Harrisburg Preschool Program Improves Standardized Test Performance

March 9, 2010

Recent standardized test results show that participation in the Harrisburg Preschool Program (HPP) significantly affects children’s literacy and math skills. Third-grade children who had participated in the HPP program scored significantly higher on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests than their peers who had not participated in the HPP program.

Findings for mathematics achievement on the PSSA were dramatic: 51 percent of HPP students were classified as advanced or proficient while only 29 percent of non-attendees were similarly classified. There was also a strong increase in the number of students classified as advanced or proficient in reading achievement––45 percent among HPP attendees vs. 23 percent among non-attendees.

This indicates that enrollment in this particular high-quality preschool program has significant long-term effects on children’s learning outcomes. The academic advantages were evident regardless of length of time in preschool but were stronger for children who had been enrolled at age 3 and had participated for two years.

“This research demonstrates that there are substantial long-term effects of the HP Program on children’s reading and math achievement,” noted Dr. Mark Greenberg, principal investigator of the evaluation and director of the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development at Penn State. “The fact that this advantage has now been documented on the state standardized achievement tests is additional evidence that preschool is critical for disadvantaged children—not only for their school readiness but for their longer-term achievement.”

Greenberg and his research team found similar results in January 2010, which showed that participation in the HPP improved children’s vocabulary level, writing ability, and cognitive ability (for more information, see http://www.hhdev.psu.edu/news/2010/1_19_10_preschool.html).

Greenberg noted that “the HPP program has the important elements of high-quality preschool. This includes well-trained and well-equipped teachers; a vital and challenging curriculum in literacy, math, and social-emotional development; and a caring, supportive classroom environment that nurtures the learning of young children.”

Greenberg and Dr. 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. The preliminary results they have found so far are important because success in the early elementary grades strongly influences long-term academic outcomes (achievement, dropout, graduation rates); the achievement gap is much more difficult to close after third grade. The Harrisburg School District has historically shown relatively poor outcomes on state-level indicators such as standardized achievement tests, so this finding speaks to the effectiveness of one of its major initiatives.

The evaluation of HPP has been funded to last eight years and the students will be followed through fifth grade.

.pdf icon See the PSSA test result comparison.

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.

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.