Poster Paper: A Snapshot of Preschool Quality: The District of Columbia’s Citywide Public Pre-K Program

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sherylls Valladares Kahn, Dori Mornan, Aisha Pittman and Laura E. Hawkinson, School Readiness Consulting

A large body of research indicates that participation in high-quality preschool is linked with positive social-emotional and cognitive skills at school entry and beyond (e.g. Mashburn, et al., 2008; McCoy et al., 2017). In response to this evidence, the District of Columbia has made substantial investments in preschool. In 2015-16, the District provided public preschool to approximately 70% of three-year olds and 81% of four-year olds, and the per-child expenditure for preschool was $16,812, more than three times the national average (Barnett et al., 2017). The District has also invested in quality improvement supports, including professional development and annual independent observations of classroom quality in every publicly funded preschool classroom. This poster will describe the state of quality in the District’s preschool programs for 3- and 4- year olds, drawing from 2016-17 classroom observation data.

The 2016-17 classroom observation data reported in this poster includes all 858 publicly funded preschool classrooms in the District, including 166 classrooms in 100 traditional public schools, 350 classrooms in 59 public charter schools, and 342 classrooms in 77 community-based organizations. The classroom observations were conducted using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) Pre-K instrument (Pianta, La Paro, Hamre, 2008). CLASS observations were conducted by independent observers who completed training, certification, and reliability checks on the CLASS Pre-K tool. The District defines high quality as achieving a threshold score of 5 or higher in the CLASS Pre-K emotional support and classroom organization domains, and a score of 3 or higher in the instructional support domain, based on other research suggesting that scores meeting these thresholds are most strongly linked with child developmental outcomes (Burchinal et al., 2010). We use descriptive statistics to describe the state of quality, including mean CLASS Pre-K scores across the District and the percentage of classrooms that met or exceeded the District’s quality thresholds.

In 2016-17, preschool classrooms in the District had relatively high CLASS Pre-K scores, with an average emotional support score of 5.90, an average classroom organization score of 5.59, and an average instructional support of 2.54. These scores are comparable to other large-scale studies using the CLASS Pre-K instrument (Early et al., 2005; Office of Head Start, 2015). Among classrooms in the District, 94 percent scored a 5 or higher on emotional support, 82 percent scored a 5 or higher on classroom organization, and 27 percent scored a 3 or higher on instructional support. Furthermore, 26 percent of classrooms met all three of these thresholds for high quality, closely overlapping with the instructional support domain threshold (Figure 1*). These findings suggest that teacher responsiveness to children and classroom routines are areas of strength in the District. The Instructional Support domain measures the ways in which teachers effectively support cognitive and language development in their classrooms, and this is a challenging area of classroom quality in the District and more broadly in preschool classrooms nationally. The poster includes a discussion on the implications for using data to inform policy and practice.

*Click embedded link to view Figure 1.