A classroom at AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. The District tops the nation in access to preschool. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Most taxpayer-funded preschool programs in the District scored above targets for promoting social and emotional development and maximizing student learning time, and below targets for providing instructional supports to students, according to a new report released by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education.

The report, which evaluated programs during the 2013-2014 school year, is the first to use a common tool to measure the quality of pre-kindergarten classes across the city.

With 86 percent of the city’s three-year-olds and four-year-olds now attending publicly funded preschool, the report emphasized that the District has achieved the goal of universal access that was spelled out in the Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2008.

“Now the attention must turn to the investments needed to ensure the quality of programming across all educational programs for children in the District of Columbia,” Hanseul Kang, acting state superintendent of education wrote in an introduction to the report.

As access to pre-school programs increases across the country amid an Obama administration push to expand early education, variable quality is a growing concern.

The District has used the “Classroom Assessment Scoring System” to evaluate classroom quality, a measure developed at the University of Virginia. External independent evaluators observed classes during a typical day in nearly 500 classrooms across the city.

On a scale of 1 to 7, researches have found that “threshold” scores of five or more in emotional support and classroom organization, and scores of three or more in instructional support, are associated with better outcomes for children.

Average scores across D.C. surpassed the threshold for emotional support (which includes positive climate, teacher’s sensitivity and regard for students’ perspectives) and classroom organization (which includes behavior management and productivity.)

But scores fell below the threshold for instructional support, with an average score of 2.5. That category includes concept development, quality of feedback and language modeling.

“These findings suggest a need for additional professional learning opportunities specific to supporting children’s higher-order thinking skills and language development,” the report said.

Elizabeth Groginsky, assistant superintendent of early education at OSSE, said that the District is sharing the results with schools and will use them to inform training opportunities. The District also is expanding a quality rating system that will use classroom observation data and other indicators, including attendance and student outcomes, to rank schools as bronze, silver or gold.

“D.C. is leading the nation in access and the way we support preschool, but also in taking the issue of quality very seriously,” Groginsky said.

Just more than 100 out of 491 classrooms scored at or above thresholds in all three areas.

Average scores in the emotional support and classroom organization categories varied by ward, with Ward 7 rating the lowest in those areas. All wards scored about the same in the instructional support category, Groginsky said.


The District was ranked first in the nation last week in a state-by state report card by the  National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University that evaluated access and state spending on preschool. The report also gave the District high marks for some quality indicators, including teacher preparation requirements and low staff-child ratios.

In all, about 86 percent of all three-year-olds and four-year-olds in the District were enrolled in publicly funded pre-K programs in the 2013-2014 school year, with 12,426 children attending programs in charter or traditional public schools and 1,263 attending other full-day subsidized programs offered by community-based organizations.

Preschool was offered at 154 sites, including in 75 D.C. Public Schools, 58 public charter schools and 21 community sites.

The report also found 1,200 unfilled pre-K slots that year. It noted that, despite availability of seats, parents are not always able to secure a slot in their preferred schools.

Preschool is not compulsory, and students are not guaranteed spots in neighborhood schools. They are matched with schools through the city-wide common lottery. This year there were nearly 5,000 applicants for pre-K3 seats, and 87 percent of those were matched with a school.