Gains in Language and Cognitive Scores Among Children in Their First and Second Years of Head Start

Gains in Language and Cognitive Scores Among Children in Their First and Second Years of Head Start

OPRE Report # 2021-42
Published: Jun 01, 2021
Publisher: Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation
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Associated Project

Head Start: The Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES)

Time frame: 2006-2022

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation

Key Findings

Second-year children made smaller gains in expressive vocabulary, letter-word knowledge, early writing, and early math than first-year children, although they made similar gains in receptive vocabulary.

We found some different patterns for different language and cognitive assessments:

  • Child age explained second-year children’s smaller gains in early writing and early math, such that first- and second-year children made similar gains after including age in the analyses.
  • For letter-word knowledge, second-year children’s higher fall scores explained some, but not all, of their smaller gains.
  • Even after accounting for child and family background characteristics, children’s scores at the beginning of the program year, and children’s classroom and teacher characteristics, second-year children made smaller gains in letter-word knowledge and expressive vocabulary.

The purpose of this brief is to explore possible explanations for why second-year children made smaller gains in language and cognitive scores than first-year children during the Head Start program year. We explore whether differences between first- and second-year children’s language and cognitive gains across the program year can be explained by differences in child and family characteristics, including age; fall language and cognitive scores; part-day enrollment; classroom quality; or teacher experience or education. In other words, we explore whether second-year children made smaller gains than first-year children because they had different characteristics or experiences that are associated with smaller gains.

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