Early Childhood Education

Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research Program (PCER)


In the United States today (NCES, 2001), more four-year-old children than ever before are attending some form of preschool program prior to entering kindergarten. There is a need to conduct rigorous research on the numerous curricula in use by preschool programs to provide scientific evidence on which policy makers and practitioners can base their decisions regarding curriculum selection. Given the emphasis in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation on “evidence-based” practices, Head Start and state-funded prekindergarten programs are increasingly scrutinizing research regarding the efficacy of their curricula in relation to their school readiness goals. To address this need, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the U.S. Department of Education initiated the Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research (PCER) Program, which was designed to conduct small-scale efficacy evaluations of available preschool curricula that had not been rigorously evaluated. The evaluations were conducted using a common assessment protocol and a randomized experimental design.

The PCERprogram began in 2002 when IES awarded grants to seven researchers to implement several widely used preschool curricula, with Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International serving as their national evaluation coordinator. In 2003, IES funded an additional five researchers, with Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) Inc. serving as their national evaluation coordinator. National evaluation data were collected in fall and spring of the preschool year. Children will be followed until the end of their kindergarten year. Data collection includes direct child assessments, parent interviews, teacher report on children’s social skills, teacher interview, and direct classroom observations.

The final sample included Head Start, Title 1, State pre-K, and private preschool programs serving over 2,000 children in twenty geographic locations implementing thirteen different experimental preschool curricula. Participating classrooms or schools were randomly assigned to intervention or control conditions. Baseline assessments indicate that random assignment achieved equivalence at most sites, with some treatment-control variation by site. A report from the PCER Consortium outlining results from the preschool year and follow-up assessments at the end of kindergarten is anticipated to be released in 2006. See also Preschool/Prekindergarten Programs.

Further Readings: U.S. Department of Education (2001). National Center for Education Statistics, National Household Education Survey (NHES), 1991 and 1995.

Web Sites: PCER 2002 grantee information, http://pcer.rti.org/ PCER 2003 grantee information, http://www.pcer-mpr.info.

James A. Griffin and Caroline Ebanks