(CBS4) - A study led by a University of Colorado Boulder researcher found that children who attended a full day of prekindergarten class scored better on multiple levels than their peers who attended half-day pre-K. Four-year-olds in the Westminster School District were randomly assigned half-day, four-days-per-week or full-day, five-days-per-week classes during the 2016 school year. The latter route provided 600 additional hours of class time.
"Substantial, positive effects" on literacy skills, particular the children's receptive vocabulary, according to the final report. For instance, many of the student did not grow up speaking English as a first language, but by the end of the year the full-day participants showed greater improvement in English fluency than their half-day counterparts.
Full-day students also performed better on teacher-reported measures of cognition, literacy, math, physical and socio-emotional development.
However, the researchers concluded that the improvements cannot be attributed to increased academic time alone.
The full-day students received regular school lunches and mandatory nap time, CU-Boulder's Allison Atteberry, the project leader, noted. Those physical advantages cannot be dismissed in light of other research on the impact of such factors on young brain development.
"Even a month in the life of a young child may represent a huge period in their development," said Atteberry, an assistant professor in the CU Boulder School of Education. "At the same time, this is a period when families are making very different choices about childcare and have different resources to make those choices."
The results of the study were published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Atteberry was assisted by Daphna Bassok and Vivian Wong from the University of Virginia, among other colleagues.
"What set this study apart is that we were able to do a randomized, controlled trial," Atteberry said.
The study sample numbered 226 children, 114 of which were offered the full-day program. The group was mostly Hispanic (74%) and low-income students (61% qualified for free lunch.
Atteberry intends to follow the same group as it advances through the grade school system.
"We'll be looking at how long these effects persist," Atteberry said. "Sometimes in early-childhood research, we see a big initial effect, but by 2nd or 3rd grade, it fades away."
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