The Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey: What Are We Learning About Program Quality and Child Development?

Published: December 15, 2003
Head Start
Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES), 1997-2022 | Learn more about this project
Children and Families Magazine, 2003

Every day Head Start staff and parents see the benefits of Head Start to young children; however, policymakers and administrators need systematic evidence of Head Start’s value. They also want objective evaluations of the quality of Head Start services. This need for accountability has been addressed by Head Start in recent years through the development of the Head Start Program Performance Measures and research on the quality and effects of Head Start. At the center of this research initiative is the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES).

Begun in 1997, FACES is a way to look at the program performance of Head Start and its children over time. It began with a stratified national probability sample of 40 programs and 3,200 children who were followed from the time they entered Head Start at ages 3 or 4 through first grade. In 2000, a second group of 43 different programs and 2,800 children was selected for study.

FACES is a comprehensive study that examines child development, classroom quality, parent perceptions and experiences, and staff characteristics, knowledge, and opinions. A comprehensive child assessment was developed to measure children’s skills in emergent literacy, numeracy and language, general cognitive skills, gross and fine motor skills, social behavior, emotional well-being, and physical health. While children are assessed directly on a range of developmental abilities, parent and teacher ratings of children’s abilities are also obtained to provide a more well-rounded perspective of the children.

Because data are now available on the 1997 and the 2000 groups of children, we can look at how the program and children are changing over time. Is the quality of Head Start improving? Are children learning more now than just a few years ago? Are they progressing in certain areas of development but not in others?

Last Reviewed: April 29, 2019