Students learn numbers at Early Excellence in north Denver.

(Photo: CPR/Jenny Brundin)

A new study of 3,000 Denver third graders shows that preschool is paying off. It’s the first long term study of children who attended the Denver Preschool Program. That program is funded by a sales tax that voters approved in 2006 to pay for preschool for all of the city’s 4-year olds. 

Preschoolers at the Early Excellence center in north Denver hold long pencils in their little hands with confidence, a single sheet of paper in front of each of them.  They’ve just had their naps and a snack and now, they’re ready to practice their numbers – all the way up to 100!

“How long did it take you to learn all the way to 100?” a reporter asked a boy.

“A long time ago,” he replied.

But the teacher Rosa Figueroa  doesn’t help them just with their numbers. She uses the exercise to talk about anything and everything.

“What does an eight remind you of Citroly,” she asked.

“A snowman,” the girl replied.

That starts a whole discussion about snowmen and seasons. And of course, numbers. Increasing vocabulary is key to getting these kids ready for Kindergarten.  Studies already show that 90 percent of kids who exit the Denver Preschool Program, or DPP, are ready to learn in Kindergarten, both academically and socially-emotionally. But the reading, writing, and speaking skills they’re picking up here could have lasting effects.

"What this study shows is that our kids are still showing gains when they reach third grade,” said Jennifer Landrum, who directs the Denver Preschool Program.

The analysis by education consultants Augenblick, Palaich and Associates found that 64% of third-graders who participated in DPP were reading at or above grade level. That compares to 58 percent of students who hadn’t attended. That’s a 6 percentage point difference. It doesn’t sound like much difference, but in the world of scientific research, 6% is statistically significant.

“That is a good number,” said Melissa Mincic with the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy at Denver University. “It really does seem the taxpayer’s money was spent wisely.”

The results were even more pronounced among some minority groups. For African American third graders – 61 percent of DPP graduates read at grade level or higher compared to 52 percent who didn’t attend. DPP’s  Jennifer Landrum said also significant, there are fewer DPP graduates in the unsatisfactory reading category than their schools’ non-DPP students.

“Which means we’re moving the curve and closing the achievement gap,” she said.

The study revealed something else. Almost half of DPS third graders were DPP graduates. That is, graduates are more likely to stay in DPS schools. And stability is related to academic performance.  Preschooler Leann Howard seems to already know why she’s learning numbers.

“So you can learn in first grade, second, and third, fourth grade, and high school!” she said.

Denver is doing well compared to elsewhere in Colorado. Last school year, 70 percent of its  4-year olds were enrolled in DPP. Colorado has a state-funded preschool program designed to serve 3 and 4 year olds with certain risk factors. But it’s limited by funding --and provides care to only about 14% of those kids. 

[Photo: CPR]

Denver Preschool Program study
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