Big Lift Participation and School Entry Indicators

Findings for the 2016–2017 Kindergarten Class

by Celia J. Gomez, Jill S. Cannon, Anamarie Whitaker, Lynn A. Karoly

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Research Questions

  1. What are the participation rates in Big Lift services for the 2016–2017 kindergarten class? What are the demographic characteristics of families that participated in Big Lift services, and how do they compare with families that did not enroll in Big Lift preschool or summer programs?
  2. What are the kindergarten readiness outcomes and home reading practices of children (measured at the start of their kindergarten year) in the 2016–17 kindergarten class? Do these outcomes differ by family income groups?
  3. How do the kindergarten readiness skills and home reading practices of children who enrolled in Big Lift preschool compare with children who enrolled in non–Big Lift preschool or did not attend preschool at all?
  4. How do the kindergarten readiness skills and home reading practices of children who received different combinations of Big Lift services compare with each other?

The Big Lift is a collective impact, preschool–third-grade initiative in San Mateo County, California. The initiative is a partnership of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the San Mateo County Office of Education, and the County of San Mateo. Launched in 2012, the initiative aims to boost children's reading proficiency in San Mateo County through four different types of activities, called "pillars": (1) High-Quality Preschool; (2) Summer Learning; (3) School Attendance; and (4) Family Engagement. RAND is conducting a multiphase evaluation of the initiative, including an implementation study of the pillars and descriptive analysis focused on the outcomes of children who received Big Lift programs. This report provides the first set of descriptive analyses of participation in two of Big Lift's pillars — preschool and summer learning — and measures of readiness at kindergarten entry for the children enrolled in the four Cohort 1 districts: South San Francisco Unified, Jefferson Elementary, La Honda Pescadero Unified, and Cabrillo Unified (the first round of funded school district communities).

Key Findings

Participation Rates in Big Lift Programs

  • During the 2015–2016 school year and following summer, Big Lift programs — including high-quality preschool and a summer learning program — served approximately one third of the entering 2016–2017 kindergarten class in four Big Lift participating districts.
  • More than 80 percent of children entering kindergarten in the 2016–2017 school year had some prior early learning experience, Big Lift or otherwise, in the year before starting school. Although higher-income children were more likely to have this experience, the gap in preschool access between lower and higher income children was less than 10 percentage points.
  • In line with the initiatives' priorities, Big Lift served a larger percentage of children from lower-income families than from higher-income ones. Thus, children served by Big Lift were more disadvantaged than their peers in the county.

Kindergarten Readiness Skills of Children in Big Lift Districts

  • In the 2016–2017 school year, about 50 percent of kindergartners in Big Lift districts scored in the kindergarten-ready range on a school readiness assessment at the start of the year.
  • When comparing demographically similar children, Big Lift preschoolers were more likely to be kindergarten-ready than children who did not go to preschool at all. Big Lift and non–Big Lift preschoolers were equally likely to start school kindergarten-ready.
  • When comparing demographically similar children, all children who enrolled in Big Lift services were equally likely to start school kindergarten-ready, regardless of the combination of Big Lift services they received — Big Lift preschool and summer learning, only Big Lift preschool, or only summer learning.

The research described in this report was commissioned by The Big Lift and Silicon Valley Community Foundation with generous funding from the County of San Mateo and the federal Social Innovation Fund and conducted by RAND Education and RAND Labor and Population.

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