January 14, 2020
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Researchers from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) have partnered with the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) and Marshall University’s College of Education and Professional Development to conduct a multi-year study to determine the long-term impact of high-quality early learning programming on later student achievement. Nearly 800 children from seven West Virginia counties are included in this initial study, with a planned expansion to additional counties in the upcoming school years.
The study aims to determine how children who attend a West Virginia Universal Pre-K program fare in the areas of math, language, literacy and social skills compared to those children who did not attend a West Virginia Universal Pre-K program. The study also aims to determine the overall quality of programming in early grades.
“The West Virginia Universal Pre-K program has continuously engaged in initiatives to increase quality and effectively support children,” said Dr. Milagros Nores, NIEER’s Co-Director for Research, who also serves as the Principal Investigator for the West Virginia study. “We engaged with this longitudinal evaluation to understand children’s preschool through grade 3 progress and support the West Virginia Department of Education’s continuous improvement efforts.”
NIEER recommends that pre-k through grade 3 instructional leaders and educators provide a strong and purposeful focus on instructional supports to provide children with regular opportunities to engage in higher-level thinking skills, such as problem solving and questioning. The study also notes that professional learning should be tailored to differentiate learning for children to ensure that the gains found in pre-k can be sustained into kindergarten and beyond.
“We are extremely pleased to have the opportunity to partner with NIEER with this study highlighting specific information about how we can help make systemic improvements to ultimately increase student achievement across all grade levels,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steven Paine. “It is critical that we begin to address gaps in achievement early through a comprehensive approach that looks at the whole child—not just their academic development.”
Preliminary findings have been provided by NIEER to assist the WVDE’s Office of Early & Elementary Learning as they work with districts, schools and collaborative partners via the WVDE’s pre-k through grade 5 Taskforce on a Comprehensive Approach to Early & Elementary Learning to design an infrastructure of support for school districts and schools to make needed improvements.
Additionally, NIEER recommends focusing on improving classroom environments, instruction and learning opportunities for children in ages pre-k through grade 3, and that pre-k through grade 3 instructional leaders and educators provide a strong and purposeful focus on instructional supports to provide children with regular opportunities to engage in higher-level thinking skills.
The lessons learned and recommendations from this study are being utilized to further develop systems of support to positively impact pre-k through grade 3 programming statewide.