Washington’s Preschool System Supports Higher Test Scores in Elementary School, Compares Well to National Leaders


Washington state’s preschool program is producing impressive results, supporting larger gains among its alumnae on tests in elementary school than the average of a group of other programs around the country, a new study reports.


The positive report is a big boost for the 30-year-old Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), one of the nation’s few state preschools with a comprehensive approach that supports students and their families with wrap-around services, ranging from early literacy and academics to health and nutrition, according to the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP.


Among the most impressive findings was that the partial-day ECEAP program performed better in key areas then an average of state early learning programs.

“The effect of ECEAP on test scores is nearly twice the average effect of early childhood education programs in other states,” according to the report, “Outcome Evaluation of Washington State’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program.”


Overall, the study found a passing rate for ECEAP participants that is seven percentage points higher on the fifth grade reading test and six percentage points higher on the fifth grade math test compared with other low-income students.


Washington’s preschool program, which served 8,741 of the more than 48,259 eligible children in the 2013-14 school year, likely has an even greater impact because this study focused on ECEAP students from 2003-2008, before a series of quality improvements: Increasing minimum student hours in the classroom; capping caseloads for family support staff; and integrating preschools into the state quality rating and improvement system, Early Achievers. In a December report, 59 ECEAP and Head Start sites in the state received a four out of five on the Early Achievers rating scale.
“It demonstrates this kind of antipoverty approach is very effective,” said Joel Ryan, executive director of WSA of Head Start & ECEAP.

And researchers were not able to analyze maybe the most important long-term impacts of high-quality preschool, including higher high-school graduation rates and earnings among adults and lower placement rates in special and remedial education. These long-term benefits typically boost returns on investment in early education. Even focusing only on third, fourth and fifth grade test scores, researchers estimated the financial benefits from higher test scores “would be about $13,030 per ECEAP participant.”


Another factor that could increase ECEAP’s impact is that the study may underrepresent Hispanic families because of the way the comparison group and ECEAP sample were created, according to the ECEAP association.


Given that other research has shown outsized impact of quality early learning for Hispanic families and ELL kids in general, this could result in the report understating the benefits of ECEAP.

—Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP.

With the state legislative session scheduled to open next week with education funding as a top issue, the study comes at a great time for the program. Stay tuned.