Strengthening Children’s Math Skills with Enhanced Instruction

The Impacts of Making Pre-K Count and High 5s on Kindergarten Outcomes

| Shira Kolnik Mattera, Robin Tepper Jacob, Pamela Morris

Early math skills are a strong predictor of later achievement for young children, not only in math, but in other domains as well. Exhibiting strong math skills in elementary school is predictive of later high school completion and college attendance. To that end, the Making Pre-K Count and High 5s studies set out to rigorously assess whether providing high-quality math instruction, aligned across prekindergarten (pre-K) and kindergarten, could lead to long-term gains across a variety of domains for students growing up in low-income communities in New York City.

In Making Pre-K Count, pre-K programs were randomly assigned to receive an evidence-based early math curriculum (Building Blocks) and associated professional development or to a pre-K-as-usual control condition. Pre-K in New York City changed rapidly during the study, with teachers overall conducting substantially more math than had previously been documented — a factor that may have played a role in the lack of impacts from Making Pre-K Count on children’s math learning at the end of the pre-K year. In the High 5s study, students who had been in Making Pre-K Count program classrooms in pre-K were individually randomly assigned within schools in the kindergarten year to supplemental small-group math clubs, which took place outside of regular instructional time, or to a business-as-usual kindergarten experience. A companion report describes the High 5s program in more detail. This report focuses on the effects in kindergarten of the two math programs.

Key Findings

  • Making Pre-K Count: At the end of kindergarten, there was a small, positive, but not consistently statistically significant effect for the Making Pre-K Count program on one of two measures of math skills, a measure that is more sensitive to children’s skill levels than the more global test used in pre-K and kindergarten. Making Pre-K Count led to positive impacts on children’s attitudes toward math at the end of kindergarten and to about two months’ greater growth in kindergartners’ working memory skills.

  • Making Pre-K Count plus High 5s kindergarten supplement: Two years of aligned, enhanced math experiences led to positive impacts on the more sensitive measure of children’s math skills, both above and beyond Making Pre-K Count alone (equivalent to 2.5 months’ growth) and compared with no math enrichment in pre-K and kindergarten (equivalent to 4.2 months’ growth); effects were positive but not statistically significant on the more global measure. The effect of two years of enhanced math translates into closing more than a quarter of the achievement gap between low-income children and their higher-income peers at the end of kindergarten. Children who were offered two years of math enrichment also had more positive attitudes toward math than children with no enrichment.

These findings suggest that early enriched math instruction, particularly when aligned across years, can have a positive effect on children’s math skills, math attitudes, and working memory. The amount of math already in place was associated with the magnitude of the estimated effects of these programs. In addition, the sensitivity of the math measures used in the study may have played a role in how well each assessed math skills. The studies will continue to follow children into third grade to better understand the long-term effects of these early math programs.