Measuring and Scaling Quality Pre-K in Arkansas

Understanding the potential importance of high-quality early care and education experiences in preparing for kindergarten.

Over the past several decades, research has established that high-quality early care and education (ECE) programs play a critical role in providing a strong foundation for children’s success in school and for narrowing the achievement gap. Despite the consensus that high-quality ECE experiences, broadly defined, is associated with better developmental outcomes for children, it is unclear which specific aspects of ECE quality should be promoted, as the empirical research has reported inconsistent associations between widely accepted indicators of quality and children’s outcomes. This has led to interest in whether it is possible to identify ECE programs that can consistently promote children’s kindergarten readiness outcomes, and determine whether the policies and practices of these programs differ from other types of programs. Using pilot data from Arkansas, researchers attempt to understand the ECE experiences of children enrolled in programs that vary in their ability to foster children’s readiness skills.

NORC has partnered with the Walton Family Foundation and the University of Colorado, Denver to conduct a study centered on the following research questions:

  1. What characteristics and practices in high-quality programs are absent in low-quality programs as demonstrated by kindergarten readiness scores?
  2. Are children enrolled in high-quality centers more prepared for kindergarten than children in low-quality centers?

To identify high- and low-quality programs, researchers will analyze multiple years of data provided by the Arkansas Department of Education to identify preschool centers whose children consistently show higher or lower kindergarten readiness scores than predicted, given the demographics of the children and families they serve. Research staff will subsequently choose 10-15 centers that are identified as higher or lower in “effectiveness” to conduct in-depth case studies. The case studies will examine the selected centers’ policies, practices, and observational classroom quality.

Results of the study are forthcoming and will be designed to inform the features of high-quality programs that may be useful to incentivize or to promote within Arkansas’ ECE policies.