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Pre-K pays off with better STAAR scores for Dallas ISD kids

October 8, 2018
Eva-Marie Ayala
Dallas Morning News

The Dallas school district’s investment in early childhood education is paying off with test gains that outpace many others in the state. But school officials say the work is far from done.

STAAR results from last year’s third graders are better than in previous years, with students who attended DISD prekindergarten classes far outperforming peers.

In 2013, DISD began revamping its early childhood education, improving quality through amped up training, instructional coaches, realigned curriculum and a push to enroll more children.

Of those who enrolled in DISD’s pre-K at that time, 43 percent scored at “meets grade level” or better on STAAR compared to 35 percent of other Dallas third graders. Among all children, including those who didn’t take pre-K classes, 38 percent of Dallas third graders scored at that STAAR level, indicating they’re on track to do well in the next grade.

That overall score is a 10-point gain from where the district was in 2012, before the pre-K push began. That improvement outpaces increases in most other urban districts, including Fort Worth, Houston, El Paso and San Antonio schools.

District administrators told school trustees at Thursday’s board meeting that last year’s third graders only received the early stages of DISD’s rollout on early childhood education, and this year’s class will have benefited from the full effect.

Ivonne Durant, the district’s chief academic officer, conceded that other area districts still outperform DISD. But Dallas is improving while other nearby districts and larger charter school groups are losing ground, she said.

“We also see that we are standing head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of the growth that we’ve made,” she said.

Research routinely shows that high quality early childhood education can do more to help students get on track for success than any intervention later in life. Durant noted that how students perform on third-grade tests — the first grade in which the STAAR test is taken — is indicative of how well they’ll do moving forward.

“If the students get it right in third grade, the rest of their education goes a lot smoother,” she told the board.