Date of Award

Summer 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Disorders & Special Education


Early Childhood Education

Committee Director

Katharine Kersey

Committee Member

Angela Eckhoff

Committee Member

Steve Myran


The purpose of this study was to test the relationship between attending a school district Pre-K program and children's later literacy and behavior outcomes in the beginning and middle of first grade. Children's text level, letter-sound identification, sight words, spelling and citizenship skills were measured. The study included 880 children who attended the division Pre-K program and 176 children who attended no formal or institutional preschool of any kind. Selection bias was addressed through propensity score matching, completed using optimal matching. Independent-samples t tests were run on literacy and behavior measures. Subgroup analysis was performed to test the effect of Pre-K attendance on first grade behavior across different levels of school quality experienced in kindergarten.

Literacy measures in first grade included the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) and the Developmental Reading Assessment, 2nd Edition (DRA 2). Behavior was measured using a single behavior sum score composed of seven citizenship grades drawn from report cards.

The study found significant effects of attending Pre-K, in the small to medium range, on all reading measures administered in both the beginning and the middle of first grade. The average effect size across all literacy measures was .35, a small to moderate effect. Behavior results for the two groups were nearly identical. Further subgroup analysis by school quality found that children who attended New Day Pre-K and also went on to a "fair quality" school in kindergarten, as opposed to a low quality school, had significantly better behavior than children who had no preschool experience.

The study strengthens the evidence supporting the ability of Pre-K to significantly improve children's literacy results with persistent gains into the middle of first grade. The study also raises the concern that children's social and emotional development is not receiving adequate instructional focus in the form of lesson plans, activities or time in the division Pre-K in order to make a meaningful difference for children in later grade school. The study contributes to the PK – 3 alignment discourse and offers a valuable case study in universal Pre-K access. Implications are shared for practice, policy and research.