New evaluation study will look at MECK Pre-K Program
In August 2022, Advanced Research Scientist Ximena Franco-Jenkins, PhD, helped launch an evaluation study of the MECK Pre-K Program, a longitudinal project expected to span 10 years. Franco-Jenkins, early childhood portfolio lead at the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG), serves as co-principal investigator, alongside HighScope Educational Research Foundation, to conduct this independent and unbiased evaluation.
The MECK Pre-K Program—which provides high-quality, free pre-K education for eligible four-year-old children in North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County—is administered by Smart Start of Mecklenburg County and funded by Mecklenburg County. The evaluation team will track a representative sample of three cohorts of 30 pre-K program sites per year, following the students through fifth grade. Franco-Jenkins’s says that MECK Pre-K program administrators are interested in learning how the children from their program fare as they progress through elementary school.
The evaluation will focus on three key areas: program characteristics; program implementation and quality; and student outcomes. Researchers will use a range of evaluation tools to examine language, literacy, math, social skills, and executive functioning. A critical element of the study is ensuring that native Spanish speakers are evaluated in both English and Spanish. “It is really important that on this project—and on any projects that I lead—we pay attention to our diverse populations and use tools to assess in the child’s home language,” says Franco-Jenkins.
“It is really important that on this project—and on any projects that I lead—we pay attention to our diverse populations and use tools to assess in the child’s home language.”
The study will explore child outcomes as well as program quality. Teachers will be asked their opinions about their programs, as well as the type and quality of professional development and support they receive. Franco-Jenkins and her colleagues will assess the program, observe classrooms, and study teachers’ instructional practices. A unique aspect of this project is that the team will also use the Classroom Coach assessment. This tool, developed by HighScope, will enable pre-K administrators to track adherence to best practices and create strategies for improvement for years to come. This will enable continuous improvement for the teachers and the program.
Franco-Jenkins is pleased to partner with HighScope on this project, particularly since the project is located in FPG’s home state of North Carolina. She notes that the collaboration with the team at MECK Pre-K has been fruitful as have preliminary conversations with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The evaluation team sees potential in developing that relationship to build the connection between early education and elementary school, align the two systems, and facilitate school success.
“Working with this district, which values and supports continuous improvements, is great because this data will be used to improve the experiences of all the children they serve,” says Franco-Jenkins.