In 1997, Head Start launched the Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES), a study of a national random sample of Head Start programs designed to answer critical questions about child outcomes and program quality. In 2000, FACES began data collection on a new national cohort—FACES 2000—and plans are underway for a third cohort. Now, longitudinal data on successive, scientifically representative samples of children, families, teachers, classrooms, and programs are available.
In both studies, children entered Head Start at a great disadvantage to other children, as evidenced by the children’s initial scores on standardized assessments of cognitive skills. Findings from both cohorts of FACES show that the gap between Head Start children and the general population of preschool-age children narrows during the Head Start year on key components of school readiness. This is true to a greater extent in the 2000-2001 program year. However, despite the gains they make, Head Start children enter Kindergarten still substantially below national averages on such assessments.
Children made significant gains during the Head Start year relative to national norms, most notably in the areas of vocabulary knowledge and early writing skills. In the areas of letter recognition and knowledge of book and print conventions, children in 2000-2001 made significantly greater gains than Head Start children in 1997-1998. Gains in vocabulary and early writing were similar to those in 1997-1998. In both cohorts, children who entered Head Start with lower skill levels made greater gains than those who entered with higher skill levels. This finding may be related in part to the tendency of scores to move closer to the population mean over successive assessments.