Study of Children from Low-Income Neighborhoods
Finds Preschool Programs Can Boost Test Scores

Feb. 4, 2009

Dallas Independent School District (DISD) students who participated in Educational First Steps (EFS) preschool programs were shown in a recent UT Dallas study to perform significantly higher in elementary math and reading test scores than their peers.

“The most significant finding is that program quality matters in early childhood education,” said Dr. Richard K. Scotch, a professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, who conducted the study.

“Children receiving services in the higher quality EFS-affiliated centers had significantly higher math and reading test scores when they entered elementary schools, while those served by lower quality centers did less well.”

EFS is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides training and technical assistance to more than 60 community-based early childhood education (ECE) centers in Dallas-area low income neighborhoods.

In the first grade, graduates from EFS preschools scored 1.8 percentile points higher in math than DISD students with similar demographic characteristics and 2.3 percentile points higher in reading. In the second grade, EFS graduates also scored higher in math (1.9 percentile) and reading (1.7 percentile).

In addition, students from EFS programs had a 12 percent lower probability of being classified as having limited english proficiency compared to DISD students from similar backgrounds. Students from such programs were also less likely to be retained in the same grade from one year to the next.

The UT Dallas Texas Schools Project (TSP), an organization that gathers data on Texas schools and students, has a data-sharing agreement with DISD. TSP provided data for the study by linking information from more than 1,600 former EFS students with DISD records from 2003 through 2007. Standardized test scores and other measures of academic proficiency were analyzed. This allowed a comparison of students who attended EFS programs to DISD students with similar backgrounds but who did not attend EFS-affiliated ECE centers.

An anonymous donor funded the first three years of the study. Scotch is seeking funding to extend the study an additional three years. The initial work was released in a technical report.

“What our findings really say,” Scotch says, “is that parents, educators, policy-makers and the general public need to support high quality ECE centers, even if those programs require more resources.”


Media Contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, Brandon.webb@utdallas.edu
or Audrey Glickert, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4320, audrey.glickert@utdallas.edu

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Richard Scotch

The study was conducted by Dr. Richard K. Scotch, a professor of sociology and political economy.

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