Participation in Preschool Program has Substantial Effect on Student Achievement

January 19, 2010

Researchers at Penn State have found that participation in a particular preschool program increases children’s literacy and math skills and cognitive abilities. The researchers evaluated children enrolled in the Harrisburg Preschool Program (HPP), a comprehensive program that provides preschool programming in collaboration with early childhood agencies in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

During their kindergarten year, children who had attended the preschool program were compared to a matched group of students who did not participate in HPP. All children in the HPP program were followed through the second grade. Some entered preschool at age 3 and others at age 4, which allowed a comparison of the effect of one year versus two years in the program.

Students who had enrolled in HPP had significantly higher early literacy and math skills. Those with two years in the program continued to exhibit significantly higher literacy skills both in terms of overall vocabulary level and writing ability, compared to children who only received one year of the program. In addition, the advantage of more time in the program was reflected on several measures of cognitive ability, including cognitive flexibility and working memory.

“These effects are very exciting and show that participation in the Harrisburg Preschool Program continues to have a substantial effect on children’s achievement,” noted Dr. Mark Greenberg, principal investigator of the evaluation and director of the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development. “Children who participate for longer (enter at age 3) have better outcomes than those with just one year of participation. This advantage has been evident since kindergarten and is maintained in several key domains in second grade. We are looking forward to examining outcomes for participants in the elementary years both at third and fifth grade.”

These findings are important because success in the early elementary grades strongly influences long-term academic outcomes (achievement, dropout, graduation rates). The Harrisburg School District has historically shown relatively poor outcomes on state-level indicators such as standardized achievement tests.

The Harrisburg Preschool Program was established in 2002 with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and a strong partnership with Capital Area Head Start, an early childhood agency. The initiative was part of a comprehensive strategy for improving the quality of education available to children in Harrisburg. Drs. Greenberg and Celene Domitrovich of the Prevention Research Center at Penn State received funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to evaluate the HPP’s short- and long-term effectiveness.

Questions should be directed to:

Dr. Mark Greenberg, Ph.D.
Director, Penn State Prevention Research Center
S110 Henderson Building
University Park, PA 16802
814-863-0112
mxg47@psu.edu

Celene Domitrovich, Ph.D.
Assistant Director, Prevention Research Center
S108 Henderson Building
University Park, PA 16802
814-865-2616
cxd130@psu.edu

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Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.