Case Western Reserve University's Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development is assessing the school readiness of children in child care facilities, designated by Cuyahoga County as part of the Invest in Children's Universal Pre-Kindergarten pilot program.
The two-year, county-funded study looks at the relationship between the quality of the care setting and how prepared children are in their literacy skills for kindergarten, said Rob Fischer, the lead investigator and co-director of the Center on Poverty and Community Development at the Mandel School of Applied Social Work at Case Western Reserve.
The Poverty Center was contracted by Invest in Children, which funds programs for early childhood education and support for families. This study continues the collection of longitudinal data that began last year with a sample of children in preschool settings. The study will follow these children as they enter kindergarten to assess their transition.
Invest in Children was launched in 1999 as the county's Early Childhood Initiative, which plans, funds and evaluates services to children prenatal to age six and their families. The programs help parents become more effective in that role, prepare preschoolers for school and focus on strategies to promote healthy childhood.
The UPK study follows 200 of the approximately 1,000 children who were allotted a slot in the first year of the UPK pilot in 24 targeted child care facilities throughout the county. These care settings range from child care centers, private preschools and Head Start programs to child care in homes. Children were assessed upon entering the preschool programs, and will be assessed at kindergarten entry and followed to the third grade proficiency tests, given to all school children in Ohio.
The majority of the children in the study started preschool at the age of 3 and come from single-parent households.
Half of the children completed the pre-school program in mid-2008 and are now enrolled in kindergarten. The other 100 children are between the ages of 3 and 4.
Each of the child care programs in the UPK pilot are engaged in quality enhancement programs -either "Step Up to Quality" for center-based programs or the home-based program called "Care For Kids." In addition, the programs are using curricular models that have been identified by the state as best practices in preparing children for school.
Fischer and his team are conducting the longitudinal study of the children randomly selected to participate along with their parents. Trained observers are administering two widely accepted standardized measures to the children—the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test to assess the comprehension of spoken words and the Woodcock—Johnson Letter-Word and Applied Problems subtests for recognition of the alphabet, words and numbers.
Parents will be surveyed next spring to record changes they have seen in their child's development over their first year in preschool.
Scores from school readiness tests, according to Fischer, can also be used to assess the validity of the state-mandated Kindergarten Readiness Assessment-Literacy (KRA-L) test that is administered to all kindergarten children in the first six weeks of school. Data on child development collected in this study will be compared KRA-L scores.
This is the third year that state has used KRA-L to measure school readiness. The data from this study will provide an independent analysis of KRA-L effectiveness. If each test provides an accurate assessment, the two tests should have similar results, he said.
School attendance will also be measured, said Fischer, noting that chronic absenteeism has been shown to be a good predictor of later academic failure.
Fischer added that the county is interested in making sure that children have the opportunities to develop literacy skills as well as attain the appropriate level of social and emotional development to begin school ready to learn.
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