Note: These resources are under review.
See below for frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the Head Start Approach to School Readiness.
FAQs Applicable to Agencies Serving Preschoolers and/or Infants and Toddlers
What is school readiness?
Head Start defines school readiness as children possessing the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for success in school and for later learning and life. The Head Start Approach to School Readiness means that children are ready for school, families are ready to support their children’s learning, and schools are ready for children. Head Start is a leader in the early childhood field with a strong, clear, and comprehensive focus on all aspects of healthy development, including physical, cognitive, and social and emotional development, all of which are essential to children getting ready for school.
What are school readiness goals?
School readiness goals articulate the program’s expectations of children’s status and progress across the five essential domains of child development and early learning that will improve children’s readiness for kindergarten [Definition, 45 CFR § 1307.2]. Goals are broad statements that articulate the highest developmental achievement children should attain as a result of Head Start and Early Head Start services. Agencies outline the steps of progression toward these goals through a developmental sequence of age- and stage-appropriate behaviors, skills, and knowledge that children ages birth to 5 need to acquire to accomplish each broad goal. See examples of school readiness goals for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
What are the five central domains of child development and early learning?
The five central domains are: (1) Approaches to Learning, (2) Social and Emotional Development, (3) Language and Literacy, (4) Cognition, and (5) Perceptual, Motor, and Physical Development. School readiness goals must, at a minimum, address these essential domains of development and early learning [45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(1)(ii)]. The five central domains apply to infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children and are highlighted in the Head Start Child Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF): Ages Birth to Five.
When must programs have their school readiness goals established?
Part of the grantee planning process includes setting and reviewing school readiness goals. The Head Start Program Performance Standards require that programs develop long-term and short-term goals [45 CFR § 1304.51(i)(1)]. The Head Start Act, as amended in 2007, better defined those requirements to ensure the inclusion of school readiness goals [Standards; Monitoring of Head Start Agencies and Programs, 641A(g)(2)]. Per 45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(1), all Head Start and Early Head Start agencies must have school readiness goals established as of December 9, 2011.
What levels of progress do programs track toward their established goals in the five essential domains?
Programs are to measure children's progress at two levels: individual child and program-wide. The purpose for tracking child level progress is to inform individualized curricular plans and conversations between program staff and parents in an ongoing manner. The purpose of tracking children's progress at the program-wide level is to inform the program's self-assessment and continuous improvement plans to ensure quality. The Learning from Assessment Toolkit includes questionnaires to assist management in reflecting on the ongoing child assessment systems for center-based and home-based program services.
Are programs to aggregate data for various program options, including home-based and family child care?
The purpose of analyzing the aggregated data is to learn if the program is supporting growth and developmental progress across each of the domains for all participating children in each program option and setting. The fourth School Readiness Action Step outlined in the attachment to ACF-PI-HS-11-04 School Readiness in Programs Serving Preschool Children recommends that programs examine the patterns of progress and outcomes (or achieved goals) for groups of children served by the program, including by: age; program setting; program option; and other categories. Agencies may cut and analyze program-level data into groups that they find most valuable to inform their program assessment, quality, and improvement plans. It is likely that agencies operating various program options may find it useful to aggregate data by those groupings.
What data should be used?
Programs should begin with their existing collection of information as they determine the outcomes of services in achieving school readiness goals:
- What information is currently gathered that marks child and family progress in the various settings and options? Include currently used tools, instruments, methods, and processes.
- What information does this data provide related to how services ensure support to the various groups of children and families in meeting the “developmental” marks across each domain?
- What additional information is still needed to get a complete understanding about the impacts of programming and services? Family members offer an incredible amount of information that is useful to programs in providing individualized services as well as enhancing program options.
- What is quality data for programs serving infants and toddlers?
Must agencies make changes after analyzing the data?
Agencies should use the information learned from the analysis and reporting of aggregated data to:
- Take stock of current status. Be thoughtful and thorough. Use existing evidence to inform management, staff, and parents about program, family, and child outcomes.
- Think about possible changes to procedures, tools, and practice based on current evidence. Remember, major changes may not be needed or prudent to children and families or to the program as a whole. Document ideas, discuss with others, create hypotheses, determine next steps (including no action, small adaptations, or big changes), and continue to gather information and evidence over an extended period of time.
FAQs Applicable to Agencies Serving Infants and Toddlers
Are programs that provide birth-to-3 services required to have school readiness goals for infants and toddlers?
Yes. Per 45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(1)(i), all Head Start and Early Head Start agencies must establish program goals for improving the school readiness of children that appropriately reflect the ages of children participating in the program from birth to 5. See examples of school readiness goals in Program Level School Readiness Goals for Early Childhood Programs: Examples from the National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning (NCECDTL).
Does the Early Head Start (EHS) Program Performance Measure Conceptual Framework relate to school readiness goals?
Yes. The Research to Practice: Program Performance Measures for Programs Serving Infants and Toddlers provides a guide for programs serving infants and toddlers to develop and implement strong support services. Such services are delivered to infants, toddlers, and their families to support child development and early learning across the five essential domains framed within the program's school readiness goals [45 CFR § 1307.2]. The text within the Framework for Programs Serving Infants and Toddlers and Their Families (also known as the EHS Pyramid Model) was modified to represent current Office of Head Start language related to ongoing quality improvement, staff qualifications, and family engagement. Note: The concepts behind the Framework have not been changed.
Are programs serving children birth to 5 expected to align their infant and toddler school readiness goals with their preschool school readiness goals?
Yes. Per 45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(1)(ii), school readiness goals for infants and toddlers must align with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF) around the five central domains, as well as state early learning guidelines and the requirements and expectations of the schools, as they apply to infants and toddlers. See examples of school readiness goals for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers
Are Head Start programs that provide birth-to-5 services expected to have the same school readiness goals for birth-to-3 and preschool-aged children?
Not necessarily. School readiness goals refer to the program's expectations of children's status and progress across the five essential domains [45 CFR § 1307.2]. As programs consider the appropriateness of their state's early learning guidelines and local education agency (LEA) expectations for children birth to 5, some programs may choose to separate their birth-to-3 school readiness goals from their preschool goals. Others may opt to have broad birth-to-5 school readiness goals for each of the five essential domains. Either way, programs need to ensure that their school readiness goals for each domain (including indicators, milestones, and objectives) appropriately reflect infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children participating in the program [45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(1)(i)]. See examples of school readiness goals for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers
What should agencies consider as they align infant and toddler goals with preschool goals?
Agencies should consider that children's development and early learning progresses through a developmental sequence, or continuum, from birth to age 5. Agencies must ensure that each goal, along with its objectives, appropriately and accurately reflect the various ages and stages of the children [45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(1)(i)]. Although some school readiness goals may broadly apply to birth to 5, the indicators which mark children's status and progress for the goal—as well as the strategies used to foster learning and development—are different and need to reflect the varying developmental needs and skill progression from infancy and toddlerhood through preschool. See examples of school readiness goals for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Are programs serving infants and toddlers expected to align their school readiness goals with parent and community expectations, early learning guidelines (ELG), and local education agency (LEA) expectations?
Yes, all agencies are expected to have school readiness goals that align with state early learning guidelines and the requirements and expectations of the schools to the extent that they apply birth-to-5 [45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(1)(ii)], and the goals need to be established in consultation with the parents of children participating in the program [45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(1)(iii)].
Should programs serving infants and toddlers use the same “Four Strategic Steps” as Head Start programs to assess their program's progress and achievement of school readiness goals?
Yes, EHS and birth-to-5 programs are to follow the “Four Strategic Steps” and ensure that the procedures used are appropriate for each age: infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children. For programs with birth-to-3 services, school readiness action steps for infants and toddlers must be founded in research and best practices for infants and toddlers.
The four action steps outlined in the attachment to ACF-PI-HS-11-04 Program Information on School Readiness are:
- Establish school readiness goals across domains that adopt and align to the ELOF, state early learning guidelines, and LEA expectations
- Create and implement an action plan for achieving school readiness goals
- Assess child progress on an ongoing basis and aggregate and analyze data multiple times throughout the year
- Examine data for patterns of progress for groups of children in order to revise, or develop and implement, plans for program improvement
Are EHS programs expected to aggregate and analyze child assessment data for the various ages of infants and toddlers?
Yes. Be aware that program-level data for infants and toddlers may have small sample sizes due to a wider range of ages; rapid growth rate; different and fewer assessment tools; and services provided in smaller group size, mixed age-groups, and more program options and settings. For example, an agency could have two 4-month-old babies within their one family child care setting.
Agencies may already have ongoing systems to present, aggregate, and analyze data that inform curriculum and program plans such as reflecting on handwritten and computerized reports during regularly scheduled staff meetings.
Are EHS programs expected to aggregate and analyze child assessment data at least three times per year?
Yes, unless the EHS program is a Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) program operating a shorter program period. Programs operating less than 90 days are required to aggregate and analyze child-level data at last twice within their operating program period [45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(2)(i)].
How do home-based programs support infants and toddlers in achieving school readiness goals?
Home-based programs and staff should design and implement home visits and socializations to engage families in the process of supporting their child's development and early learning across the five essential domains while addressing family goals and needs. The Early Head Start Research to Practice Project informs the field that home-based services consisting of home visits that focus on child development are associated with greater child cognitive and language development and increased parenting ability to provide language and literacy stimulation in the home.
Do programs need school readiness goals for their services to pregnant women?
No. School readiness goals are set around the program's “expectations of children's status and progress across domains” [45 CFR § 1307.2] for “children, birth to five, participating in the program” [45 CFR § 1307.3(b)(1)(i-ii)]. Programs serving pregnant women are required to deliver high-quality services to meet the educational, health, nutritional, and social needs of the expectant families they serve [45 CFR § 1304.40], and likely have program goals and plans they are working toward. Prenatal services can support family well-being and increase the likelihood of healthy fetal growth and brain development, positive birth outcomes, and secure attachment relationships between the expectant family members and the developing fetus.