01/02/11 — Study reveals value of More at Four

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Study reveals value of More at Four

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 2, 2011 1:50 AM

When the More at Four program was introduced in North Carolina nearly a decade ago, its intent was to better prepare at-risk 4-year-olds for kindergarten.

Now it's been around long enough now to measure long-term benefits -- extending into at least third grade -- according to a recently-released statewide report on the program.

The evaluation, conducted by the FPG Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill, showed that by third grade, when students first take end-of-grade tests, economically disadvantaged students served by More at Four had achieved significantly higher scores than disadvantaged students who had not been in the program.

Further, the achievement gap between poor students who attended More at Four and their non-poor peers who had not, was narrowed by 40 percent.

More at Four, introduced in 2001, has earned national recognition and last year ranked second in the country among preschool programming.

Previous evaluations have focused on quality of the learning environment, learning gains of children in pre-K and effects of academic growth in kindergarten.

"They do different results each year," said Patty Huffman, executive director of Partnership for Children in Wayne County. "This is the first time they actually looked at the end-of-grade testing because the children had aged enough to be at that point."

A local breakdown has not been done at this point, although there are ongoing discussions with the school system, said Valerie Wallace, director of early care and education with the Partnership.

"We do a summary at the end of the year that goes to the kindergarten teachers and parents, and have been doing this in collaboration with the school system for the last several years," she said. "It's made a difference. These children are coming to school prepared to be successful and their experience in More at Four has been beneficial."

The results continue to be impressive, the women said, especially when it comes to students' ability to compete academically.

"We have grown. We started with 54 slots in 2001," Ms. Wallace said. "We were one of a group of counties that did a pilot grant, we have now got 678 (slots). "We were very aggressive when the program first started."

Today, Wayne County receives funding for 678 slots, with locations in 38 classrooms at 22 sites, including public schools, private child care and Head Start classrooms. Most have achieved a five-star rating.

"It's always been strong, high-quality classrooms with an academic focus and certified teachers," Ms. Wallace said.

The six-hour program runs five days a week.

The ratio is typically one teacher for every nine students, or two teachers in each classroom of 18 students. An "inclusive" classroom has also been added for special needs students, which has three teachers working with the 12 students, Ms. Wallace said.

Despite its proven success in preparing students for kindergarten and beyond, there is no guarantee More at Four will be supported indefinitely, the Partnership said.

"The state budget plays a big part in where we go," said Mrs. Huffman. "I think everybody's probably facing a budget crunch. Whether that means we'll lose slots or not, hopefully we won't lose funding."

Charles Ivey, principal at Spring Creek Elementary School, where there are two classrooms, said More at Four has been a "tremendous boost," particularly among the school's Hispanic population.

"About 75 to 80 percent of our More at Four kids are Hispanic," he explained. "What it does is give them a head start on the English language, even though very little of the program is language-based. They have another year of being exposed, even through play and storytime.

"That exposure gives them a head start ... and they're on pace with their peers when they get to kindergarten."

When assessments have been done for kindergarten through second grade, Ivey said, a marked difference has been seen among students who completed the More at Four program. The same holds true following the end-of-grade tests given in third grade.

"When you think about the extra year in there that they're exposed and use English on a day-to-day basis, it has to be a tool if you will, that they can excel better both in the classroom and on standardized tests," he said. "We have a large number of students who do not have a preschool experience so there's still a challenge there but with these kids it's definitely to their advantage.

"Teachers readily identify those students who come into kindergarten with the preschool experience."

The administrator said the supplemental program is an asset, one he hopes will long continue.

"Ideally, we would like to have two or three more classrooms," he said. "Our More at Four classroom stays full. We always have a waiting list, and could use an additional 18 slots."

The Partnership has already begun taking applications for the upcoming school year that starts in Aug. 2011, Mrs. Huffman said. Parents can either visit the Partnership office, 800 William Street, or download the form online from www.pfcw.org.