South Carolina preschoolers participating in the state’s public-private four-year-old kindergarten expansion demonstrate greater academic achievement than matched non-participant peers – with measurable gains now documented through the end of sixth grade. According to data released this month by the SC Education Oversight Committee, low-income students who participated in 4K as preschoolers were 7% more likely to meet or exceed state standards in English Language Arts as sixth graders than students in a matched comparison group in their districts. These same students were 5% more likely to meet or exceed standards in sixth grade mathematics.
“The evidence suggests a consistent pattern of improved achievement for these students,” said Dr. Dan Wuori, Deputy Director of South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness. “Between the third and sixth grades, 4K students outperformed these peers in both Math and Language Arts at every grade level. Importantly, kids participating in 4K as preschoolers closed nearly half of the sixth grade language arts achievement gap between low-income non-participants and their more affluent peers. That’s an important result.”
Wuori shared the data at the annual meeting of Cherokee County First Steps. The location was fitting. The state’s longstanding public-private four-year-old kindergarten pilot was codified in June as part of the SC Read to Succeed Act, sponsored and championed by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, a Gaffney resident. First Steps co-administers the program, overseeing 165 four-year-old kindergarten classrooms in private, faith- and community-based settings across the state. The program’s public school classrooms are administered by the SC Department of Education.
“These gains are lasting,” Wuori explained. “It’s clear that 4K alone is not the solution. But with improved student performance now documented across each of the years between third and sixth grade, it’s clear that the state’s investment in prekindergarten is producing meaningful results.”
Wuori’s visit to Cherokee County also saw release of First Steps’ statewide baseline data for mClass Circle, an early literacy assessment administered to each of the state’s publicly-funded 4- and 5-year-old kindergartners during the first 45 days of 2014-2015. The computer-administered assessment was procured by the state in August as part of Read to Succeed.
According to baseline data released by First Steps, the early literacy skills of young children enrolling in prekindergarten have room for improvement. Only 42% of incoming students demonstrated an ability to name 9 or more letters during pre-testing in late September. Fewer still, 36%, met the threshold in a measure of expressive vocabulary – a key predictor of early school success.
The cohort fared better on a composite measure of phonological awareness. 94% of First Steps students demonstrated basic proficiency in this category, which measures the ability to distinguish the sounds of spoken language.
“This data provides a snapshot of these kids as they enter 4K,” Wuori explained. “We look forward to tracking their progress as the year progresses. More importantly, we now have a tool for teachers to use in planning their literacy instruction.”
Local data released in partnership with the Cherokee County School District suggests the county’s four-year-olds lag somewhat behind First Steps’ state average, with 26% and 24% demonstrating proficiency in letter naming and vocabulary respectively. 92% of local students met expected levels of proficiency in phonological awareness.
Laura Camp, Early Childhood Coordinator for the Cherokee County School District says the new data points to the importance of high-quality early childhood programs.
“There is a large body of research about the importance of language-rich environments beginning from the earliest years of life. One landmark study estimated that by age three, at-risk children may be exposed to 30 million fewer words than their peers.”
Eagle Academy director Joyce Stacey echoed Camp’s sentiments, suggesting the new assessment program will bring much needed data to bear for the state’s teachers. The Chesnee preschool is one of nearly 150 private providers enrolled with First Steps this year.
“Having a measure like Circle in place is a tremendous help for both teachers and parents,” Stacey explained. “With this data in hand we are better prepared to address areas of weakness as we work to ensure our children are ready for school success. We’re grateful to Senator Peeler and his colleagues for helping to put these valuable tools in our hands.”
First Steps students will participate in both mid-year and year-end testing as part of a statewide early literacy initiative underway within the program.
First Steps’ 4K briefing served as a kickoff to the annual meeting of Cherokee County First Steps. As part of the event the local board took time to honor Mr. Oscar Fuller, founder of KNOW(2), a community effort to promote the importance of education in Cherokee County.
“Mr. Fuller has engaged the entire community in efforts to acknowledge the importance of education over the past six years, said Cherokee County First Steps Director Dorothy Priester. “We believe that Mr. Fuller’s work has shifted education to new heights.