Texas Pre-K Teachers' Program Yields Tepid Results, Study Says

Evaluation urges closer look at training program's effect on student readiness.

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A Texas program designed to improve the skills of prekindergarten teachers, which has grown rapidly since it started in 2003, has yet to provide enough evidence to prove it is effectively preparing youngsters for school, despite the $21 million spent on it so far and the positive outcomes reported for some students, an evaluation finds.

The Texas Early Education Model, or TEEM, provides training to teachers from schools, child-care centers, and Head Start programs and is implemented by the State Center for Early Childhood Development at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. The center is directed by Susan Landry, who is recognized as an expert on early literacy.

Conducted for the Texas Education Agency by San Antonio-based Edvance Research, the analysis of the program, Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader dated October, shows that during the first two years, children in about half the 11 communities using TEEM improved more on certain prereading skills than did those assigned to a control group. But in the other half of the communities, the children in the control group outperformed those served by TEEM on such outcomes, including letter naming and vocabulary naming.

Coming at a time when many states are working to build strong systems of early-childhood education, the evaluation raises questions about how to hold programs serving young children accountable.

Just last fall, a task force convened by the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts issued recommendations on how states can piece together a sensible early-childhood assessment and accountability system that considers how unpredictable young children’s performance can be, as well as the fact that pre-K teachers tend to have a range of educational backgrounds. ("Task Force Offers Guidance on Assessment of Preschool Programs," Sept. 26, 2007.)

Data Inconclusive

The Texas evaluation also shows tremendous variation in how the TEEM professional-development approach—which includes mentoring, teaching materials, and use of personal digital assistants for recording student data—affected teacher performance. Both positive and negative scores on what is known as the Teacher Behavior Rating Scale were found for teachers in the control group and the treatment group.

But the evaluators stress that the data they collected were insufficient to conclude whether the students taught by the teachers involved in TEEM performed better than those without the program.

How the ‘TEEM’ Approach Stacks Up

An evaluation of the Texas Early Education Model, or TEEM, showed some promising though inconclusive results.

• Teachers in the treatment and control groups got both positive and negative ratings on their teaching and classroom practices.

• Financial data on the program are insufficient to show whether the program is effectively preparing children for school.

• For about half the communities, students in the “treatment” group improved more than students in the control group. In the other half of the communities, it was the other way around.

• Participation in the TEEM initiative has grown significantly, to 33 communities in 2007 from 11 in 2003.

• A longitudinal assessment of the program is recommended.

In a Dec. 20 letter addressed to state Commissioner of Education Robert Scott, the researchers attribute that gap in knowledge to the fact that their evaluation was “retrofitted” to a project—TEEM—already in progress. Work on the evaluation began in late 2006, and focused on the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years.

The letter also says that TEEM and the state center have been quite effective at bringing diverse early-childhood-education providers together to improve services for children and parents.

“Working with communities to voluntarily integrate these programs is no easy task,” the letter says, referring to schools, child-care centers, and Head Start programs. “All these programs have long operated in isolation from one another, creating confusion for parents and duplication of services, while at the same time leaving needy, at-risk children without vitally important school-readiness experiences in their early years.”

TEEM began in 11 communities and this school year serves more than 45,000 children in 38 communities. Ms. Landry said the report reflects the status of TEEM in its earliest months.

“In many ways, it was like a demonstration-grant program,” she said.

She added that, in regard to child outcomes, the Edvance Research report doesn’t reflect the fact that programs involved in TEEM serve children ranging from older 2-year-olds to those who have just turned 5.

“There are a number of things that depend on a child’s age,” Ms. Landry said.

Financial Matters

The evaluation also includes financial data showing that, since TEEM began, the State Center for Early Childhood Development has spent more than $21 million in state money on the initiative. But the researchers found that the financial data that the center is required to report did not allow them to track which expenditures have the most impact in the communities using TEEM.

The report recommends the development of a better financial-data system and, in fact, the center is already implementing a new reporting system that shows how much money is going to each community.

“It’s not a mystery where the money goes,” Ms. Landry said.

To better understand the effect of the program on student learning over time, the researchers recommend following children into kindergarten and 1st grade, randomly assigning pupils to TEEM or non-TEEM sites, and obtaining a sufficient sample size.

In their report, they write that “it is clear that additional analyses of the effect of TEEM on school readiness is needed in order to appropriately determine the future usefulness of the program.”

Ms. Landry added that an external evaluation of whether the program is meeting expectations is included in a new certification program launched earlier in 2007. The School Readiness Certification System in Texas is voluntary for preschool programs, but not for those involved in TEEM training.

The certification program, also run by the state center, is based in part on collecting the reading and social-skills scores given by children’s kindergarten teachers and linking that information back to the preschool programs they attended. A math assessment will also soon be included. ("States Move Toward Closer Scrutiny of Preschools," Sept. 12, 2007.)

“That’s what makes the state able to tell whether it’s working or not,” Ms. Landry said. If children from the TEEM sites are not meeting the standards, she added, “then we don’t have it right.”

Vol. 27, Issue 17, Pages 14-15

Published in Print: January 9, 2008, as Texas Program for Pre-K Teachers Shows Tepid Results, Study Finds
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