Evaluation of learning program limited, hindering conclusions



(The Center Square) — A report by a Mississippi legislative committee says results are mixed with the state’s prekindergarten collaborative program amid some promising data points.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, better known as the PEER Committee, said an evaluation of the Early Learning Collaborative Program in the Mississippi Department of Education was limited and thus hindered any conclusions. The program, PEER said, didn’t achieve large-scale results in achievement as determined by state test scores.

The number of disciplinary problems with collaborative students as compared to non-collaborative students was reduced. Analysts also said the education department is implementing a new curriculum with a “more substantial evidence base.”

Evaluators found that collaborative students performed better than those who didn’t participate in the program on kindergarten readiness tests, but actually did worse on third and fifth grade math achievement tests and similar to the nonparticipants on other achievement tests. The biggest enhancement was in behavior, where disciplinary incidents, suspensions and chronic absences were much improved with collaborative students.

PEER recommends lawmakers amend the collaborative law to define the evaluation metrics used by the education department – such as test scores, disciplinary incidents and grade retention – to better measure the program’s effectiveness. The committee also recommends that evaluations be done on all education department staff who scrutinize the collaborative, even if they are contractors, and provide better data and documentation. The committee also recommends that all of the collaboratives be phased in to the new curriculum by the 2027-28 school year.

In its response letter, the state Department of Education said it was working to strengthen implementation and evaluation of the program and that it would be able to better track student outcomes using its new computer system that records student data. The agency also said it has hired a social science researcher to be the data and recording coordinator in the Office of Early Childhood to ensure better data tracking and analysis.

The PEER Committee released the report Wednesday.

The Early Learning Collaborative Program was created by the Legislature in 2013 and provides money to 37 school districts and nonprofits statewide to set up prekindergarten programs. The Legislature increased funding for the prekindergarten program by $40 million from fiscal 2020 to 2023 and also increased the minimum per-student funding levels from $2,000 to $2,500, which went into effect on July 1.

Lawmakers also required in 2021 that the program be “rigorously evaluated” every three years.

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