A new report released today by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) shows a connection between full-day kindergarten enrollment and later success in elementary school on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA).
In Full-Day Kindergarten: A Proven Success, PPC notes that statewide, school districts that elected to provide full-day kindergarten through Accountability Block Grant (ABG) funds are seeing improved performance on standardized assessments. The evidence emerged when the first cohort of children who attended ABG-funded full-day kindergarten reached third grade and took the PSSAs in spring 2008. Overall, school districts with students attending full-day kindergarten improved their reading proficiency scores over the previous year by 50 percent more than those with part-day kindergarten programs.
The pattern of improved performance continued at the state level for the next two years. In 2010, school districts with full-day kindergarten saw math proficiency scores rise twice as much as districts with part-day programs.
Since ABG funds first became available to school districts, the number of full-day kindergartners in Pennsylvania has grown 91 percent. In 2008-09, about 80,000 kindergarten students were enrolled in full-day programs in public school districts, charter schools and cyber charter schools. And about 66 percent of the full-day enrollment two out of three full-day students - was financed through the ABG program.
And now, just as PSSA results are showing a correlation between full-day kindergarten and scores in third and fifth grade, the Accountability Block Grant has been eliminated from Governor Corbett's 2011-12 budget.
"Nearly 350 school districts use ABG to fully or partially fund their FDK programs for more than 50,000 children," said Joan L. Benso, President and CEO, PA Partnerships for Children. "Eliminating this flexible funding source will force school districts to make difficult decisions which could hamper student outcomes. If school districts can't make up the difference in their budget gaps due to the loss of ABG, thousands of children may be forced to start their academic journeys without the proven benefits of full-day K."
"Full-day kindergarten is too vital to be eliminated," said Rich Fry, superintendent of Big Spring School District in Cumberland County. "We hope to maintain the program through staff attrition this year, but in the future we could be looking at furloughing teachers which could impact other education programs."
First-grade teacher Katie Richter, of the Baldwin-Whitehall School District in Allegheny County, has witnessed the difference in reading skills between full- and part-day kindergarten students. "Overall the full-day kids are much more prepared for first grade. These students come with routines, procedures and rules in place. They've already mastered the expectations."
Richter said that first grade teachers whose students come from full-day kindergarten can jump into lessons at the start of a new school year without having to spend prolonged time on letter names and sounds. "My experience is the full-day K students are better readers in first grade than the part-day students were," she said.
"We urge our legislature to work to restore the Accountability Block Grant or create a dedicated funding stream for full-day kindergarten," Benso implored. "Full-day K is a proven strategy for success and an important building block in our early learning continuum. Children won't have the opportunity to go back and do kindergarten again when our state budget situation improves. We must make restoration of state funds for full-day K a high priority in budget negotiations this spring."
More information may be obtained by contacting Kathy Geller Myers, PPC Communications Director, at 717-236-5680 or 717-903-3716 (cell) or www.papartnerships.org.