Pre-K school sites were recruited from the greater Los Angeles area, the Central Valley, the Bay Area, and rural Northern California. The purposive selection included public pre-K and Head Start programs located in urban, suburban, and rural areas with large proportions of low-income families from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds who plausibly represent all low-income families in California with a child of pre-K age.
There were 17 pre-K classrooms in the Bay Area, 31 in rural Northern California, 13 in the rural Central Valley, and 79 in various parts of Southern California, including the greater Los Angeles area. Overall, 18% of pre-K classrooms were in urban areas, 51% in suburban areas, and 31% in towns or rural areas. Seventy-five percent were Hispanic, 13% were White, 6% were African American, 4% were of mixed race, and 2% were Asian. Most of the sample were exclusively English speakers (68%). For 25%, Spanish was the dominant language, and 7% spoke both English and Spanish. On average, children were 4.4 years old at baseline (fall of the pre-K year), and 48% were male.
The intervention consisted of a sequence of small-group math activities that teachers implemented in the pre-K classroom. The program also included home math activities in the form of picture strips for parents to use with their children.
The content of the activities is based on developmental research about the nature and extent of early mathematical knowledge and targets a range of mathematics concepts and skills. Units within Pre-K Mathematics are designed to prepare children for standards included in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics at kindergarten.
The comparison group received pre-K as usual.
Support for implementation
Teachers attend multiday professional development workshops to learn about the philosophy and key features of the program as well as how to implement the math activities. In addition, Pre-K Mathematics employed several implementation tools, which teachers got hands-on experience with in the workshops. Teachers also learned how to keep track of each child’s learning over the course of the year, using recording sheets that accompany each math activity and a progress monitoring tool. During the workshops, teachers also learned how to explain at-home activities to parents and how to use a parent feedback form to document parents’ use of these activities. To monitor fidelity, authors collected two implementation measures during the school year. Local trainers made visits to teachers in the treatment classrooms and observed teachers conducting a small-group math activities, giving them feedback afterward about any departures from fidelity. Additionally, the Early Mathematics Classroom Observation (EMCO) observation tool was used to determine the nature and amount of mathematics instruction that preschool teachers provided in their classrooms. For each teacher–participant activity involving mathematical content, trained observers recorded the type of mathematical content, number of children present, and the duration of the activity. This provided data on the number of minutes of math instruction, on average, to a child during an observation session.