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NJ’s Preschool Expansion Districts

Progress and Evaluation Results After One Year

Over just one year of implementation, the quality of New Jersey’s preschool expansion classrooms has improved immensely. This is based on findings from an external evaluation of all 122 classrooms in 17 districts:

  • The average ECERS-3 score was just 3.58 in fall 2015, when the external evaluation began. This indicates a minimal level of quality.
  • By spring 2016, the average score on the ECERS-3 was up to 4.25, which is close to what is defined as good quality.
  • The average quality in each subscale also improved over time.

The improvement in quality can be attributed to a few things:

  • The continuous improvement cycle
  • DECE’s intensive efforts to use data for program improvement
  • The external evaluation, which allows for objectivity
  • The relationship between NIEER and DECE which is iterative, with strong communication and respect between entities,
  • The positive response and collaboration from programs, which have become more welcoming and has paved the way for constructive feedback.

For any type of improvement cycle to be effective, strong communication between all entities (schools, departments, and researchers) is recommended. In order for schools to be open to evaluation and feedback for improvement, it is necessary that they are approached unobtrusively and that they are taken seriously in any concerns that might arise. The quality of New Jersey’s preschool expansion programs will continue to be tracked over time with the ECERS-3. Once high-quality programs are established, assessments with children will be added to the evaluation. This will allow for an examination of the association between high-quality preschool and children’s outcome gains. Research continually shows that high-quality pre-k can substantially improve the life course for disadvantaged children; thus it is important to hold the expansion districts accountable not only for sustaining high-quality programs, but also for having positive long-term effects.


The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, conducts and disseminates independent research and analysis to inform early childhood education policy.