continue to succeed even when the landscape changes," said NSECD Program Director Petrouchka Moise.