Massachusetts Fair Share

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In Massachusetts, Access to Preschool Leads to Reading Proficiency

Massachusetts should lead on education, but when it comes to early education we are falling behind. While states like Oklahoma offer free preschool to all, Massachusetts has 30,000 kids on waiting lists for preschool programs.

There have been a number of studies that connect access to early education to success in school – and we looked into the correlation between access to preschool in the state of Massachusetts and the percentage of children who score “proficient” or higher on their 3rd grade MCAS test. Children who struggle with reading in third grade are four times less likely than other children to finish high school by age 19.[i]

Although there’s a lot of information on the benefits of early education from research projects and from national statistical studies, we couldn’t find versions of the same data that was Massachusetts-specific. Using statistics for preschool enrollment and MCAS scores in 50 cities and towns across Massachusetts (accessed from the Early Education for All database), we came up with the graph below.


This data shows a strong correlation between preschool enrollment and 3rd grade reading MCAS proficiency. [ii]

Cities and towns in Massachusetts that have higher levels of enrollment in early education programs also have a higher percentage of their 3rd graders scoring “proficient” on the reading MCAS.[iii]

What really makes this graph a good argument for universal preschool is the sample size at play here. The data for this study was drawn from 50 cities and towns across Massachusetts and included hundreds of thousands of students. Despite differences in town size, racial diversity, income level, and other factors, we can still find a strong correlation between preschool enrollment and 3rd grade MCAS proficiency.

Because the large sample size minimizes the possible impact of statistical noise, we can assume some causation here: higher preschool enrollment, to a certain extent, leads to higher proficiency on the 3rd grade MCAS test.

These results are exactly what you would expect to see based on the many national studies on the benefits of preschool education—higher achievement in school, lower dropout rates, less need for special education, and greater success in post-school life.

Other national studies have also shown that the public benefit from preschool can outweigh the costs. From this data, we can see that expanding preschool would improve 3rd grade reading here in Massachusetts, which means better graduation rates and academic success for our kids. We also know it helps families working to provide for their young children. That’s the very definition of a no-brainer.


By Jameson Moore, Legislative Intern


[i] Third grade reading is an important benchmark for future success. To read more visit:

[ii] The strength of this correlation is indicated by the “R2” figure in the graph. R2 is a statistical measurement of how well a line of best fit actually fits the data points it is generalizing. For social science data like this, an R2 value of more than .5 indicates a very good fit and a strong correlation.

[iii] It is important to note that this chart alone only indicates a strong correlation between the two categories of data being measured (it does not necessarily prove that higher rates of preschool enrollment cause higher rates of MCAS proficiency). There are many other factors that we must consider before deriving causation.


3 comments on “In Massachusetts, Access to Preschool Leads to Reading Proficiency

  1. fairsharenational
    May 30, 2014

    Reblogged this on Fair Share National.

  2. Pingback: Early Education in Massachusetts Cities | Massachusetts Fair Share

  3. Pingback: MCAS results highlight need for more early education | Massachusetts Fair Share

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This entry was posted on May 21, 2014 by in early education.
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