Oklahoma Early childhood Program Praised

12-6-05 - Oklahoma's 4-year-olds have made dramatic gains in language and math skills because of the state's preschool program, a new study shows.

Oklahoma's evaluation was part of a larger study of high quality, state-funded prekindergarten programs in five states. The other states were Michigan, New Jersey, West Virginia and South Carolina.

The study, released Tuesday, was conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

"The Oklahoma program is producing positive results across multiple measures for the state's children," said W. Steven Barnett, who wrote the report, along with Cynthia Lamy and Kwanghee Jung.

"The effects of the study are the first link in a chain that other studies have found to produce gains in long-term school success and economic benefits," Barnett said.

As part of the study, data was collected from 834 preschool and kindergarten children in the fall of 2004.

The NIEER study found that Oklahoma 4-year-olds made a 28 percent gain in vocabulary over children not in the program and had a 44 percent increase in math schools.

It showed students in the program had an 85 percent increase in "print awareness," with more knowledge of letters, sound associations, words and book concepts.

The study said children of all families showed improved skills, but low-income students improved the most in print awareness.

The study's results differed sharply from an earlier national study of the nation's Head Start program, which found statistically insignificant improvement in the math and vocabulary skills of 4-year-olds.

Barnett said the difference is attributed to the fact that Oklahoma and the other states collaborate with Head Start and provide high quality teachers, something not required by the federal government.

"We send a certified teacher to Head Start so it has been a partnership that has produced results," said Sandy Garrett, superintendent of education in Oklahoma. "Other states have not had that collaboration and many states do not have a 4-year-old program at all."

She said 70 percent of Oklahoma schools offer classes for 4-year-olds under the volunteer program, with 33,000 students enrolled statewide.

Garrett said the program will lead to Oklahoma having better students in the future in the upper grades.

"This is going to change the world in our state," she said.