The West Virginia evaluation was part of a larger study of high quality, state-funded prekindergarten programs in five states. The other states were Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
The study, The Effects of West Virginia’s Early Education Program on Young Children’s School Readiness, was conducted by The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
With the cooperation of the West Virginia Department of Education, researchers collected data on 720 preschool and kindergarten children in the fall of 2004. The study showed children in the Mountain State gained from attending the preschool program regardless of ethnic background or economic circumstances.
The NIEER study found that as a result of attending the West Virginia program at age 4: • Children showed gains in vocabulary that were 30 percent higher than the gains of children without the program. • Preschool increased children’s gains in math skills by 80 percent compared to children’s growth without the program. • West Virginia’s preschool program had strong effects on children’s understanding of print concepts. Children who attended the preschool before entering kindergarten knew more letters, more letter-sound associations and are more familiar with words and book concepts.
“Early childhood education is a priority for West Virginia evidenced by the unwavering support of educational and political leaders across the state. The West Virginia Board of Education, the Governor, state legislators and teachers should all be commended for the meaningful impacts on children’s early literacy and mathematical development,” said State Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. “Our state has sound early childhood education policies in place, some of the country’s most qualified early childhood teachers, and perhaps most importantly, leaders that embrace early educational development of all West Virginia children.”
West Virginia requires prekindergarten teachers to be licensed teachers with BA degrees and certification in early childhood education. It’s for this reason that West Virginia was rated number one in the nation for being highly qualified according to a separate study conducted by Dr. Walter Gilliam, Director of Yale University’s Zigler Center for Child Development and Social Policy.
The NIEER study further reveals that West Virginia is making substantial progress toward ensuring that its children are ready to succeed in school by providing a high quality preschool program that is designed to serve all children. This year, the West Virginia’s Early Childhood Education Program is providing its educational benefits to 42 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds. It will be available to all 4-year-olds by 2012.
Most state prekindergarten programs target children who are at elevated risk of school failure —often due to poverty—and programs for these children have been the most studied.
Less research has been conducted on the impacts of programs for children who are not economically disadvantaged. With a number of states now making prekindergarten education available to all 4-year-olds, the NIEER study sought to address the impact of prekindergarten on children from every economic level. West Virginia was one of two states studied that offer services to all children regardless of income.
A large body of research shows that high quality preschool programs can lead to increases in school success, higher test scores, fewer school dropouts, higher graduation rates, less special education and even lower crime rates.