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Opinion: Research on the Effectiveness of Pre-K Needs to Transcend Third Grade Test Scores

Opinion: Research on the Effectiveness of Pre-K Needs to Transcend Third Grade Test Scores

According to distinguished educator and Hechinger Report contributor James Heckman, research regarding the effectiveness of early education, specifically preschool, has become convoluted in its obsession over emphasizing the importance of third grade test scores.

Heckman says "pre-K researchers can't get past the third grade," referring to the new Vanderbilt study that has cast a shadow of doubt on the effectiveness of pre-K programs after finding students that participated in Tennessee's state-funded pre-K program underperformed students who did not by third grade.

"Opponents and proponents of early childhood education alike are quickly turning third-grade assessments into a lopsided and deterministic milestone instead of an appropriate developmental evaluation in the lifecycle of skills formation," he said.

Standardized test results in general, Heckman argues, are poor indicators that early education helps improve the future lives of students.

Instead of focusing on test scores, Heckman says indicators that prove effectiveness are not truly available until decades down the road, not in the short-term of the third grade.

"For example, the well-known Perry Preschool program did not show any positive IQ effects just a few years following the program. Upon decades of follow-ups, however, we continue to see extremely encouraging results along dimensions such as schooling, earnings, reduced involvement in crime and better health," he said.

Rather than attempting to see if early education works by honing in on elementary school achievement results as determined through testing, Heckman suggests that more research be poured into how to ensure how to increase the quality of preschool programs.

"Quality, persistence and the right measurements are essential to actualizing the promise of quality early childhood education to elevate the lives of disadvantaged children and families," he said.

"Research clearly shows that we must invest dollars not dimes, implement high quality programs, develop the whole child and nurture the initial investment in early learning with more K-12 education that develops cognition and character."

Read Heckman's full article here.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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