By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Students who had attended the Tupelo Public School District’s pre-K program performed better on state tests than those who did not.
Data presented this week showed that a higher percentage of alumni from the district’s Early Childhood Education Center scored at least proficient on third- and fourth-grade language and math state tests than those who did not attend the school.
The data is for the 2012-13 school year, the most recent for which state test data is available. In fifth grade, the two groups scored similarly in math, while the non-ECEC students were slightly better in language.
ECEC Principal Anita Buchanan presented the information, along with other data for the school, at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.
The school is open to 4-year-olds living in the school district, as space is available, with priority given to at-risk students. This year, it had 265 students, with about 65 percent of them coming from low-income families.
Buchanan also noted growth students showed during the year on Opening the World of Learning, a new pre-literacy program the school began using this year. It targets such skills as letter recognition, blending, sounds, rhyme, shapes and counting.
For example, at the beginning of the year, 78 students scored minimal, the lowest level, in letter naming. At the end of the year, only nine students did so. The number of students scoring proficient, the highest category, in rhymes rose from 17 at the beginning of the year to 124 at the end.
“Those are essential skills for children to learn to read,” said TPSD Director of Federal Programs Anna Guntharp, who also works closely with the ECEC. “The growth we saw there was very encouraging and is what we want to see from our early childhood.”
The OWL program also allows teachers to monitor student progress throughout the year and make adjustments, Guntharp and Buchanan said.
“Being the first year of using the OWL, it was so nice to see how successful it had been and that we really are seeing growth,” Buchanan said. “You want to use that first year’s data to make sure you are heading in the right direction.”
The OWL program places a greater emphasis on pre-literacy skills, Superintendent Gearl Loden said, noting it will help ensure students are ready for Mississippi’s new “third gate” law that requires them to be reading on grade level by the end of third grade before advancing to fourth grade.
“We have aligned the program so children have greater focus on literacy so when they are in kindergarten they are emerging readers and by the time they reach third grade, the third gate is not an issue,” he said.
Plus, Loden said, the ECEC teaches social skills and introduces pupils to technology.
“It makes the transition to school easier,” he said.
Data from the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills also showed that in 2012-13, kindergartners and first-graders who had attended ECEC outscored in language and in math those who did not go there.
“You want anything you do with kids to have a lasting effect,” Guntharp said. “Even though a lot of things can happen from the time children are in pre-K until the time they graduate high school, we do like to look at that and see are we helping those students graduate on time. That is what we are here for, to produce high school graduates.”