A recent evaluation of New Jersey’s universal pre-k, The Abbott Preschool Program, found more strong evidence for early childhood intervention. In 1999 the New Jersey Department of Education and Department of Human Services piloted the Abbott program in high-poverty districts around the state, in order to better prepare 3- and 4-year-olds for kindergarten. The program is available to all children who live in one of the 31 high-poverty districts, regardless of their family income level.
Education analysts from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University have followed up numerous times with a cohort of children who completed the Abbott program in the 2004-05 school year. In 2013, NIEER released their results from their 4th and 5th grade follow-ups.
5th grade students who attended an Abbott pre-k gained an average of 5.1 points on literacy achievement and 7.6 points on math achievement compared with students who did not.[i] The children who attended the program for two years (from the age of three) saw particularly strong achievement gains compared with those who attended it for one (from the age of four).[ii]
Barnett, Jung, Youn, and Frede. (March 2013)
Abbott pre-k graduates were also 40 percent less likely to repeat a year of school than non-Abbott students, and 31 percent less likely to take special education classes.[iii]
“The magnitude of the test score gains from one year is equivalent to roughly 10 to 20 percent of the achievement gap between minority and white students. The gains from two years are equivalent to 20 to 40 percent of the achievement gap.” – Barnett et al.
These results provide more evidence that high-quality pre-k does help prepare students for kindergarten and beyond. They also indicate that earlier interventions are more effective, since children who had two years of pre-k saw higher achievement gains.
State lawmakers should take a cue from New Jersey and strengthen their pre-k offerings as part of their commitment to high-quality education.