Study finds pre-K programs have lasting benefits

Saturday, April 13, 2013 - 12:00am

In the first-ever study of a LA4 cohort from Pre-K through 8th grade, the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette found children participating in high-quality Pre-K programs demonstrate lasting gains in the classroom in relation to their peers. Currently, only half of Louisiana students enter kindergarten ready to learn. This fact spurred legislative action during the 2012 Regular Legislative Session as lawmakers passed the Early Childhood Education Act (Act 3) in order to raise standards and expand access to Pre-K by unifying the state's fragmented system.

In order to determine if high-quality Pre-K resulted in lasting gains, the Picard Center's comparison looked at the first cohort of 3,711 students who began the LA4 programs in the fall of 2002 and compared their 2012 LEAP scores to their 8th grade peers, specifically those eligible for free and reduced lunch who did not receive Pre-K or Head Start. Earlier studies demonstrated that high-quality Pre-K preparation through LA4 programs resulted in an increase in the rate of at-risk students scoring Basic or above on LEAP tests in the 4th grade. This study goes further, demonstrating that these students continue to score better than their peers four years later on the eighth grade tests - 9 percent for ELA, 14 percent for math, 11 percent for science, and 8 percent for social studies.

"These results are a great sign that Louisiana is headed in the right direction by expanding access to high-quality Pre-K programs. Last year, the legislature took an important step forward by passing Act 3, and the Department will soon launch Pre-K pilots across the state to put their bold direction into action. With only half of Louisiana students entering kindergarten ready to learn, this study is further evidence of the importance of Pre-K for all our kids," said State Superintendent John White.

Annually more than 16,000 Louisiana 4-year-olds participate in LA4 programs across the state. Year after year, research demonstrates that these children are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to succeed. The Picard study found that students participating in high-quality Pre-K were at least 10 percent more likely to reach eighth grade on time, less likely to be retained overall, and the rate of placement in special education was less than half of the comparison group.

"A key element of our analysis is that while all children who participated in LA4 reaped benefits that held through eighth grade, those who made the greatest improvements were children from impoverished backgrounds," said Picard Center Executive Director Dr. Billy R. Stokes. "The impact high-quality prekindergarten has on educational outcomes for low-income students is of critical importance as local school districts, the Department of Education and the legislature work together to develop innovative ways to ensure that children enter kindergarten ready for school and to close the achievement gap for Louisiana's most impoverished students."

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