SRI Education designed and launched a 4-year comprehensive evaluation of the implementation and impact of Virginia’s state preschool program called the Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus (VPI+) from 2015 –19. Funded by the federal Preschool Development Grant, VPI+ sought to increase access to high-quality early learning environments and improve school readiness skills for 4-year old children in high-need communities. Eleven school divisions participated in the evaluation that included three key components: (1) a formative evaluation that focused on fidelity of implementation, (2) a summative evaluation that focused on children’s learning outcomes, and (3) a cost analysis that examined per-student expenditures and the value of the investment in VPI+ relative to the magnitude of its impact on children’s school readiness outcomes. SRI disseminated evaluation findings to Virginia Department of Education leaders and VPI+ personnel to support continuous improvement, accountability, and decision-making for delivering more effective preschool instruction.
Description of project work
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) wanted to increase access to high-quality early learning environments for 4- implementation of its Preschool Development Grant-funded program, Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus (VPI+).
SRI International designed and launched a 4-year comprehensive evaluation of VPI+ in collaboration with School Readiness Consulting and the RAND Corporation that unlocked key formative, summative, and cost data-informed insights to support continuous improvement, accountability and decision making for delivering more effective preschool experiences in Virginia.
VDOE, its partners, and the school divisions revised their priorities, plans, and approaches for future preschool programming and professional development based on the evaluation findings. Each fall and spring, SRI produced formative evaluation reports that revealed valuable knowledge into the accomplishments and challenges made possible by the initiative, and offered recommendations for improving enrollment, attendance, technical assistance, director and coach training, professional development and teacher coaching. For example, in 2016, one of SRI’s recommendations based on evaluation data was for VDOE to provide policy guidance that VPI+ programs can adopt regarding disciplinary actions for preschool children with challenging behaviors to prevent expulsions and suspensions. In January 2018, VDOE provided written guidelines to address this important issue.
SRI helped technical assistance providers from the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) to build the capacity of division staff to use SRI’s evaluation data to inform their practice and strengthen program implementation. For example, divisions used direct assessment data to prioritize and plan for how staff time and resources would be used to provide greater support in two school readiness domains. Program leaders and coaches worked together to use classroom-level data to develop individualized professional development plans for each preschool teacher. Coaches reported using Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) data to inform their decision to focus on specific teacher interactions and practices. Evaluation findings showed that teacher-child interaction quality improved over time, with a significantly higher percentage of teachers meeting state thresholds in Year 3 than in Year 1 (59% vs. 39%). At the state level, SRI’s VPI+ evaluation findings on the positive impacts on children from participation in VPI+ informed the Virginia General Assembly’s decision to invest in similar efforts statewide and their Preschool Development Grant B–5 plans.
To assess the impacts of VPI+ on children’s skills at kindergarten entry, SRI researchers conducted a rigorous regression discontinuity design study that was designed to meet What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) standards with reservations. Results showed VPI+ had large and statistically significant impacts on children’s literacy skills at kindergarten entry (effect sizes between 0.95 and 1.12) and medium (0.34) to nonsignificant effects at end of kindergarten and first grade, respectively. These findings provide further evidence of the short-term positive impacts of public preschool on children’s literacy skills.
In addition, SRI conducted a quasi-experimental longitudinal study designed to meet WWC standards with reservations to examine school readiness and later academic outcomes for children in VPI+ classrooms compared with children who did not receive formal public preschool in the same school division. Results showed children who attended VPI+ performed better on literacy assessments in the fall and spring of kindergarten than did children who did not attend VPI+, but by spring of first grade the differences were no longer statistically different. Further, children who attended VPI+, on average, had higher rates of attendance in kindergarten than did similar children who did not attend VPI+.
Finally, the cost analysis showed that the benefits exceeded the costs of VPI+, with the benefit-cost ratio ranging from 1.28 to 1.53 across the 2016–17 and 2017–18 school years. The estimated benefit was approximately $23,000 which exceeded the per-child cost of about $16,000. The costs varied greatly by division, in part, due to their ability to fulfill enrollment targets. Some divisions had cost and benefit-cost ratios that were consistent and aligned closely with other high-quality state preschool initiatives.
- Early education that leads to school readiness: proven lessons for creating a strong start with high-quality preschool environments
- Final evaluation report
- Cost study report