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Children in poverty who attended pre-k maintained scores through middle school that were 6 to 10 points higher on achievement tests than their peers who did not attend the program.

Study: Pre-k programs help children at-risk to score higher

The findings come from a 10-year study by College of Education researchers Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett and Cynthia Vail who followed about 500 Clarke County schoolchildren from pre-k in 1999 through their ninth-grade year.

Michael Childs | October 24th, 2011  |  Published in EPIT, Features

In addition to higher achievement scores, grade retentions throughout elementary and middle school were significantly lower for at-risk children who attended pre-k than for those who did not.

Participation in Georgia’s pre-kindergarten program results in lasting academic achievement through middle school for children who live in poverty, suggests the findings of a longitudinal study by two University of Georgia College of Education researchers.

The findings come from a 10-year study of about 500 children who attended pre-k in the Clarke County School District in 1999-2000 through their ninth-grade year. The study was led by Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett, a professor of educational psychology, and Cynthia Vail, an associate professor of special education.

The researchers found that children who live in poverty (at risk) and who attended the pre-k program outperformed their peers (at risk, no pre-k) on achievement measures in kindergarten and first-grade reading and mathematics. In elementary and middle school, these children continued to outperform their peers in reading and language arts.

In addition to higher achievement scores, grade retentions throughout elementary and middle school were significantly lower for at-risk children who attended pre-k than for those who did not.

“These findings add a unique dimension to the literature on comprehensive state pre-kindergarten programs in that the data suggest a state-sponsored intervention can have lasting effects on achievement and other school-related markers,” said Neuharth-Pritchett. “At a cost of about $5,100 per child in 1999, a cost that is significantly less than other highly cited and intensive interventions such as Head Start, the findings suggest that large-scale, state-sponsored interventions can be effective.

“The cost is also far less than the cost of an extra year or two of K-12 schooling if children are retained. Children in poverty who attended pre-k maintained scores through middle school that were 6 to 10 points higher on achievement tests than their peers who did not attend the program. Currently, the cost per child in 2011 for pre-k in Georgia is about $4,000 since there are more children enrolled than in 1999,” she said.


Michael Childs is director of public information for the UGA College of Education.

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