Measuring Head Start Children’s Early Learning Skills Using Teacher Reports During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Measuring Head Start Children’s Early Learning Skills Using Teacher Reports During the COVID-19 Pandemic

OPRE Report # 2022-13
Published: Feb 28, 2022
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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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

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Key Findings
  • A teacher-reported scale of children’s approaches to learning has strong measurement properties. However, this scale is only weakly associated with assessor-reported cognitive/social behavior and directly assessed executive function. Therefore, teacher-reported approaches to learning scores are not an appropriate proxy for these particular skills.
  • A teacher-reported scale of children’s literacy skills has strong measurement properties. This scale is moderately to strongly associated with directly assessed language and cognitive skills, which suggests it might be able to be used as a proxy for these skills. This scale might offer a way to measure children’s language and cognitive skills when in-person assessment is not feasible.
  • There is potential bias in these teacher-reported scales because teacher reports (but not skills measured in the direct child assessment) are associated with some child background characteristics in FACES 2014. In the spring, after accounting for fall scores, English primary home language is associated with lower teacher-reported approaches to learning scores; this association is not found with assessor-reported cognitive/social behavior (attention). Also, being male is associated with lower teacher-reported literacy skills scores in spring, after accounting for fall skills, but this association is not found with a directly assessed language and cognitive skill (letter-word knowledge). Primary home language and child sex should be accounted for when using these teacher reports.

In spring 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many early care and education centers, including Head Start centers, closed their physical buildings and changed their operations to virtual. Because of health and safety restrictions, we were unable to directly assess children’s skills in spring 2020 for the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES 2019). However, teachers completed reports about individual children in their classrooms, as has been done in prior rounds of FACES. This research brief uses nationally representative data from FACES 2014 and 2019 to examine whether two teacher-reported scales of children’s (1) approaches to learning and (2) literacy skills have strong measurement properties and validly measure early learning skills in a nonbiased way.

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