What Children Know and Can Do at the End of Head Start and How It Relates to Program Quality

Published: April 15, 1999
Head Start
Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES), 1997-2018 | Learn more about this project
Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1999

The national Head Start Bureau has determined that the ultimate goal of the program is, “to enhance the social competence of children from low-income families.” Social competence has been defined by the Bureau as, “a child's everyday effectiveness in dealing with both the present environment and later responsibilities in school and life.” For the five-year-old child coming to the end of the preschool period, a key test of social competence is how well he or she functions and adjusts to the demands of kindergarten and elementary school, what is often called school readiness. One of the primary objectives of the Head Start program supporting the goal of social competence and school readiness is “to enhance children’s healthy growth and development.”

The instruments used in the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) were designed to tap major components of social competence. Children’s cognitive development and early academic skills were measured through a direct child assessment administered to each of the sample children by specially trained assessors. Children’s developing social skills were assessed by means of standardized scales filled out by teachers and parents and through direct observation of the children’s social play, observations made during multi-day visits to Head Start centers. Children’s approaches to learning and problem behaviors were also captured through standardized teacher and parent reports, as well as through scales completed by the trained assessors after they had conducted their one-on-one testing sessions with the children.