TOP: An Exemplary Program for Demonstrating Effectiveness
A critical component of collaborating to improve early childhood outcomes is tracking results to demonstrate effectiveness. The Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund is a strong proponent of rigorous evaluation practices and continuous quality improvement. The Cabinet’s Blueprint for Early Childhood offers a vision of what success looks like, in broad terms and measurable goals while offering suggestions of specific measurement tools.
Over the past seven years, a Wichita preschool has engaged in a project unprecedented in Kansas early childhood education: tracking their graduates’ outcomes throughout grade school and continuing to follow them through high school graduation. The story of how this ambitious study came to be is largely the story of the school itself: Wichita’s The Opportunity Project, commonly referred to as TOP.
The first TOP Early Learning Center opened in 2003. Currently, three TOP Centers serve nearly 700 young children, preparing them for kindergarten and lifelong success. Since 2007, researchers at Wichita State University have been tracking TOP graduates as they progress through elementary and middle school to demonstrate TOP’s effectiveness to a wide audience of stakeholders, including community members, business leaders, and policymakers. This rigorous evaluation provides an opportunity to analyze the return on investment associated with this innovative program, which The Cabinet has presented in The TOP Early Learning Centers Longitudinal Study.
The TOP Longitudinal Study discusses the TOP model and describes the study and its results. The four key features that make the TOP study distinctive:
Excellent participation: The TOP longitudinal study can boast an impressively high level of cooperation among families, teachers, schools, school administration and districts. 95% of all TOP graduates have consented to participate.
Targeted use of professional researchers: TOP collaborates with WSU researchers on all aspects of the study, including design, data collection, and communication of the results.
Strategic approach to data: The study employs a thoughtful approach to collecting and reporting on data, which focuses on the key information needed to understand TOP’s impact.
Commitment to demonstrating outcomes: The study aims to produce convincing data that quality early childhood programs improve children’s well-being – and doing so is considered to be essential to TOP’s ability to continue, grow, and thrive as a program.