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Using CLASS™ to Improve Head Start Quality

Photo of Girl Toddler playing with blocks.The Office of Head Start (OHS) is committed to ensuring program excellence for the families and children we serve.

This week we informed 122 agencies providing Head Start services that they would need to compete with other programs in their community for continued funding from the Office of Head Start. 

These programs met one or more of the seven conditions used to determine whether a Head Start agency will be subject to an open competition for Head Start funding. This competitive process will ensure that the children Head Start serves will get the best early education that each of their communities can offer. 

This year the Office of Head Start used the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS™) to help monitor programs. Agencies that scored in the lowest 10 percent of all Head Start programs which received a CLASS™ evaluation during their on-site federal monitoring review for any domain are required to compete.  Programs  that failed to reach the minimum CLASS™ score threshold for any domain are also required to compete.

CLASS™ assesses the quality of teacher-child interactions in center-based preschool classrooms. It evaluates three domains of interaction:

  • Emotional Support assesses the degree to which teachers establish a positive climate in their classroom through their everyday interactions. 
  • Classroom Organization assesses classroom routines and procedures related to the management of children's behavior, time, and attention in the classroom.
  • Instructional Support assesses the ways in which teachers implement the curriculum to promote cognitive and language development.

These domains are based on research that suggests that engaging environments and effective interactions between children and adults are the foundation for all learning in early childhood classrooms.

CLASS™ evaluates interactions on a seven-point scale. Scores of 1-2 mean the quality of teacher-child interactions is low. Scores of 6-7 mean that effective interactions are consistently observed. Here at OHS, we are pleased that 90 percent of our center-based preschool classrooms had Emotional Support scores higher than 5.49, demonstrating excellence in this CLASS™ domain. Also, the scores in Classroom Organization and Instructional Support are improving. 

While the average scores in each domain vary, grantees with an average score in the lowest 10 percent of each domain are required to compete.  There are special provisions with regard to the American Indian and Alaska Native sovereign nations.

Over the past few years, OHS has worked with local programs to improve teacher-child interactions. For example, the National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL) produced a series of resources that align with the CLASS™ domains. A group of early childhood education (ECE) specialists are working with education managers and mentor coaches to observe and improve teacher-child interactions of program staff. This is helping to better tailor training and professional development to the needs of each program.

Additionally, some programs use their own training dollars to supplement the professional development support received from NCQTL and the ECE specialists. All of this work helps to ensure that children enrolled in Head Start receive high-quality, responsive, and effective teaching and learning experiences.

If you want to learn more about how Head Start uses CLASS™, please refer to this list of frequently asked questions and answers. This resource will help you understand how CLASS™ is used by Head Start for professional development and program monitoring.

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes is the national Director of the Office of Head Start.

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