Do Standard Measures of Preschool Quality Used in Statewide Policy Predict School Readiness?

The 2008 federal economic stimulus act invested $5 billion to support early-childhood programs, including $500 million for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, which pushes states and localities to participate in the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). One of the quality measures endorsed by QRIS is the widely popular Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale–Revised (ECERS-R). Much research has shown a positive relationship between higher scores on ECERS and children’s development, including academic and social outcomes—but the measure has neither been tested in a nationally representative sample nor subjected to a robust set of controls to lessen the impact of selection bias (e.g., motivated parents might choose higher-quality child care). In this study, Terri Sabol of Northwestern University and Robert Pianta of the University of Virginia use data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort (ECLS-B); they include children born in 2001, ultimately yielding a sample of roughly 10,000 kids, whom they track through age 5, and they also conduct classroom observations in 1,400 center-based providers. They measure a number of outcomes at age 5, including math and literacy, expressive language, and social skills among others—and control for numerous child, family, and center characteristics as well as demographics. The bottom line: the analysts found scant evidence that the ECERS is related to children’s academic or social development. In all, they ran over fifty different analytic models and found few significant effects between this particular measure of quality and outcomes at age 5. Further, programs that scored higher on the ECERS failed to improve student growth relative to the measured outcomes. The authors conclude by recommending that other tools, such as those that measure the types of interactions between students and teachers, might do a better job of capturing classroom quality—and, thus, predicting student outcomes.

SOURCE: Terri J. Sabol and Robert C. Pianta, “Do Standard Measures of Preschool Quality Used in Statewide Policy Predict School Readiness?Education Finance and Policy 9(2): 116–64.

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