Harrisburg Preschool Program improves standardized test performance

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 also was 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,” said 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, which showed that participation in the HPP improved children’s vocabulary level, writing ability, and cognitive ability (for more information, see http://live.psu.edu/story/43959 online).

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 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.

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.

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Last Updated March 09, 2010