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Research reports on early education from NIEER and outside organizations

Research Reports

Seattle Pre-K Program Evaluation


November 21, 2017
AssessmentOutcomesState & Local

The National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University and Cultivate Learning, at the University of Washington, have conducted evaluations of the demonstration phase of the Seattle Preschool program. Evaluations in years one and two (1) assessed preschool quality using two observational measures, (2) measured children’s gains in receptive vocabulary, literacy, math and executive functions, and (3) compared gains of SPP attendees to those of a non-equivalent comparison group to estimate SPP impacts on children’s learning and development.

The non-equivalent comparison, while not ideal, was the best available approach to provide some indication of SPP’s impact on children during this initial development period.

The City of Seattle is currently in the third year of a four-year demonstration phase for its Seattle Preschool Program. The program was established by voter approval on November 4, 2014 of a four-year, $58 million property tax levy to provide “accessible high-quality preschool services for Seattle children designed to improve their readiness for school and to support their subsequent academic achievement.” The city of Seattle’s Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL) launched SPP in the 2015–16 school year and expanded it in the 2016–17 school year.

The four-year demonstration phase of SPP has three purposes. The first is to demonstrate that the approved structure is viable. The second is to develop a community infrastructure to improve the quality of preschool programs. The third is to create norms and a process to support continuous quality improvement (CQI) through evaluation. Results from evaluation during the demonstration phase will inform improvements in these efforts.

Before commencement of this demonstration phase, the evaluation team conducted a thorough review of the research on evaluation, supplemented with interviews of key leaders in program design and improvement. Based on this review the team recommended, among other efforts, an impact evaluation that collects information on students’ learning and development.

Reports below present findings from year one (2015-16) and year two (2016–17) from the impact evaluation, focusing on classroom quality and children’s learning. We report for SPP basic statistics that describe: the children served, children’s learning and development including average gains during the year, and program quality. As context, we report similar information from other preschool studies including the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES). We report findings for subgroups of students and classrooms as well as the full sample. To estimate program impact we compare learning gains of SPP children to those of other children who did not attend SPP. Finally, to inform those developing and implementing the program we investigate relationships between SPP children’s learning gains and their classroom experiences including observed quality.

As with all evaluations, this one has limitations that must be acknowledged. The second year of the impact evaluation employs a non-equivalent comparison group design to estimate program impacts on children’s learning and development. Comparison groups were constructed using data on children from DEEL waiting lists for SPP and other children enrolled in centers that waiting list children attended in 2016–17.

This design relies on statistical controls to adjust for differences between the groups other than SPP participation. Although not ideal, this was the best available approach to provide some indication of SPP’s impact on children during this initial development period. As the program is far from fully established, greater weight is given during the demonstration period to establishing that the program and its infrastructure are being developed to meet expectations for program performance as the system matures.

SPP Evaluation Year 1 Report

SPP Evaluation Year 2 Final Report