New Study Shows Arkansas Better Chance State Preschool Program Improves Language and Math Abilities of Children

New Brunswick, NJ – A new study of the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) state-funded preschool education program shows significant improvement in 4-year-old children’s early language, literacy and mathematical development.

The study, The Effects of the Arkansas Better Chance Program on Young Children’s School Readiness, was conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University by Jason T. Hustedt, W. Steven Barnett, Kwanghee Jung and Jessica Thomas.

“The Arkansas Better Chance Program is producing positive results across multiple measures for the state’s children,” said Barnett, NIEER’s director. “The effects found in this study are the first link in a chain that has been found by other studies to produce improvements in long-term school success and economic benefits.”

The study estimated the effects of preschool education programs on entering kindergartners’ academic skills. Children were tested on math, vocabulary and early literacy skills.

With the cooperation of the Arkansas Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, researchers collected data on 911 preschool and kindergarten children in the fall of 2005.

The NIEER study found that as a result of attending the Arkansas program at age 4:

  • Children showed gains in vocabulary that were 31 percent higher than the gains of children without the program. This translates into an additional four months of progress in vocabulary growth due to the preschool program at age 4. This outcome is particularly important because the measure is indicative of general cognitive abilities and predictive of becoming a successful reader.
  • Preschool increased children’s gains in math skills by 37 percent compared to children’s growth without the program. Skills tested include basic number concepts, simple addition and subtraction, telling time and counting money.
  • The Arkansas preschool program had strong effects on children’s understanding of print concepts. The program produced a 116 percent increase in growth in print awareness among children enrolled compared to growth of children without the program. Children who attended the preschool before entering kindergarten know more letters, more letter-sound associations and are more familiar with words and book concepts.

Even though Arkansas does not require every classroom to include a licensed teacher with BA degrees and certification in early childhood education, 94 percent of the teachers in the study held at least a bachelor’s degree. “The message in our study for people who run state and federal preschool programs is that they need to be of high quality. They need in particular to have highly qualified teachers if they’re going to make a real difference for children’s school readiness,” Barnett said

“In 2005, the Arkansas program served 9,316 children ages 3 to 5. It serves 8 percent of the 3-year-olds and 12 percent of the 4-year-olds in the state,” Barnett said. “Arkansas is making substantial progress toward ensuring that its children are ready to succeed in school by providing a high-quality preschool program.”

The Arkansas state-funded preschool education program provides early care and education services for children from at-risk or low-income families or for those children in districts in which at least 75 percent of children have literacy and math scores below proficient levels.

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.

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