Oklahoma may win accolades year after year for its state-funded preschool program, but scores on the so-called Nation’s Report Card show the state’s fourth grade reading scores have been falling for the past decade. A recent article by Oklahoma’s News On 6 ponders the discrepancy:
“The most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) fourth grade reading and math scores show that the scores of Oklahoma fourth graders, relative to the national average, have declined over the roughly ten-year period since the state became the leader in early childhood education.
How can this be?
There have been numerous studies (including a 2004 Georgetown University study conducted in the Tulsa Public School district) that show a direct correlation between enrollment in a pre-kindergarten class and improved language and pre-math skills. The studies are unambiguous in concluding that a child who attends pre-school in Oklahoma is more ready to learn upon entering kindergarten than a child who has not had attended pre-school. And yet test scores indicate the benefit doesn’t last.”
It’s a perennial question for early education advocates: How do you combat academic fade-out? The article suggests that one of the problems may be that the program does not reach all kids.
Another issue could be that Oklahoma’s program is not very intense. Fade-out tends to happen even with the most comprehensive pre-kindergarten models, and the state’s universal program only covers four-year-olds and only requires a minimum of a half-day, not the full-day that educators say is more effective. Recently the state has been adding three year olds to the pre-K rolls, but only through a relatively small pilot program.
Digging deeper into the NAEP data shows some reasons to be more positive about Oklahoma’s performance. The state’s minority populations, particularly Hispanics, are growing rapidly, while the white population is on the decline. Yet the achievement gap has gotten smaller.
Although more than half of black fourth grades aren’t proficient in reading (that number crept back up to 59% in 2009 after dropping to 54%, its lowest level ever, in 2007), it used to be that more than two thirds couldn’t read on grade level by fourth grade. The percentage of proficient Hispanic fourth graders has also inched up – 47% were proficient in 2009. Native American students in Oklahoma, a relatively large group, do much better than the national average, with about two thirds above the proficiency level, a number that has also improved.
The gains aren’t huge, but they do suggest that Oklahoma’s early education efforts, while perhaps not a ringing success, shouldn’t necessarily be written off as a failure either based on the state’s NAEP performance.