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Brown University-Annenberg Study Shows Acelero Learning Head Start Children Made Significant Gains Despite Pandemic

Compelling Findings Stand Out Given Reports of The Disastrous Effects of the Pandemic on Childhood Education

August 23, 2021

A recent study conducted by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, in collaboration with Acelero Learning, found that Head Start infants, toddlers and preschoolers in Acelero programs made significant gains during the 2020-2021 school year despite the pandemic. These findings are especially compelling given reports of the disastrous effects of the pandemic on childhood education nationally.  

The Brown University-Annenberg study is one of the first to assess early skill development during the pandemic.  According to Susanna Loeb, Director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, “Given the unique circumstances of this past year, understanding students’ progress is unusually important for serving families and it will be supremely helpful in determining how to approach future instruction. Acelero’s results cannot be generalized across the field of early childhood education, but it is notable that across age groups and both learning settings [virtual and in-person], Acelero’s students made significant gains in domains of print knowledge and numeracy, and children in centers also made significant gains in executive function.”

The study evaluated children ages six weeks to four years who were enrolled in both in-person and virtual learning models in Acelero Learning Head Start programs, located in Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The study found that three- and four-year-old students in both learning settings, made significant gains in the domains of print knowledge and numeracy, during the pandemic. The study also found that infants and toddlers made significant gains across both learning settings in language development.

These findings are particularly notable as they come on the heels of a landmark report by the University of Michigan and the Urban Institute, which found there is evidence to suggest significant setbacks among early learners, where “children from families with low incomes, children of color, and dual language learners (DLLs) bore more of the brunt of the crisis than their peers.”  Their report also suggests that setbacks were not only in academic outcomes, but also social skills, emotional intelligence, interactions with peers and more.

According to the Brown University-Annenberg study, three- and four-year-olds in Acelero centers made notable gains in most areas of learning and skill development, including executive functioning, print knowledge, and numeracy.  Head Start students in Acelero centers made greater gains than those students learning remotely, despite starting at a lower baseline.  Notably, children in Acelero Learning’s virtual options also made significant gains in print knowledge and numeracy. In Early Head Start, the study found that infants and toddlers demonstrated an increase in language acquisition between winter and spring within the 2020-21 program year. 

The findings from this study support the decision by the Office of Head Start and Congress to fund Head Start without interruption during the pandemic, making it possible for Head Start programs like Acelero Learning to continue serving children and families during the most challenging times.  

In response to Brown University-Annenberg’s study on Acelero Learning’s results, Yasmina Vinci, the Executive Director of the National Head Start Association, reiterated the importance of ongoing operations during the pandemic, stating, “This past program year, Head Start leaders across the country invested enormous amounts of time and energy into the quality of the virtual and in-person learning they delivered. The big question on all our minds is: Did it work? We are thrilled that the answer is, without a doubt, yes.”

Read the press release here.

Read the full Brown University-Annenberg study here.