Research supports academic and social gains through Illinois preschool programs for at-risk children

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 2009-10 study shows preschool students made significant improvements in school readiness skills, particularly low-income children


Springfield, IL — An Illinois State Board of Education study found kindergarteners who had been in state-funded preschool showed significant improvements in school readiness and social skills. Improvements were seen across all income groups with children from low-income families and those at risk showing the most gains in attention span and ability to complete tasks.

“This important evaluation confirms other research and our long-standing belief that giving children a high quality preschool experience helps prepare them for future success both inside and outside the classroom,’’ said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “We commend all those involved in early childhood education because today’s efforts and commitment means better prepared students tomorrow.’’

Researchers at the Chicago-based Erikson Institute assessed children in programs at the beginning of their preschool year in fall 2009 at age 4 and again in fall 2010 as they entered kindergarten. By kindergarten, the participating children showed increased language skills, improved social skills, reduced problem behavior, increased attention and ability to complete tasks.

“The findings from this study clearly demonstrate that, when we invest in quality early childhood programs, our children benefit socially as well as academically,’’ said Samuel J. Meisels, president of Erikson Institute. “Early education has the potential to create a foundation for a better future for our children, our communities, and our nation as a whole.”

The Prekindergarten Program for Children at Risk of Academic Failure began with a $12 million grant in 1985 and several thousand children. Two more programs were added in 1988; an Early Childhood Model Parental Training Program and the Prevention Initiative, programs that provide early, continuous and comprehensive services for at-risk families and their children. In 2006, the Early Childhood grant was expanded to increase preschool access to more children in Illinois. All programs combined currently serve more than 100,000 children with about $340 million in state funds.

The state has offered high quality preschool education services to more than 800,000 at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds throughout Illinois since the program’s inception in 1985. The recent evaluation showed low-income and at-risk children were particularly likely to demonstrate improvements in attention and task persistence skills.

ISBE funded the Erikson Institute to conduct an independent statewide evaluation of all its programs for young children outside the city of Chicago. The City of Chicago Public Schools District 299 conducts its own evaluation of its prekindergarten.

Erikson worked in conjunction with SRI International, a research and development institute, to assess a representative sample of 684 children from preschool programs across the state. Researchers used standardized measures of cognition, behavior, attention and language development, observed prekindergarten classrooms and conducted surveys of teachers, administrators and parents.

For more information about early childhood education and this study, please visit these online sites:

The Erikson Institute:

The National institute for Early Education Research:

The National Association for the Education of Young Children at

The Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children at:

The Chicago Metro Association for the Education of Young Children:

The Illinois State Board of Education:




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