Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Is pre-K just test prep?

Submitted to the Daily Herald, Columbia, TN, Sept. 29.

According to a recent study from Vanderbilt University, children who voluntarily participated in a pre-K program did better on kindergarten readiness tests than children who did not do pre-K, but the pre-K advantage was gone by the end of third grade ("Pre-K expansion remains iffy after intensive study of benefits," Sept. 29). The pre-K advantage at entering kindergarten was greatest on tests of literacy, especially on skills-oriented tests such as letter-word identification and spelling. But by the end of grade 2, those without pre-K actually did slightly better on the same kinds of tests as well as on a test of reading comprehension.

The 51-page report does not tell us what methods of instruction were used in the pre-K program, but it is likely that literacy instruction was "training" for the kindergarten readiness test with an emphasis on direct and intensive phonics instruction, judging by the test performance.  The results of previous studies show that this kind of training does not contribute to performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read.  The Vanderbilt results are consistent with this research.

In addition, the pre-K students also "had poorer work skills …" and felt more negative about school in kindergarten. This could also be a consequence of focusing on test-preparation and not real literacy.

Stephen Krashen

The full report: Lipsey, M. W., Farran, D.C., & Hofer, K. G., (2015). A Randomized Control Trial of the Effects of a Statewide Voluntary Prekindergarten Program on Children’s Skills and Behaviors through Third Grade (Research Report). Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University, Peabody Research Institute.
Previous research summarized in: Krashen, S. (2009). Does intensive reading instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.  (Available for free download at:
Original article: Pre-K expansion remains iffy after intensive study of benefits -

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