The percentage of Albemarle County Bright Stars preschool graduates who meet or exceed grade-level expectations in reading drops 30 percentage points when the students reach fifth grade, a Wednesday report to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors showed.
A report by Ann McAndrew, Albemarle County Bright Stars coordinator, showed that in 2015, 64 percent of Bright Stars graduates in fourth grade met or exceeded grade-level reading requirements. However, by fifth-grade only 34 percent of Bright Stars graduates read at or above grade level.
Among students who did not attend Bright Stars, 75 percent met or exceeded requirements in fourth grade, compared to 70 percent in fifth grade, the report showed.
“Our Bright Stars, as a group, fare pretty well in reading, and then we see that drop off in fifth grade,” McAndrew said.
The data were similar in 2014, McAndrew said, but the reason for the drop is unclear.
“We’re guessing, we’ll keep looking into it, but it might be by fifth grade the teachers have more SOL scores to be looking at, and they might be noticing our kids dropping off,” she said.
Math scores were much closer between fourth and fifth-grade Bright Stars graduates, where 83 percent of fourth graders and 88 percent of fifth graders met or exceeded grade level, the report showed.
Preschoolers who participate in Bright Stars quickly gain skills identifying numbers, completing patterns and identifying shapes and colors. At the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, 17 percent of Bright Stars students passed a basic math assessment. In the spring, that number rose to 73 percent, according to the report.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she had seen the transformation firsthand while working with students on museum field trips.
“The difference between an October Bright Stars child and a May Bright Stars child is a profound one,” she said. “The quantum leap is really cool.”
More than 95 percent of parents of a child in Bright Stars would recommend the program to others, McAndrew added.
Supervisor Rick Randolph lauded the program’s efforts.
“The half-penny that [Albemarle County] dedicates to Bright Stars is the best half-penny that we spend annually,” he said, referring to a portion of the real estate property tax rate.
In a separate report, Deputy County Executive Doug Walker said the number of at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds with access to preschool classes is expected to grow by 25 students this month.
Charlottesville and Albemarle County have applied for grants totaling $180,000, which would allow the localities to put 25 children currently on waiting lists into private preschools that have agreed to partner with the public schools.
Walker’s report focused on the efforts to-date of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Early Education Task Force, convened last spring to find ways to reduce the number of at-risk city and county children without access to preschool.
Albemarle County expanded its preschool efforts by 28 students this school year, task force chairwoman Erika Viccellio said.
“Albemarle County has set a great example for our work to extend preschool placements to the estimated 250 at-risk children through multiple efforts this year, including adding a pre-school classroom for 18 children at Cale [Elementary School] and raising their class size by one child in each existing pre-K class,” Viccellio said. “This extended the pre-K placements for at-risk 4 year-olds by 28 this school year.”
The task force also plans to hold a symposium this spring to look at ways to improve the quality of pre-K education, and will apply for a Charlottesville Area Community Foundation grant, the report said.