Phoenix--A report published today by the Goldwater Institute examines Stanford 9 test scores and finds Arizona kindergarten programs initially improve learning but have no measurable impact on reading, math, or language arts test scores by fifth grade.
The study, Putting Arizona Education Reform to the Test: School Choice and Early Education Expansion, by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D., vice-president for research at the Goldwater Institute, is the first of its kind to empirically test the relationship between Arizona kindergarten programs and later school achievement.
Governor Napolitano has made expanded kindergarten a key piece of her education reform strategy, saying:
The data is simply overwhelming that the combination of quality childcare and full-day kindergarten will reap rewards many times the financial investment we make now. Our children will have higher academic achievement if we start them off on a stronger footing.
Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute, says, This report demonstrates that all-day kindergarten is not an education reform strategy that policymakers can hang their hats on. All-day k delivers short-term benefits at best.
The study analyzes test score data from schools throughout Arizona that offered all-day kindergarten or preschool programs during the 1999-2000 school year. In those schools, reading and math test scores for third graders are higher than those without all-day or pre-k. By the fifth grade, however, there is no difference in test scores between schools with and without these programs.
Dr. Ladner controls for the percentage of students in English Language Learner programs, students eligible for free and reduced lunch, student ethnicity, teacher experience levels, among other variables. The Goldwater Institute also examined the impact of all-day kindergarten on AIMS passing rates and found passing rates did not improve.
The study also measured the impact of competition from charter and private schools on public school test scores. Building on a 2001 study by Harvard University economist Dr. Caroline Hoxby, which found schools in Maricopa County facing competition for students from charter schools had faster student achievement gains, Dr. Ladner applied a similar methodology to schools in Pima County.?Ã¡
Stanford 9 test scores show that during the 2001-2004 school years, students at Pima County public schools facing competition moved up in their Stanford 9 rankings faster than schools not facing competition. Schools facing competition made gains twice as large on the Stanford 9 math test than those not facing competition. In Stanford 9 reading scores, competition group schools gained an average of four national percentile points, while the non-competition group averaged less than one.
This report is not an indictment of kindergarten as an institution. It just makes clear that if policymakers are looking for an education reform strategy that has been proven to work, the search is over. Early education programs like all-day kindergarten and preschool do not deliver long-term academic improvement. Competition for students, however, increases achievement in the short-term through higher test scores and in the long-term through greater year-over-year achievement gains, explains Dr. Ladner.