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Measuring and Scaling Quality Pre-K in Arkansas

Energetic preschool or kindergarten kids acting goofy outside the school while wearing backpacks.
Assessing how early care and education programs are related to the readiness of children to learn
  • Client
    Walton Family Foundation; University of Colorado, Denver
  • Dates
    2017 - 2020


Research has produced inconsistent conclusions on what to promote in pre-K programs. 

Despite a decades-long research consensus that high-quality ECE experiences, broadly defined, are associated with better developmental outcomes for children, it is unclear which aspects of ECE quality should be promoted. The empirical research has reported inconsistent associations between widely accepted indicators of quality and children’s outcomes. This inconsistency has led to an 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.


NORC and its research partners used data to identify what brings quality to early care and education. 

NORC at the University of Chicago has partnered with the Walton Family Foundation and the University of Colorado, Denver, to study the ECE experiences of children enrolled in programs that vary in their ability to foster children’s readiness skills. The study centers on the following 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, we analyzed 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. We then chose 10-15 centers identified as higher or lower in “effectiveness” to conduct in-depth case studies. The case studies examined the selected centers’ policies, practices, and observational classroom quality.


Results differed between district- and community-based programs. 

The results differed by type of program. For district-based programs, there were no differences between “more effective” and “less effective” programs with respect to structural or process quality features. However, community-based centers designated as “more effective” showed significantly better process and structural quality than community-based centers designated as “less effective.”

There were no differences in the math and literacy kindergarten readiness of children rated in “more effective” or “less effective” programs, regardless of program type.

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