Students who attended one or two years of Houston Independent School District (HISD) pre-K were significantly more likely to be prepared for kindergarten than peers who did not attend HISD pre-K, according to a new research brief from Rice University’s Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC).

Erin Baumgartner, a HERC postdoctoral fellow and the paper’s author, gauged pre-K students’ verbal school readiness by examining 25,417 HISD pre-K students’ English assessment scores and 13,622 HISD pre-K students’ Spanish assessment scores after one and two years of pre-K. The students were enrolled in kindergarten during the 2013-2014 or 2015-2016 school year. These English and Spanish assessments examined students’ reading abilities and measured growth over time in various literacy components.

After taking into consideration other factors that may impact school readiness, such as race, ethnicity, economic advantage or disadvantage, household language and immigrant status, Baumgartner found that English-assessment test takers who attended one year of HISD pre-K had 2.8 times greater odds of being ready for school than a student who attended zero years of HISD pre-K. Students who attended two years of HISD pre-K had 3.8 times greater odds of being school-ready than those who attended zero years of HISD pre-K, and 1.4 greater odds of being school-ready than those who attend one year of HISD pre-K.

For Spanish-assessment test takers, Baumgartner said that students who enrolled in one or two years of HISD pre-K had more than three times greater odds of being ready for school than students who were enrolled in zero years of HISD pre-K. And while there was a difference in odds of readiness between students who attended one and two years of HISD pre-K, it occurred in an unexpected direction. The odds of being ready on the Spanish assessment were 20 percent higher for students who attended one year of HISD pre-K than for students who attended two years.

“While the difference between students who participated in zero years of HISD pre-K versus those who participated in any number of years of HISD pre-K were positive and significant, there appeared to be no added benefit of a second year of enrollment with regard to school readiness on the Spanish assessment,” Baumgartner said. “This could be due to a ceiling effect.”

Overall, there are two significant implications for HISD from this study, Baumgartner said.

“First, students who participated in HISD pre-K, regardless of their socio-economic and/or ethnic background, were more likely to be prepared for kindergarten than students who did not participate,” she said. “As such, it is important for the district to consider what it might mean to offer HISD pre-K to all 4-year-old children in the district rather than only students identified in the Texas Education Agency risk groups. While this is likely to come at significant financial cost to the district, increases to student readiness and possibility of positive longer-term academic and behavioral outcomes are likely to offset some of the cost.”

Second, Baumgartner said, the district would benefit from a deeper evaluation of the existing pre-K programs to better understand what characteristics are associated with greater odds of student readiness and why some student groups are not benefiting from year two of HISD pre-K.

“This could include understanding whether there are different curricula for 3- and 4-year-old students, examining teacher training and certifications and assessing overall program characteristics, such as student-to-teacher ratios and the offering of other language services to families,” she said.

Ultimately, Baumgartner hopes the research will help the district better understand the benefit of providing pre-K programs to students and help families understand the importance of early learning.

“This research suggests there is a strong association between student participation in HISD pre-K programs and their readiness for school,” Baumgartner said. “Given what we know about the importance of early education in predicting students’ later outcomes, any steps we can take to ensure that all students have opportunities to learn in early childhood will result in more positive long-term outcomes for individual students and our communities more broadly.”

A copy of the brief is available online at

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