Head Start children's academic growth: Contribution of early academic skills, social-emotional behaviors, and quality in head start classrooms

Ji Young Choi, Purdue University


This study examined to what extent low-income preschool children's capabilities (i.e., academic skills and social-emotional [S-E] behaviors) and classroom quality in the Head Start (HS) program are associated with children's growth trajectories in math and literacy skills (i.e., vocabulary, reading, and pre-writing) from the beginning of HS through kindergarten. Additionally, the potential moderation effects of HS classroom quality on the association between early capabilities (i.e., academic skills and S-E behaviors at HS entry) and subsequent academic growth were explored. This study comprised secondary analyses using data from the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey 2006 Cohort (FACES 2006), a national descriptive study of HS children, families, and programs. Due to the nested structure of the data (i.e., children were assessed over time, and children were nested in classrooms), 3-level growth curve modeling was employed. Findings showed general accelerated growth in math, reading, and pre-writing skills, and decelerated growth in vocabulary skills from HS entry to kindergarten. Initial academic skills were negatively related to skill growth for vocabulary and pre-writing, but no significant similar association was found for math or reading. In general, S-E behaviors (i.e., social skills and behavior problems) were associated with concurrent academic skills, and the magnitude of this association persisted over time. For academic skills that had no significant concurrent association with HS entry S-E behaviors, initial S-E behaviors predicted accelerated early achievement, although this association faded over time. There was also a positive lagged association between S-E behaviors and academic skills, when S-E behaviors were treated as time-varying variables. A few classroom quality indicators were associated with academic skill growth, but the magnitude of these associations were small. As for the moderating influence of classroom quality, children who presented initially high vocabulary or pre-writing skills generally showed slower growth in these domains than their peers when they experienced low quality classrooms. No relationships were found between initial math scores and math skill growth in children in either low or high quality classrooms. Significant moderation effects of classroom quality were found for reading skills, but the interpretation of these effects are complex. Lastly, no moderation effects of classroom quality were found in the association between initial S-E behaviors and academic growth. Implications of the research findings and limitations of the study are discussed.




Elicker, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Educational evaluation|Early childhood education|Educational psychology

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