Idaho City's Data Show Preschool Has A Positive Impact On Its Students

Feb 2, 2015

Another attempt at establishing public preschool in Idaho will likely be introduced this month in the state Legislature. Idaho is one of only a handful of states that doesn’t have statewide public preschool. Many lawmakers object to it on philosophical grounds, despite strong evidence it’s good for student success.

Supporters of public preschool think lawmakers might be swayed by Idaho-specific evidence that it's moving the needle, that’s why the legislation will create a small pilot project.

But there's already one set of Idaho data that the bill sponsors will probably point to.

Idaho City’s Basin School District started an optional preschool 16 years ago with a small grant. It’s one of only a few pre-k programs at public schools in Idaho. Basin officials have kept it going despite a lot of difficulty paying for it, because they believe it’s been good for their students. Last year, they decided to try and prove its efficacy with data.

The district analyzed information on students who started in their preschool, and those who started in kindergarten or first grade. The data included things like scores for the state’s standardized ISAT test.

Basin Elementary principal Jamie Pilkerton says - even more than they expected - the kids who started in preschool did better in a lot of ways.

“The most significant difference was the number of students who were scoring in the advanced category on the ISAT,” Pilkerton says.

For example, she says more than half of kids who went to preschool score ‘advanced’ in reading. Fewer than 20 percent of non-preschoolers were advanced readers. Basin Superintendent John McFarlane says these positive results last throughout students' academic career.

“They’re more likely to take our advanced courses at high school which would include biotechnology, college prep English and so forth,” McFarlane says. “The students who started in preschool are graduating at higher rates and are attending college at higher rates.”

But McFarlane cautions that they’ve only measured three graduating classes of kids who went to Basin's preschool. And the major weakness of these Idaho City results is the sample size. Basin is a small district. A typical senior class has fewer than 40 students. 

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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