Foundations for Excellence

Prioritizing Program Goals

Bulls Eye with arrow IconHead Start programs frequently ask how many program goals they should have. You can answer this question with the juggling test: How many balls—goals—can your program realistically keep in the air? Moreover, make sure the program goals are connected to data that can be analyzed, aggregated, and compared in order to measure progress. To ensure minimal bias, objectivity is important. Programs should not tailor the data they select based on what they want to see. Consider the following questions when you develop your program goals and objectives:

Exclamation Point Icon

Data-informed continuous improvement is only possible with good quality data.

  • What is the data telling you, and what are the most urgent family, child, and community needs?
  • How will program goals be developed and communicated internally (e.g., to staff, families, governing body/Tribal Council and Policy Council members) and externally (e.g., to community partners and funders)?
  • How will you make sure that program goals embrace culturally and linguistically responsive practices and outcomes?
  • How would each group of stakeholders embrace and articulate these program goals?
  • How will programs track, monitor, and evaluate activities and progress?
  • How much data is currently used to measure progress, and what new data is needed to determine progress?
  • What is realistic given funding constraints and opportunities?

These questions indicate how important it is to plan strategically. Families, staff, governing body/Tribal Council and Policy Council members, and other key stakeholders have a role to play in supporting a program's goals. Being strategic takes more planning time, but the results are well worth the investment. When a program's direction is established, it is easier to prioritize a manageable number of program goals and a clear method for achieving expected outcomes. Ultimately, the decision on how many program goals to have should be guided by the program's data. Although there is no required number of program goals and objectives, programs need to focus on the five central domains of the ELOF when addressing school readiness-related goals.

School Readiness Goals

left caret iconTell Me More

Learn more about the expectations around establishing program goals with HSPPS regulation 45 CFR § 1302.102(a).

The HSPPS require programs to establish school readiness goals that are aligned with the ELOF, state, and tribal early learning standards as appropriate, and the requirements and expectations of the schools that Head Start children will attend. At a minimum, they must address the domains of Language and Literacy; Cognition; Approaches to Learning; Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development; and Social and Emotional Development. Programs will likely establish a goal for each of the ELOF's five central domains. Many programs serving infants, toddlers, and preschool children develop one set of school readiness goals appropriate for all children birth to 5.

left caret iconTell Me More

Guidance on how programs can revise or create a school readiness goal as a type of program goal can be found in Using the ELOF to Establish School Readiness Goals, which is part of the ELOF Implementation Toolkit.

Programs are required to establish school readiness goals in consultation with the families whose children are participating in the program. There are a variety of ways a program can do this. Consider forming an implementation team or school readiness committee that includes staff and parents. Examine data gathered through parent interest surveys. Ask parents for input during home visits and on lesson plans.

Table 1 compares the characteristics of program goals and school readiness goals. Note that school readiness goals are a type of program goal.

Table 1: Characteristics of Two Types of Program Goals

Program Goals
School Readiness Goals
  • BROAD statements of strategic direction that are compelling and engage everyone in the program in some level of related effort
  • Answer two questions:
    1. What is to be accomplished?
    2. Why is it important?
  • Describe the program’s focus and priorities
  • May generally or specifically support the attainment of school readiness goals (most program goals do this)
  • Must include goals for the program’s provision of educational, health, nutritional, and PFCE program services
  • Must be responsive to culturally and linguistically diverse populations of children and families served in the program
  • Are phrased as statements and begin with words like, “Program will...”
  • BROAD statements of expectation around children’s status and progress that address the five central domains of the ELOF
  • Reflect the age of the children being served
  • Answer two questions:
    1. What will children accomplish?
    2. Why is the goal important for kindergarten entry?
  • Describe what the program wants children to know and be able to do at the end of their Head Start enrollment
  • Encompass the range of children served (e.g., are applicable for children who are DLLs and children with disabilities or suspected delays)
  • Are phrased as statements and begin with the words, “Children will...”
Exclamation Point Icon

School readiness goals are a type of program goal.

Table 2 compares the development process for the different types of Head Start goals.

Table 2: Process for Developing Two Types of Program Goals

Program Goals
School Readiness Goals
  • Typically developed for the baseline application of the five-year project period through the organization’s strategic planning and Head Start planning processes
  • Informed by:
    • Community assessment for new grantees
    • Annual self-assessment, updated community assessment, and program-specific data sources, including aggregated PFCE data for existing grantees (e.g., summaries of conversations and observations, family strengths and needs, surveys of family satisfaction with services and referrals, and family partnership agreements)
  • Developed in consultation with and approved by the governing body/Tribal Council and Policy Council
  • Typically developed for the baseline application of the five-year project period through the organization’s strategic planning and Head Start planning processes
  • Aligned with:
    • ELOF
    • State or tribal early learning guidelines
    • Requirements and expectations of schools
  • Developed in consultation with the families of the children participating in the program
  • Developed in consultation with and approved by the governing body/Tribal Council and Policy Council
  • Mapped to align with indicators of child outcomes from the program’s child assessment system
Exclamation Point Icon

Head Start Approach to School Readiness

  • Children are ready for school
  • Families are ready to support children’s learning
  • Schools are ready for children

Table 3 compares how each type of goal is reviewed, revised, tracked, and analyzed to support program-level school readiness goals.


Table 3: How Different Types of Goals Support School Readiness

Program Goals: Reviewed and Revised
School Readiness Goals: Reviewed and Revised
  • Reviewed and revised only if program and community assessment data  indicate the goal is no longer relevant
  • May be revised as other goals are accomplished
  • May be revised as program, state, national, or tribal priorities are modified or emerging issues are identified
  • May not change from year to year unless the context changes (e.g., there is a shift in program demographics, a need to realign with local education agency, state, or tribal early learning standards or guidelines, or need to incorporate parent input)
Program Goals: Tracked and Analyzed
School Readiness Goals: Tracked and Analyzed
  • Objectives related to program goals are measurable to enable programs to track progress throughout the five-year grant cycle, as well as analyze impact at the end of five years
  • Progress toward goals is tracked using different tools or methods and by analyzing relevant data sources
  • Based on child-level assessment data, this is aggregated and analyzed at least three times a year; except in programs operating fewer than 90 days, aggregation and analysis includes sub-groups as appropriate, such as DLLs and children with disabilities
  • Includes data that measures features such as adult-child interaction, professional development efforts for staff, responsive environment, curriculum fidelity, parent and family input, etc.
  • Includes disaggregated child assessment data that is compared with other data collected by the grantees, such as individual child health data, individual child attendance data, human resource data, and fiscal data
  • Includes the collection and analysis of individual child attendance data within the first 60 days of program operation (fewer than 60 days for Migrant and Seasonal Head Start), and on a regular basis thereafter, to identify children with patterns of absence that put them at risk of missing 10 percent of program days per year
    • In some cases, includes comparison with other aggregated child level assessment data from the state, local pre-K programs, and other sources

Question Mark IconHow does your program ensure that the program goals and school readiness goals are aligned?

Understanding the similarities and differences between program goals and school readiness goals is an important part of planning. Ultimately, program and school readiness goals, along with measurable objectives, all work together to strengthen high-quality, comprehensive services to children and families.