Early math skills are a strong predictor of later academic achievement for young children, and high-quality pre-k programs place an emphasis on developing these skills. Unfortunately, even in good programs, the effects can sometimes fade by the time the child enters elementary school. The most effective pre-K programs, therefore, act as part of a continuum involving kindergarten and elementary school, to reinforce and build on those academic skills.
The good news is that there are models for integrating pre-k and kindergarten, and MDRC—a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm—released the findings from one such model operating in New York City. Two joint demonstration projects— “Making Pre-K Count” for pre-k students, and “High 5s” for kindergarteners who have participated in Making Pre-K Count—together appear to “close more than one-quarter of the achievement gap in math skills between low-income children and their higher-income peers.”
In the Making Pre-K Count study, pre-K programs in both public schools and community-based organizations were randomly assigned either to receive an evidence-based early math curriculum (Building Blocks) and associated professional development or to a pre-K-as-usual control condition. In the High 5s study, students who had been in Making Pre-K Count program classrooms in pre-K (in the public school sites) were individually randomly assigned within schools to small-group supplemental math clubs, which met outside of regular instructional time, or to a business-as-usual kindergar- ten experience. High 5s was designed to sustain the gains from the pre-K program and build on the same developmental trajectories and approach to learning that formed the basis of the Building Blocks program.
The Making Pre-K Count program, on its own, showed positive but not consistently significant effects on the children’s math skills, but the program does appear to have positive effects on both the children’s attitudes toward math as well as on their working memory skills compared to children who didn’t participate in Making Pre-K Count. However, children who completed both the Making Pre-K Count program and the High 5s Program had the equivalent of 4.2 months of math skills growth over children who didn’t participate in the programs. This effectively closed 29 percent of the achievement gap in math skills observed between low-income children and their higher-income peers.