SAN ANTONIO - San Antonio's early education initiative, Pre-K 4 SA, looks good so far, officials said.
The program was evaluated by the San Antonio-based firm Edvance Research on six categories: cognitive, math, literacy, oral-language, physical, and social-emotional. In the first three categories, researchers found that the students exceeded national averages. In the latter three categories, the students met national norms.
Other categories of note
Many more areas covered by the full report are left out of the headlines, including the East Education Center's lower scores; general teacher retention, and what teachers said they want or need out of the program.
East Side Education Center
The East Education Center received lower marks, especially in the area of instructional support and teacher-child interactions. Pre-K 4 SA spokesman Paul Chapman said most of the scores, even at the lower-ranking East Education Center, are still higher than the national norm.
Lower marks for that center prompted Pre-K 4 SA to provide “more focused support” to classrooms and teachers. Chapman said the East Education Center also started a year after the North and South Education Centers opened and that there is more “maturation reflected” in their scores.
Pre-K 4 SA experienced a 98 percent return rate of its teachers. According to program leaders, of the 104 master teachers, nine left the organization (8.7 percent attrition). They said the teachers left for a variety of reasons, from relocation to family needs. Lack of organizational fit was also included among the reasons.
Are students ready for kinder? Teachers weigh in
In the Edvance report, teachers were asked whether they thought the program and its curriculum align with kindergarten and beyond, and also whether students were prepared for kindergarten based on the yearlong experience with Pre-K 4 SA.
On aligning with kindergarten and beyond:
Fewer than half -- 48.6 percent -- said the curriculum aligns with kindergarten and beyond to a large extent. Another 35 percent thought the program aligns with kindergarten to a moderate extent and 11.4 and 3.6 percent, respectively, said the curriculum aligns with kindergarten to a small extent, or they weren’t sure. The remainder, about 1.4 percent, said not at all.
On student preparedness:
Conversely, teachers overwhelmingly believe that their students are ready for kindergarten and grades beyond. The study found that 57.9 percent said their students are prepared to a large extent; 32.1 percent said a moderate extent; 7.1 percent responded to a small extent; and 2.9 percent said they aren’t sure.
Program spokesperson Paul Chapman said there are a variety of reasons why a teacher responded the way they did.
“One of the limitations of survey data is we don’t know the why behind the answer,” Chapman said. “It may be that the teachers believe the issue is on the kindergarten side of the equation, as many kindergarten programs are not aligned to developmentally appropriate standards. That said, we are always in the process of aligning to programs our students enter into after they leave us. And, we are always looking at how we can improve/optimize student learning.”
What teachers want
The survey provided Pre-K 4 SA teachers with the opportunity to outline which areas they would like more support.
Nearly 60 percent of them said they would like more help with behavior management issues, while almost 40 percent responded with more support in addressing a student’s social/emotional need. Administering authentic assessments, effectively engaging families, supporting linguistically diverse learners, and supporting students with individualized education plans rounded out the other categories.
While behavioral management issues ranked as the greatest challenge faced by teachers at school, teachers reported that they had the fewest number of challenges communicating with families.
Lack of information and training, staff issues and time/materials were other issues identified by teachers. Overall, 88 percent of teachers within the Pre-K 4 SA program said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs.
Baray said the program won’t rest on its laurels, but counts the six categories measured as a success. Cognitive learning, literacy and math surpassed national scores, with the three other categories -- oral-language, physical, and social-emotional -- coming in on par with the national average. Chapman said that, in fact, Pre-K 4 SA slightly exceeded the norm in oral-language and social-emotional skills, though “not to a statistically significant level.” He said the gap in physical skills (gross motor skills) was reduced by 74 percent.
Baray said it proves that early education matters.
“That’s been proven through other research other people have done, but I think this provides validation for the initiative of Pre-K 4 SA in San Antonio and I think there’s lots of ways that we can improve education, but certainly, pre-K is a place where we know it’s cost-effective to do so,” she said.
“If you look at fall 2014, the kids are starting 28 points below the national norm and they’re ending the year almost nine points above,” she said. “And if you look at literacy for last year, they started 11 points below and they end 22 points above. Those are huge changes.
“Even if we’re just meeting, going from below the norm to meeting the norm, that would be fantastic. But we’re exceeding the norm and so we’re not helping our kids just catch up. We’re helping our kids get ahead, which is really what really demonstrates how effective this program is.”
The state is putting more emphasis on early childhood education. Click the image below to find out how Pre-K 4 SA factors into that focus.
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