By Julie M. Hughes
New Mexico’s Pre-K Initiative is Working
NMSU helps conduct continuing research on initiative
Findings from a continuing research study on New Mexico’s state-funded Pre-K initiative shows the programs are working to improve early math, language and literacy skills and now New Mexico State University’s Early Childhood Education Program is partnering on the study to collect data.
The study, contracted by the state with the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University, started four years ago at the inception of the state-funded program. NIEER offers independent, research-based advice and technical assistance to policy makers, journalists, researchers and educators.
Jason Hustedt, an assistant research professor at NIEER who is heading up the New Mexico study, said the institute was interested in conducting the study and submitted a proposal.
“State-funded pre-school has a longer history in New Jersey, so we were already conducting similar studies,” he said.
Hustedt indicated that the study relies on having quality data collectors in the state. NIEEER became aware of the Early Childhood Education Program in NMSU’s College of Education and “felt they would be a good partner.”
“The relationship is going well,” he said.
NMSU hired 12 data collectors across the state, many of whom are retired educators. The data collectors were trained by NIEER to conduct assessments in accordance with the research protocol that had been previously established. Vocabulary and literacy development are being tested with the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Test of Preschool Early Literacy. Each test takes from five to 15 minutes depending on the child. A test of math ability is done using the Woodcock-Johnson Applied Problems subtest, which takes from five to 10 minutes. Children are randomly selected and all test results are confidential.
NMSU data collectors evaluated 1,400 Pre-K and kindergarten students in the fall from across the state. They collected data from Pre-K programs that are part of public school systems as well as those that are funded through Children, Youth and Families at a variety of different childcare sites. This year’s data collection will allow for data to be separately analyzed for programs that are part of the Public Education Department and those that are funded through CYFD.
“We were glad to participate in the study. It is part of fulfilling our service mission and it gives us an opportunity to support graduate students in our program by exposing them to a quality research process,” said Candace Kaye, director of NMSU’s Southwest Institute for Early Childhood Studies and an early childhood graduate faculty member who is coordinating the data collection by NMSU.
Kaye said NMSU graduate students who have been exposed to the data collection process have already begun discussing other studies that interest them related to the Pre-K initiative.
NMSU data collection for the NIEER study will continue in the spring, when data collectors will assess 700 Pre-K students and observe 165 Pre-K teachers. The variety of sample types allows for comparisons when the data is evaluated, including a comparison of students from the beginning of a Pre-K program to the end.
Hustedt said results from earlier data shows that the Pre-K programs in New Mexico are making an impact.
“New Mexico results to date have been consistent with what we are finding in other states. These programs have positive impacts on early skill development,” he said.
The most recent report issued by NIEER found that as a result of attending a New Mexico Pre-K program at age 4, children’s vocabulary scores increased by about six raw score points, which NIEER reports is “indicative of general cognitive abilities and predictive of becoming a successful reader.”
The report also shows that math scores increased by more than two raw score points. Skills assessed included simple addition and subtraction, basic number concepts, telling time and counting money.
Children’s early literacy scores were about 14 percent higher for those who attended a Pre-K program compared to those who did not. NIEER reported “children who attended New Mexico Pre-K knew more letters, more letter-sound associations and were more familiar with words and book concepts.”
Hustedt said continuing studies will be important.
“There are many opportunities to keep evaluating the long-term effects,” Hustedt said.
NIEER was established at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education with a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The institute is part of the trusts’ seven- to 10-year grant-making strategy to ensure universal, voluntary access to high-quality early education for 3- and 4-year-olds.