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- What are the cognitive and social skills and physical health status of Head Start children as they complete a program year? How do these compare to their skills or health status at the beginning of the program year?
- Do children’s cognitive and social skills and health status at the end of the program year vary by their program exposure and age? Does children’s progress in their skills or health status vary across the program year?
- What are the cognitive and social skills and health status of DLLs as they complete a program year? How do these compare to their skills or health status at the beginning of the program year?
This research brief describes the family background and developmental progress of Head Start children as they complete a program year (from fall 2014 to spring 2015), using recent data from the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES 2014). We examine children’s growth in cognitive skills (in language, literacy, and mathematics), social-emotional skills, and executive function during the program year to learn about Head Start children’s progress toward being ready for school. We consider children’s health status as it can influence children’s readiness for school. We also describe the developmental skills of dual language learners (DLLs)—that is, children whose primary home language is not English—at the end of the program year and examine how these compare to their skills at the beginning of the program year.
The purpose of this brief is to describe child and family characteristics and children’s development and progress during the Head Start program year. By examining differences in children’s cognitive and social skills and health status by program exposure and age among first year children, we can gain insight into possible ways to tailor services to support specific child needs.
Key Findings and Highlights
- In Spring 2015, two-thirds of children are completing their first year of Head Start and one-third are completing a second year.
- Other than English, Spanish is the most prevalent primary home language. Forty percent of Head Start children live in households where a language other than English is spoken. Twenty-five percent live in households where the primary language spoken to them at home is a language other than English.
- Head Start children (including DLLs) make progress during the program year in receptive and expressive vocabulary, letter-word knowledge, and early math skills.
- However, in both the fall and spring, children still perform lower on language, literacy, and math skills, on average, than children of the same age nationally.
- One exception is that DLLs who most often use Spanish at home score above norms in conceptually scored expressive vocabulary in both fall and spring.
- Children in their first program year make more progress from fall to spring toward national norms than children completing their second year on most cognitive skills. Children in their second program year start in the fall performing closer to norms than children in their first year with, perhaps, less capacity for change.
- Children have better social skills, exhibit more positive approaches to learning, and have stronger executive function skills compared to the fall, regardless of their age or length of time in the program.
- On average, parents report children to be in excellent or very good health in the fall and spring with no change.
- About one-third of Head Start children are overweight or obese in both the fall and spring, with no change.
The FACES sample provides information at the national level about Head Start programs, centers, classrooms, and the children and families they serve. We selected a sample of Head Start programs from the 2012–2013 Head Start Program Information Report, with two centers per program and two classrooms per center. Within each classroom, we randomly selected 12 children for the study. In total, 176 programs, 346 centers, 667 classrooms, and 2,206 children (in 60 programs) were study participants in spring 2015.
The sample used for this brief includes 1,921 children who were enrolled in Head Start in fall 2014 and were still enrolled in spring 2015. All findings are weighted to represent this population.
Kopack Klein, A., N. Aikens, L. Malone, and L. Tarullo. “A Year in Head Start: Findings from FACES 2014 on Children’s Progress Toward School Readiness During the 2014-2015 Program Year.” OPRE Report 2018-80. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018.
- Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey
- dual language learner