Preschool Promise cites progress on kindergarten readiness, racial gap

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Credit: Jeremy P. Kelley

Preschool Promise is celebrating some positive academic data from last year while trying to find new ways to work with Dayton-area families this year despite a COVID-related enrollment decline.

At a recent Montgomery County commission meeting, the group reported that for the second year in a row, Dayton children who spent most of their 4-year-old year in a Preschool Promise program were significantly more likely to score well on the state’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment.

The time-lagged data showed 67% of Dayton Public Schools’ 2019-20 kindergarteners who had come through Preschool Promise scored in the “demonstrating readiness” or “approaching readiness” bands on the kindergarten assessment. Only 51% of non-PP kindergarteners in Dayton reached those levels.

“This is really promising. It’s what we set out to do,” said Preschool Promise Executive Director Robyn Lightcap. “We saw that differential in our Kettering students as well.”

It was the second year in a row that the gap between Preschool Promise students and others in DPS was at least 15 percentage points. The downside of the data was that both both groups’ raw scores were slightly lower than the year before — in Preschool Promise’s case, kids in the top two bands were down from 72% to 67%.

Preschool Promise is a local non-profit, funded largely by Montgomery County and the City of Dayton, that tries to better prepare children for kindergarten, in the belief that better school starting points lead to better futures.

The agency trains preschool and child-care providers to provide higher-quality education and offers tuition assistance to low-income and middle-class families.

In recent years, the group has been focused on reducing the academic gap between races, as Black students traditionally have scored lower.

The 2019-20 data for DPS showed 68% of Black students from Preschool Promise scored at the two higher levels on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. That was 5 points higher than white Preschool Promise kids and 19% higher than white non-PP students.

“This is a positive sign that we’re turning in the right direction,” Lightcap said. “We do see variation from year to year, so the cautious side of me will watch (future years’ data) as well.”

Preschool Promise sites were serving almost 2,000 students just before the COVID-19 pandemic, and that number is down to 1,800, following lower enrollment trends in K-12 schools this year.

Of those 1,800, about 300 are doing Preschool Promise’s new Plus program, created so kids could still learn from home during COVID. The agency mails a book and a “play box” to the family’s home each month, along with a video where a teacher explains activities they can do with the book, the art supplies and other educational materials in the play box.

Lightcap said Kids in the Plus program also got a tablet and one-year subscription to ABC Mouse educational software, thanks to federal CARES Act money, via the county.

Preschool Promise has continued its robust training program for preschool teachers and staff, moving most training onto online platforms. That has helped schools and child-care centers continue to improve — 83% of Preschool Promise providers are up to three stars or higher in Ohio’s Step Up to Quality ratings, up from 70% in 2019.

The majority of the children currently being served live within the original communities of Dayton and Kettering, but Preschool Promise has smaller operations in the Mad River, Northridge, Trotwood and Jefferson Twp. school districts. Next school year, they’ll add West Carrollton, with about 100 students expected.

Lightcap said upcoming goals include transitions back to in-person school, adding new providers, helping with a new committee on Black boys in preschool, and managing the West Carrollton expansion.

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