An Investigation of the Characteristics and School Readiness of Children with Disabilities who Attend Head Start Programs
Smith, Amy Falk
McLaughlin, Margaret J
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The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics and school readiness of children with disabilities who attend Head Start programs, as well as the characteristics of the programs they attend and the school districts in which they receive special education. In addition, a second purpose was to determine whether there are differences in these characteristics of children who attend Head Start programs and those who attend other early childhood education programs. I used data from the Pre-Elementary Education Longitudinal Study, a study of a nationally representative sample of preschool children with disabilities. I used a subsample of the data to compare the characteristics and school readiness of children with disabilities who attended Head Start to those who attended other early childhood education programs using chi-squares, analysis of variance, and ordinary least squares regression analyses. The results suggest that there is no difference in the school readiness of children with disabilities who attended Head Start and those who attend programs in elementary schools. However, in comparison to children who attended other programs, children with developmental delays who attended Head Start had more advanced receptive language skills and those with other disabilities had less advanced pre-reading skills. Additionally, the results of this study show that there is some variation in the characteristics of children with disabilities who attend Head Start and those who attend other programs. Children who attended Head Start were more likely to be Black or Hispanic and from low socioeconomic families. They were also less likely to have disabilities other than speech impairments or developmental delays and, on average, received fewer special education services. Finally, children who attended Head Start were more likely to be from rural school districts and districts with higher rates of poverty. These findings indicate that children with disabilities who attend Head Start programs face additional risk factors that are associated with poor school readiness and emphasize the need to ensure that the programs provide services that are adequate to meet the needs of the diverse population they serve and to prepare those children for the onset of formal schooling.