Colorado Students Benefit from Early Interventions

A new study from the non-partisan Utah Foundation shows students in Colorado are doing better on some broad measures of educational achievement than their counterparts in Utah.  

The report Lessons from Our Neighbor: Learning from Colorado’s Educational Success also draws a strong contrast between Utah and Colorado in the commitment to preschool, full-day kindergarten, and early literacy programs.

In this report, Utah Foundation Research Director Shawn Teigen and Research Analyst Melissa Proctor compare Utah’s student performance with Colorado's. Like Utah, Colorado has a growing Hispanic/Latino population, and spends less per student than the national average.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Utah used to be ranked higher on national tests than Colorado, but now the opposite is true.
  • Utah has no state-funded preschool. In Colorado, 21% of four-year olds attend state-funded preschool.
  • A pilot program is providing preschool for 1,000 at-risk Utah children through a private-public partnership. By contrast, Denver has local government subsidies for all four-year olds to attend high-quality preschool. In total, tens of thousands of Colorado children attend high-quality public preschool annually.
  • In Utah, 13% of five-year olds attend full-day kindergarten. In Colorado, 74% of five-year olds attend full-day kindergarten.
  • In Utah, money for literacy is spent on tutors, specialists, and software. Other programs are poorly funded, community-based, and staffed by volunteers. In Colorado, literacy initiatives are more centralized, better funded, and targeted towards at-risk kids. Further, Colorado’s teachers are required by statute to create individualized plans for each child, and to make parents active partners in achieving reading goals.

The relative differences between student performance in Colorado and Utah on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) tests given to 4th and 8th graders helped to prompt the study. Research Director Shawn Teigen says, “20 years ago, Utah students were doing better than their counterparts in Colorado. Both states slipped, but Colorado has now recovered and places in or near the top ten nationally. Utah scores have stagnated and we’re now in the mid-20’s on all of those tests, though we’re catching up with Colorado in 8th grade reading.”

Teigen cautions that interpreting test scores is complex and warns against too much generalization, particularly when it comes to the changing ethnic diversity of both states. “If you look at the data for each ethnic group,” he says, “they’re all doing better than they used to. Looking at all the scores lumped together doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Colorado’s concentrated efforts to provide high-quality pre-school and early literacy programs are making a big difference.  Utah Foundation Research Analyst Melissa Proctor says "The effects of early interventions are hard to overemphasize. Research shows that participation in high-quality preschool can improve academic performance as far out as ninth grade for at-risk kids.”

Ms. Proctor adds that “Utah is eclipsed by Colorado’s full-day kindergarten attendance rates, which can have long-term effects on literacy. Despite perceived resistance to full-day kindergarten, a 2011 Dan Jones poll shows that Utahns overwhelmingly support it."

The report Lessons from Our Neighbor: Learning from Colorado’s Educational Success is available on the Utah Foundation website at