This week researchers at the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy published the results of a new study that show children who were enrolled in North Carolina’s early childhood programs “performed better throughout elementary school, with gains lasting through fifth grade, according to a study by Duke University researchers,” according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

More than 1 million children born between 1988 and 2000 were studied, and researchers discovered that those who had been in the state preschool programs had higher test scores, less grade retention and fewer special education placements through fifth grade.

The News & Observer reports: 

The new research seems to contradict studies in other states that suggest the benefits of pre-K may fade over time. Duke researchers say the positive effects for North Carolina children held steady or even grew over the years.

Children living in counties with average levels of Smart Start and More at Four funding saw improved educational outcomes by the end of fifth grade – a gain of six months of reading instruction and three months in math, according to the study. The children also had significantly higher math and reading scores in grades three, four and five.

“These programs in North Carolina are having the impact they were intended to have,” said the study’s lead author, Kenneth Dodge, professor of public policy, psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “These are investments worth making.”

Both programs reduced the odds that children would end up in special education. The impact was most pronounced among More at Four participants, whose chance of special education placement was cut by 48 percent in fifth grade. Their chance of being held back during elementary school was lowered by 29 percent.

The researchers found the state’s investment in both programs totaled an average of $2,200 per child during the 13-year study period.

Smart Start began in 1993 and expanded to all 100 N.C. counties beginning in the 1998-99 school year. It is focused on child care, health and screening services for children from birth to age 5.