2019-20 Evaluation Shows Gains Despite School Closures Due to COVID-19 Pandemic
Omaha, Neb. — The Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan is making positive gains in schools that serve hundreds of children in metro Omaha. The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska today released the findings of the 2019-20 Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan Evaluation.
The Superintendents’ Plan completed its fifth year of full implementation and evaluation across six school districts in the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties in the fall of 2019. During this year, the evaluation continued to assess school-level change, program quality, family processes, and child learning and development. However, this year was unlike any other in the history of Omaha metropolitan schools and the Superintendents’ Plan. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led districts to close school buildings through the end of the academic year and transition to distance learning strategies and suspend year-end assessments. These changes impacted schooling for children, families, and teachers, as well as the Superintendents’ Plan implementation and evaluation.
“The evaluation showed that classroom quality continues to improve, and school systems have enhanced their support of and partnerships with families,” said Kate Gallagher, director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Institute. “As the Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan enters its sixth year, program and school staff are identifying essential elements of school systems change.”
Participating school districts are Bellevue, DC West, Millard, Omaha, Ralston, and Westside. Across the districts 103 families received voluntary home visits and 2,280 children in PreKindergarten through Grade 3 participated in the evaluation. The Ralston school district participated in customized assistance in 2019-20 to advance its district-wide early education services and programs, while more than 500 early childhood professionals participated in professional development institutes through the Superintendents’ Plan.
Some highlights from the evaluation:
- Efforts to engage families are increasing and shifted to virtual home visiting in the spring of 2020.
- Family engagement reflects quality relationships between home visitors and families.
- Parent-child interaction reflected that most parents involved in the home visiting evaluation were interacting with children in ways that supported early learning.
- Families reported relatively high levels of engagement with schools.
- Classroom quality has improved over the first five years of the full implementation and was significantly higher in 2019-20 relative to 2015-16 for classroom organization, instructional quality, and emotional support.
- Academic achievement in Kindergarten through Grade 3 was assessed using school-based achievement assessments in fall and winter, but not in spring due to the pandemic. On average, children’s reading and math achievement status were slightly below expected levels and varied by family and child demographics related to income, race, and ethnicity. Student growth in these areas was slightly above expected levels and also varied by income, race, and ethnicity.
- School and district leadership have shifted their perspectives to integrating a birth – Grade 3 approach to learning, with increased ownership of School as Hub, greater engagement with families, and a growing value for community partnership.
- School leadership has been instrumental in responding to the pandemic to provide instructional supports for families.
Evaluation activities were conducted by the University of Nebraska ̶ Lincoln’s Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools, and the Interdisciplinary Center for Program Evaluation of the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. Evaluation activities were supported by the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Lozier Foundation, and the Weitz Family Foundation.