The Influence of Elementary School Quality on Fifth- and Eighth-Grade Effects of Public-School Pre-K, Center-based, and Family Childcare



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The preschool fadeout effect refers to the situation where initial advantages seen in later student school performance as a function of attending a certain kind of pre-k program disappear over time, typically by third grade. Researchers have begun to focus on the quality of the elementary school that children later attend as one explanation of preschool fadeout (or lack thereof). Some studies show increased sustained effects of preschool when students go on to attend high-quality elementary schools, while others find sustained effects of pre-K only when lower-quality schools are attended. The present dissertation examined 5th and 8th grade student performance (G5 N = 14,144; G8 N = 12,907 for children (52% male; 59% Latinx, 34% Black, 7% White/other) who had attended different types of pre-K at age four using data from the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP). The following research questions were addressed: 1) Are there sustained positive effects of public-school pre-K programs in 5th and 8th grade, relative to center-based (CBC) and family childcare (FCC) programs? 2) Do children who attend public-school pre-K programs later attend schools of differing quality in 5th grade compared to children who attend CBC or FCC programs? 3) To what extent are sustained pre-K program effects on 5th and 8th grade outcomes dependent on the quality of school attended in 5th grade? 4) Are differential fadeout effects associated with school quality similar for males and females, and for Black or Hispanic/Latinx students? Multiple regression analyses were conducted in Mplus using TYPE=COMPLEX to deal with nesting, and FIML to deal with missing data. Outcome variables included GPA, high stakes standardized math and reading test scores, and grade retention in both 5th and 8th grade. Elementary school quality came from the school’s ‘grade’ (A, B, C, D, F) given each school by the State Department of Education. Models included the covariates of age-4 cognitive skills, gender, ethnicity, lunch status, and disability status in 5th or 8th grade. Positive sustained effects for all academic outcomes in 5th grade were found for students who attended public-school pre-K programs compared to students who attended CBC and FCC. In 8th grade, fadeout was more common but effects favoring pre-K were seen for GPA, FSA reading, and middle school retention. In 5th grade, elementary school quality moderated the pre-K effects for math and reading test scores, but not for other outcomes, with the pattern being fadeout occurring more for children who went on to attend lower quality schools, and sustained effects being greater for children attending better-performing schools. For 8th grade math, the same pattern of fadeout seen at low-quality schools and persistence seen at high-quality schools was found, favoring the public-school pre-K group. Results did vary in some cases by child gender and by race/ethnicity, with stronger pre-K type by quality interactions present for boys than for girls (G5 GPA, FCAT Math and Reading, FSA Math, FCAT 2.0 Reading), and the same pattern for Hispanic/Latinx students on FCAT Reading, and for Black students on middle school retention. The current study provides additional evidence of sustained effects of pre-K programs and support the funding of public-school pre-K programs, since the pre-K advantage was still seen on some outcomes as late as 8th grade. Results also suggest that fadeout is related to later school quality, that school quality matters, and that a high-quality elementary school appears particularly important for boys, and for Black students if they are to gain and sustain the most from their early education.