Study of state preschool program back in progress

Print More

A study of Illinois early childhood programs that was halted by the 
state’s cash-flow crisis has now gotten back underway. For the first 
time, researchers have collected data on children’s academic progress 
in state Preschool for All programs.

A study of Illinois early childhood programs that was halted by the
state’s cash-flow crisis has now gotten back underway. For the first
time, researchers have collected data on children’s academic progress
in state Preschool for All programs.

The Illinois Department of Human Services is using federal stimulus money to pay for an assessment of the cognitive skills of students who attended Preschool for All and had just started kindergarten.

The assessments had to be done this fall to ensure the validity of the study, says

Jana Fleming, director of Erikson Institute’s Herr Research Center for Children and Social Policy. “It jeopardized all of the investments and work of the past two years,” she says.

Completion of the study was put in jeopardy because the state owed more than $1 million to Erikson Institute, which had contracted with the state to conduct the research. On June 30, the institute’s board voted to stop work on the study.

“Without this information, the General Assembly wouldn’t have any evidence of program effectiveness and would not be able to make informed decisions,” Fleming says.

But the Institute’s evaluation of state birth-to-3 programs – part of the same research project – is still not on track. “Our focus now is limited to completing the pre-K data collection and analysis,” Fleming says.

However, Fleming says, the information that has been collected so far will still be useful when the state finds other researchers to pick up the birth-to-3 study.

Before work stopped June 30, the Erikson Institute surveyed 222 birth-to-3 programs and done an in-depth review of the characteristics of 40 of those, Fleming says.

“When the study started out, the state didn’t have a clear sense of what exactly the program models were [and] their structure of service delivery,” Fleming says.

This fall, the researchers had planned to gather data on how well the programs meet ISBE quality standards.

Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for ISBE, says that the state has not yet decided whether the birth-to-3 evaluation will move forward. (Pre-kindergarten receives the bulk of state Early Childhood Block Grant funding; birth-to-3 programs receive just 11 percent of the grant).

As the data collection wraps up, Fleming says, nearly all of the almost 700 students who were assessed last year have been located, and 92 percent of the located students have been assessed.

 

Half of the students were also assessed in the spring. The data from this fall will help researchers measure how much learning students lost over the summer.

“We had a spectacular participation rate,” Fleming says. “This is beyond anybody’s wildest dreams.”