The present study tests two complementary developmental theories regarding the fit between children’s skills and their environments within the context of a state Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Specifically, we examine whether high-quality prekindergarten disproportionately benefits children based on their entering ability levels. The sample includes 684 children (48% female; M age = 57.56 months) residing in a midwestern state who were eligible to receive child care subsidies and participated in an evaluation of state-funded prekindergarten during the 2015-2016 school year (cohort 1), 2016-2017 school year (cohort 2), or 2018-2019 school year (cohort 3). We implemented multilevel regression models with children nested in their respective classrooms and schools to investigate whether children in higher-rated prekindergarten programs on the QRIS experienced greater growth in math, literacy, and vocabulary from fall to spring if they entered with stronger executive function skills (i.e., foundational skills hypothesis), or if they entered with weaker skills in the same respective domain as the outcome (i.e., compensatory skills hypothesis) relative to children who attended programs that were lower-rated or unrated on the QRIS. Contrary to both hypotheses, only one significant interaction emerged indicating that children who attended prekindergarten programs rated as low-quality on the QRIS were more likely to have higher spring literacy performance if they began the year with stronger executive function skills. Implications for research and policy are discussed. (author abstract)
Testing theoretical explanations for heterogeneity in associations between a state quality rating and improvement system and prekindergarten children’s academic performance
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