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Ask A REL Response

July 2020


What research has been conducted on the effects of high-quality preschool programs, specifically, those focusing on 4-year-olds?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on the effects of high-quality preschool programs specifically, those focusing on 4-year-olds. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effects of high-quality preschool programs specifically, those focusing on 4-year-olds. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Assel, M. A., Landry, S. H., Swank, P. R., & Gunnewig, S. (2007). An evaluation of curriculum, setting, and mentoring on the performance of children enrolled in pre-kindergarten. Reading and Writing, 20(5), 463-494.
    From the abstract: "An alarming number of American pre-school children lack sufficient language and literacy skills to succeed in kindergarten. The type of curriculum that is available within pre-kindergarten settings can impact children's academic readiness. This work presents results from an evaluation of two language and literacy curricula (i.e., Let's Begin with the Letter People and Doors to Discovery) from a random assignment study that occurred within three settings (i.e., Head Start, Title 1, and universal prekindergarten) and included a control group. The design included a mentoring and nonmentoring condition that was balanced across sites in either curriculum condition. A pre and post-test design was utilized in the analyses, with children (n = 603) tested before the intervention and at the end of the year. Multilevel growth curve modeling, where the child outcomes (dependent measures) are modeled as a function of the child's level of performance and rate of growth between pre and post-testing, was used for all analyses. Results indicated that in many key language/literacy areas, the skills of children in classrooms using either one of the target curricula grew at greater rates than children in control classrooms. This was especially true in the Head Start programs. The findings from this study indicate that at-risk children can benefit from a well-specified curriculum. Additionally, findings demonstrate that a well-detailed curriculum appeared to be less important for children from higher income families. The impact of mentoring was less clear and seemed dependent on the type of skill being measured and type of program. Pre- and post-test means, standard deviations, and sample sizes for standardized child outcome variables are appended. (Contains 2 tables and 4 figures)."
  2. Bailet, L. L., Repper, K. K., Piasta, S. B., & Murphy, S. P. (2009). Emergent literacy intervention for prekindergarteners at risk for reading failure. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42(4), 336-355.
    From the abstract: "This research examined the effectiveness of an emergent literacy intervention for prekindergarten children at risk for reading failure, to replicate and improve on significant findings from Year 1 of the study. Data are reported for 266 children in 72 child care and preschool sites in Year 2 of the study and for 374 children at 102 sites in Year 3. The intervention consisted of eighteen 30-min lessons delivered twice weekly to small groups of children. Lessons targeted critical emergent literacy skills through explicit, developmentally appropriate activities for prekindergarteners. Hierarchical linear models were used to nest children within center and measure treatment effects on phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, and vocabulary skills. Results indicated significant treatment effects on multiple measures in Years 2 and 3. This study replicated and strengthened findings from Year 1 in demonstrating a positive impact of this intervention for prekindergarteners at risk for reading failure. (Contains 9 tables, 1 figure, and 3 notes.)"
  3. Bierman, K. L., Domitrovich, C. E., Nix, R. L., Gest, S. D., Welsh, J. A., Greenberg, M. T., Blair, C., Nelson, K., & Gill, S. (2008). Promoting academic and social-emotional school readiness: The head start REDI program. Child Development, 79(6), 1802-1817.
    From the abstract: "Forty-four Head Start classrooms were randomly assigned to enriched intervention (Head Start REDI--Research-based, Developmentally Informed) or "usual practice" conditions. The intervention involved brief lessons, "hands-on" extension activities, and specific teaching strategies linked empirically with the promotion of: (a) social-emotional competencies and (b) language development and emergent literacy skills. Take-home materials were provided to parents to enhance skill development at home. Multimethod assessments of three hundred and fifty-six 4-year-old children tracked their progress over the course of the 1-year program. Results revealed significant differences favoring children in the enriched intervention classrooms on measures of vocabulary, emergent literacy, emotional understanding, social problem solving, social behavior, and learning engagement. Implications are discussed for developmental models of school readiness and for early educational programs and policies."
  4. Fricke, S., Bowyer-Crane, C., Haley, A. J., Hulme, C., & Snowling, M. J. (2013). Efficacy of language intervention in the early years. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(3), 280-290.
    From the abstract: "Background: Oral language skills in the preschool and early school years are critical to educational success and provide the foundations for the later development of reading comprehension. Methods: In a randomized controlled trial, 180 children from 15 UK nursery schools ("n" = 12 from each setting; M[subscript age] = 4;0) were randomly allocated to receive a 30-week oral language intervention or to a waiting control group. Children in the intervention group received 30 weeks of oral language intervention, beginning in nursery (preschool), in three group sessions per week, continuing with daily sessions on transition to Reception class (pre-Year 1). The intervention was delivered by nursery staff and teaching assistants trained and supported by the research team. Following screening, children were assessed preintervention, following completion of the intervention and after a 6-month delay. Results: Children in the intervention group showed significantly better performance on measures of oral language and spoken narrative skills than children in the waiting control group immediately after the 30 week intervention and after a 6 month delay. Gains in wordlevel literacy skills were weaker, though clear improvements were observed on measures of phonological awareness. Importantly, improvements in oral language skills generalized to a standardized measure of reading comprehension at maintenance test. Conclusions: Early intervention for children with oral language difficulties is effective and can successfully support the skills, which underpin reading comprehension. (Contains 5 figures and 2 tables.)"
  5. Noe, S., Spencer, T. D., Kruse, L., & Goldstein, H. (2014). Effects of a tier 3 phonological awareness intervention on preschoolers' emergent literacy. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 34(1), 27-39.
    From the abstract: "This multiple baseline design study examined the effects of a Tier 3 early literacy intervention on low-income preschool children's phonological awareness (PA). Seven preschool children who did not make progress on identifying first sounds in words during a previous Tier 2 intervention participated in a more intensive Tier 3 intervention. Children listened to stories and participated in early literacy activities led by an interventionist for approximately 15 min, 3 to 4 days per week for up to 8 weeks. Weekly progress monitoring data showed that five of seven children made progress on first sound identification as a result of the Tier 3 intervention. Children who made progress on first sound identification generally demonstrated gains on more distal measures of PA. Results demonstrate the potential benefit of providing children with multiple tiers of instruction to facilitate academic success."
  6. Stanton-Chapman, T. L., Denning, C. B., & Jamison, K. R. (2012). Communication skill building in young children with and without disabilities in a preschool classroom. The Journal of Special Education, 46(2), 78-93.
    From the abstract: "The purpose of the current study was to evaluate the turn-taking skills of children with and without disabilities who participated in a social communication intervention targeting peer-directed initiations and responses. Eight children met the selection criteria for inclusion in the study. A multiple baseline design across participants (dyads) was used to determine the effects of the social communication intervention. All eight participants showed increases of initiations with an immediate peer response. Follow-up assessments showed that the effects were maintained in the return to baseline condition but did not generalize into the classroom setting. Classroom teachers found the intervention procedures and the behavioral changes in participants to be socially valid. Several implications for practice can be derived from the findings of the present study. (Contains 4 tables and 1 figure.)"
  7. Stockard, J. (2009). Promoting early literacy of preschool children: A study of the effectiveness of Funnix Beginning Reading. National Institute of Direct Instruction (Technical Report 2009-1).
    From the abstract: "Thirty-seven students from a suburban community in the southern United States were randomly assigned to receive 30 minutes of additional instruction each day in their usual language arts curriculum or 30 minutes of instruction with the Direct Instruction program, "Funnix Beginning Reading". Instruction for the "Funnix" group was provided by high school aged tutors, trained and supervised by an experienced teacher. Pretesting before instruction began indicated no significant differences between the two groups in letter naming fluency or initial sound fluency. However, by winter and spring the students in the "Funnix" group had significantly higher scores on numerous measures of beginning literacy. These results occurred with simple comparison of means, comparisons of scores to established bench- marks, and multivariate analyses that controlled for initial levels of skill and minority status. The results also appeared when a reduced sample that individually matched children on their pretest scores was used. (Contains 4 tables.)"
  8. Trotti, J., Hendricks, R., & Bledsoe, C. (2017). Emergent literacy development and computer assisted instruction. SRATE Journal, 26(1), 30-39.
    From the abstract: "In this mixed-methods study, researchers examined the literacy development of prekindergarten students (N = 162) randomly placed in one of two treatment groups with each receiving 15 minutes of computer-assisted literacy instruction for four months. Literacy development of a control group of children not receiving computer-assisted instruction was contrasted with the two treatment groups. All children in the study were eligible for free or reduced lunch. Responses from a semi-structured focus group of prekindergarten teachers (N = 5) were analyzed for corroboration. Although all three groups progressed in literacy development, the control group had significantly larger gains (p < 0.01). The effect size was moderate (eta squared = 0.63). Qualitative data supported the use of one computer program over another, but none of the teachers supported daily use of either software treatment."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Preschool programs for 4-year-olds
  • Effectiveness of preschool programs, 4-year old children

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.