Preschool quality can influence students’ learning and ultimately,their readiness for kindergarten. But some of the children who needhigh-quality preschool the most are not always getting it, according to a Catalyst analysis ofdata from the Classroom Assessment Scoring System.

TheCLASS tool, used last year in a wide-scale project to rate theinteractions between Chicago teachers and preschool students, is basedon research that has found that students do better in classrooms whereteachers are emotionally supportive, create an organized and structuredenvironment, and provide high-level instruction.

Disadvantaged students placed in highly-rated classrooms, research has shown, can actually catch up to their peers.

Observers using the CLASS tool found that CPS classrooms were generally above average compared to other programs nationwide.

However,a Catalyst Chicago analysis of data from the Chicago Department ofFamily and Support Services shows that classrooms in schools with highstudent mobility, and in schools where fewer students met statestandards on the 2010 ISAT, were the most likely to rank in the bottomquartile of all preschools that were rated. (The department iscoordinating CLASS and providing training to teachers.)

Schools where more than 90 percent of students areAfrican-American, and with mobility rates of 30 percent or higher, wereless likely to earn high scores in every area of the scale.

Researchers have found disparities in preschool classroom quality elsewhere in the country.

“Essentially,you tend to find lower-quality preschool programs in centers that areexposed to higher levels of risk or stress, and in communities that areexperiencing higher levels of stress,” says Ginny Vitiello, researchand evaluation director at TeachStone, the company that distributes theCLASS tool.

Preschools where a majority of children are living below the poverty line, and are underfunded or
financially stressed, also tend to be lower-quality, Vitiello says.

“Partof it is access to resources within the classroom, part of it can tiein to teacher compensation and pay,” she says. “Parent factors can playinto it–how engaged is the community in supporting the work thepreschool is doing?”

Vanessa Rich, deputy commissioner of children’sservices for DFSS, said in an email that her department has notanalyzed the data for possible disparities and noted that the city iscollecting the data only to guide teacher training.

The teachers whose classrooms had the lowest ratingswill receive intensive support and coaching through theMyTeachingPartner program, which has been shown to improve classroomquality in randomized control studies. One study also showed thatstudents whose teachers took part in the program had improved languageand literacy skills, and fewer behavior problems.

Here is how the classrooms scored:

At elementary schools with… These are the odds the preschool scored at the bottom tier
 Low mobility  1 in 8
 High mobility  1 in 3
 High test scores 1 in 7
 Low test scores  1 in 3.5
CLASS rating area Predominantly African-American schools meeting quality benchmark Other schools meeting quality benchmark
Emotional support  19%  52%
Instructional support  61%  71%
Classroom organization  16%  24%

NOTES:Classrooms were observed between October 2010 and March 2011. Resultsare from the 103 assessed preschool programs in CPS elementary schoolsand may not be statistically significant.

High mobility is 30 percent or more; low mobility is 20percent or lower. High test score schools are those with compositeaverages above 60 percent; low test score schools are those withcomposite averages below 60 percent.

SOURCE: Catalyst Chicago analysis of CLASS data fromthe Chicago Department of Family and Support Services and CPS data onschool demographics.

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