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

The CLASS tool, used last year in a wide-scale project to rate the interactions between Chicago teachers and preschool students, is based on research that has found that students do better in classrooms where teachers are emotionally supportive, create an organized and structured environment, 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 of Family and Support Services shows that classrooms in schools with high student mobility, and in schools where fewer students met state standards on the 2010 ISAT, were the most likely to rank in the bottom quartile of all preschools that were rated. (The department is coordinating CLASS and providing training to teachers.)

Schools where more than 90 percent of students are African-American, and with mobility rates of 30 percent or higher, were less 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 are exposed to higher levels of risk or stress, and in communities that are experiencing higher levels of stress,” says Ginny Vitiello, research and evaluation director at TeachStone, the company that distributes the CLASS 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.

“Part of it is access to resources within the classroom, part of it can tie in to teacher compensation and pay,” she says. “Parent factors can play into it–how engaged is the community in supporting the work the preschool is doing?”

Vanessa Rich, deputy commissioner of children’s services for DFSS, said in an email that her department has not analyzed the data for possible disparities and noted that the city is collecting the data only to guide teacher training.

The teachers whose classrooms had the lowest ratings will receive intensive support and coaching through the MyTeachingPartner program, which has been shown to improve classroom quality in randomized control studies. One study also showed that students whose teachers took part in the program had improved language and 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. Results are from the 103 assessed preschool programs in CPS elementary schools and may not be statistically significant.

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

SOURCE: Catalyst Chicago analysis of CLASS data from the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services and CPS data on school demographics.

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