BSU study hails success of Boise pre-K pilot program

(UPDATED, 2:06 p.m., with details on project funding.)

Students who complete a Boise pre-K program outscore their classmates on kindergarten reading tests, according to a study released Tuesday.

Boise State University researchers took a closer look at the Boise Pre-K Project, a two-year-old pilot program in Boise’s higher-poverty Vista neighborhood.

The BSU study focused on student reading scores at Hawthorne and Whitney elementary schools, the two schools hosting the pre-K program. In the fall of 2016, 86 percent of the students who attended pre-K scored at grade level on the Idaho Reading Indicator. Among classmates who did not attend pre-K, only 53 percent hit the grade level threshold.

“The Vista Pre-K Program is clearly having a big impact on the children who attend it,” Vanessa Fry, assistant director of BSU’s Idaho Policy Institute, said in a news release.

But even the study acknowledges some limitations.

Kindergartners who attended pre-K scored higher than their classmates throughout the school year. But only the difference in the fall scores was statistically significant — suggesting a relationship between pre-K and reading scores. During the course of the year, this gap narrows.

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“This ‘catching up’ is expected as the students who were not in the Vista Pre-K program are impacted by the teaching they receive in kindergarten,” researchers wrote.

Still, partners in the pre-K pilot hailed the results.

“The data bear out the success of the program,” Boise school Superintendent Don Coberly said. “It’s clear that children who participate in quality Pre-K programs have an advantage, particularly in reading readiness.”

“It is everyone’s duty to do everything we can to prepare these children for their education and life,” said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who said the results underscore the need for statewide pre-K programs.

As legislators have balked at funding pre-K programs — even on a pilot basis — Boise City Hall and the school district have partnered on the Vista project.

Money for the three-year pilot comes from a combination of tax dollars and community donations. The city of Boise pledged $626,000, but that pledge has been offset by $179,600 in private donations, including $75,000 from the United Way of the Treasure Valley and $45,000 from the Micron Foundation.

For years, pre-K advocates have been lobbying Idaho legislators to fund early childhood programs. Idaho remains one of only a handful of states that does not fund pre-K.

Meanwhile, BSU researchers noted, pre-K programs have blossomed nationally. The number of students attending preschool tripled between 1990 and 2005, and reached 4.7 million in 2014.

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