Effects of the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program: Findings Through Pre-K of a Small-Scale RCT Study: 2017-2018 Statewide Evaluation

Peisner-Feinberg, E., Zadrozny, S., Kuhn, L., & Van Manen, K.
February, 2019

The FPG Child Development Institute has conducted independent evaluation studies of the NC Pre-K Program (formerly More at Four) since its inception in the 2001-2002 school year. These evaluations have included multiple studies of program characteristics, classroom quality, and children’s outcomes over the course of the pre-k year as well as longitudinally into kindergarten and third grade. The evaluation designs have used a variety of methodologies, including pre and post, two-group comparison, regression discontinuity, and propensity score matching to examine both short-term and long-term outcomes.

The primary purpose of the 2017-2018 NC Pre-Kindergarten (NC Pre-K) Evaluation was to examine the effectiveness of the NC Pre-K Program using a randomized controlled trial (RCT) design. The major issue addressed by this type of study is around the benefits of offering children access to enrollment in NC Pre-K. An RCT is considered the gold-standard design for addressing such a question because children are randomly assigned to either receive the program (treatment) or not (control). Therefore, differences in outcomes can be causally attributed to whether or not they received treatment rather than to other differences between the children and families in the two different groups.

This study is designed to follow children longitudinally from pre-k into elementary school in order to examine the short- and longer-term effects. The current study (2017-2018) provided baseline data about children’s outcomes during their pre-k year. This small-scale study compared 582 children who were randomly assigned to either NC Pre-K (Treatment=473) or the waitlist (Control=109) in two selected counties with substantially large waitlists. Because children in both groups had applied to and were eligible for NC Pre-K, they had similar characteristics. However, because not everyone could be served with the available number of program slots, random assignment was used to select children for NC Pre-K or the waitlist (with very few crossovers between groups). The study considered factors that might affect the impact of receiving the treatment – specifically, children’s level of oral language proficiency and classroom quality for children in preschool settings. In addition, the study also included a sample of children who were Spanish-speaking dual language learners and gathered data in both Spanish and English to examine the effects of treatment in both their first and second languages.

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Citation: Peisner-Feinberg, E., Zadrozny, S., Kuhn, L., & Van Manen, K. (2019). Effects of the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program: Findings through Pre-K of a small-scale RCT study: 2017-2018 statewide evaluation. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.