Report: Preschool literacy gains fade by 3rd grade

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Children who enter District schools after having a District-affiliated preschool experience have better literacy skills when they start school and through 2nd grade, but much of that advantage "fades" by 3rd grade, according to the latest report from the Accountability Review Council (ARC).

The ARC, a watchdog group created during the state’s takeover of the city schools, did a statistical analysis of students in 2011-12 who had attended one of four different preschool programs in 2007-08.

Preschool "seemed to have narrowed the reading gap for their students when compared with their peers [who didn’t attend] in the year or two immediately following the pre-K services," the report concludes. "By the time students took the PSSA in third grade, the benefits of [preschool] in reading proficiency tended to fade."

Based on data from reading assessments through 3rd grade, ARC found that students with disabilities and Latino, male, and low-income students who had attended preschool performed better for the first few years in school than similar students who had not. The group observed "a fading out of reading readiness as [preschool] students move from kindergarten to elementary grades."

It recommends a close look at the preparation and support for K-2 teachers in literacy and the development of strategies for helping struggling readers "so that students who enter kindergarten and first grade with strong reading skills do not lose ground. … K-2 teachers need to be fully engaged in student assessment of reading readiness."

ARC describes this as "an urgent need," because "the attainment of reading proficiency by the end of the third grade is one of the most important indicators of future academic success for all children."

Other highlights from the report:

  • ARC, which is composed of researchers and educators from around the country, "is deeply concerned about the ability of the District to sustain basic education quality for all students given the current fiscal crisis."
    ARC said that it often has trouble getting data from charter schools, which impedes its work. "The lack of data transparency among charter schools is especially troubling from an accountability standpoint. … Charters were created and publicly funded in large part because of the role they were intended to play in education reform. Parents and students were to have more choice and charters were given the flexibility to innovate and share successful teaching and learning practices with other public schools. Without complete access to data from charter schools, parents are not able to make fully-informed choices about where their children might benefit most."