TQEE Reacts to TNReady Release

The following statement is issued today by Mike Carpenter, executive director, Tennesseans for Quality Early Education, in response to release of TNReady 2018-19 data:

“Improvement of student performance is good news for Tennessee – it demonstrates that the tireless efforts of teachers, leaders, and students is moving the needle in the right direction.  We applaud that progress while also urging Tennessee to continue a relentless pursuit of improving student growth and achievement every year from pre-k to 12. Proficiency in reading and math is still far too low statewide.

“It is especially troubling that elementary students made no gains in math or language arts – a chronic condition that poses a major threat to our state’s growth and prosperity.  To truly move student achievement demands greater investment of focus, planning and resources in early education, from birth to grade 3.  Low proficiency in third grade is a clear indication that the quality of children’s learning prior to third grade requires significant improvement. We can and must do better, and better early ed policies and programs is the starting place to achieve the transformational change and results that Tennesseans want and is within reach.”

New study finds ‘Sustaining Environments’ Key to TN PreK students maintaining academic gains.

Vanderbilt researchers, together with the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, have released a new working paper with major implications for early education in Tennessee. 

The paper confirms Tennessee PreK students who subsequently experienced “sustaining environments” – meaning they attended high performing K-3 schools and were taught by highly effective teachers – significantly outpaced their peers who also attended high performing schools and had highly effective teachers but who had not attended Tennessee’s Voluntary PreK program (“TN-VPK”).  Academic advantage for the TN-VPK group was significant in both 3rd grade ELA/reading and 3rd grade math. 

The study conducted by six researchers, including Vanderbilt’s Dale Farran and Mark Lipsey who co-led the original Vanderbilt TN-VPK study, uses two primary data sources: 1) student information collected as part of the TN-VPK study; and 2) Tennessee teacher evaluation and school performance data.

This new study further validates the value of the TN-VPK investment and should provide policymakers and stakeholders clearer guidance that the combination of TN-VPK and quality K-3rd is a major lever for improving academic outcomes in 3rd grade and beyond.  

The original Vanderbilt TN-VPK study found that children participating in PreK significantly outpaced their peers into kindergarten, but that those gains “faded out” by third grade.  That original study did not address the question of why the gains faded, and at times has been misunderstood and mischaracterized as evidence that PreK doesn’t work. 

Summary of the new study’s major findings and policy implications.

1. TN-VPK works. Students who benefit from quality K-3 sustain their PreK gains and significantly outperform their peers in 3rd grade ELA/reading and math.

“The study found that sustaining environments did result in PreK students maintaining gains into 3rd grade and outpacing children who did not have pre-k.

2. A “Sustaining Environment” is defined as highly effective K-3 teachers at high performing elementary schools. Both are essential for PreK children to maintain their academic advantage.

“The sustaining environments thesis hypothesizes that PreK effects are more likely to persist into later grades if children experience high-quality learning environments in the years subsequent to PreK.”

“Neither exposure to highly effective teachers nor attending a high-quality school was sufficient by itself to explain differences in achievement between PreK participants and non-participants in 3rd-grade. However, this study found evidence that having both was associated with a sustained advantage for PreK participants in both math and ELA that lasted through at least 3rd-grade.”

3. Investing in high-quality PreK to 3rd grade is key to improving 3rd grade reading and math proficiency, especially for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

 “… it is promising that having highly effective teachers and attending a high-quality school may provide a sustaining environment for PreK effects, but this promising finding is tempered by the fact that very few low income children who qualified for VPK actually experienced learning conditions in subsequent years that would reasonably approximate a sustaining environment.”

Beyond Tennessee: Strong Evidence for PreK Return on Investment.

The strong ROI for high-quality PreK has been validated by many studies outside of Tennessee, most recently for Alabama, North Carolina and Tulsa, OK programs.  Outcomes included academic gains, less grade repetition, and reduced special education referrals, especially for economically disadvantaged children.  Longitudinal studies have verified longer-term positive effects of high quality early childhood programs on employment, health, criminal activity and dependence on government assistance, with returns of $7-13 for every $1 invested.

Preventing The Summer Slide

Summertime provides children a welcome break from the classroom. Summer vacations means fun – playtime with friends, family gatherings, adventure and lazy days.

But when children spend two or more months away from the regular exercise of learning they are at risk of the “summer slide.” Kids not exposed to ongoing summer learning, such as reading and solving math problems, can lose anywhere from one to three months of what they learned in the previous grade. When that happens, children start the next year playing catch up. If they suffer the slide continually in the early years, it creates a potentially life-long problem. We already know that children who are not reading proficiently by third grade tend to stay behind in future grades, and that they are four times less likely to graduate from high school.

The summer slide is especially devastating to children from low-income families.  Summers without academic practice contribute to the big achievement gap that exists between disadvantaged kids (who qualify for free or reduced lunch) and their more advantaged peers.

The good news is, there are many fun and enriching educational experiences parents, families and communities can do to halt the summer slide. We organized a few of our favorite recommendations here for parents of toddlers to second graders.

Read, read, read

Reading is the single most impactful activity for young children in the summer. A summer reading program helps maintain and advance reading and language comprehension from one grade to the next grade.

Recognizing this fact, Governor Bill Lee recently committed $5 million to the Read to be Ready summer camps for rising 1st through 3rd graders as a feature of Tennessee’s efforts to help young kids a strong start.

Schools and local libraries offer reading programs and resources so that children can read grade-level books throughout the summer.  Make it a family effort – with siblings, parents and relatives devoting regular time to reading and reading aloud to young children.

Numerous free options abound. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sends a free, grade-appropriate book every month to children from birth to age 5.  Several websites offer free, online PDFs of children’s books and bookstores such as Barnes & Noble provide children with free books as part of sponsored summer reading programs.

Embrace family time

Visit one of Tennessee’s many public libraries or museums as a family. Challenge your child to think about what they learned from the experience by describing interesting details of what they learned or what they still want to know.  Ask them questions that stretch their thinking, such as “Why do you think that?” or “What would happen if…?”

Cook together and have the children reference the recipes and make shopping lists using their creativity and emerging writing skills, even if they are only able to draw pictures and “scribble”.  Each one of these early steps prepares them for writing in school.

While at the grocery, challenge your children to find items on the shelves by looking for the first letter in the title or a picture of the item.  Ask children to guess how many pasta shells are in a box or ask them questions about what they notice – like the cold and warms parts of stores. Shopping can be one of the most enriching learning activities for young children!

Whatever you do, make it fun and interactive.  Your child will enjoy new adventures, especially if they are with the people they love most in this world – their parents and families.

Encourage play

Although it might be hard during the long summer days, families can halt the summer slide by limiting screen time. Replace it with activities such as an art project, a nature scavenger hunt or free play outside with peers. 

Encourage your kids to play consistently and often with other children.  Oral language between children of similar and different ages contributes significantly to their reading comprehension and vocabulary, as well as their social-emotional skills – all of which will prepare them for the grade that lies ahead in the fall.

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