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Volume X, Number 2, Summer 2004
Issue Topic: Early Childhood Programs and Evaluation
Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have partnered with Early Education Services in Brattleboro, Vermont, to collect and analyze longitudinal data to supplement national findings from the Early Head Start study and to inform practice at the local level. The results provide a closer look at parenting stress, the language skills of children in Early Head Start, and the factors that influence sample attrition in program evaluation research.
Results showed that, over time, parenting stress decreased for families in both the program and comparison groups, with the highest stress usually reported during the child's infancy. By the time the child was 14 months old, families receiving Early Head Start services showed lower levels of parenting stress than comparison families, differences that were maintained through age 3. For Vermont families, Early Head Start participation reduced parenting stress and helped parents feel more competent as parents.
For children, participation in Early Head Start had many benefits, including the development of a larger vocabulary by ages 2 and 3—a critical predictor for later literacy development. Parents were found to be a good source of information about their children's current language skills, an asset that program staff can use in monitoring children's development (Pan, Rowe, Spier, & Tamis-LeMonda, in press).
Program evaluation research with at-risk families is often plagued with high sample attrition. In the current study, analysis showed that both study design and participant characteristics influenced attrition/retention. Families who were recruited into the study during pregnancy were found to be less likely to leave the study. Attrition among families in the comparison group was more likely early on (during the first 8 months) and less likely thereafter. Mothers reporting high parenting stress at study entry were more likely to leave the study than their counterparts reporting moderate or low parenting stress.
Pan, B. A., Rowe, M. L., Spier, E., & Tamis-LeMonda, C. (in press). Measuring productive vocabulary of toddlers in low-income families: Concurrent and predictive validity of three sources of data. Journal of Child Language.
Catherine C. Ayoub, Ed.D.
Risk and Prevention Program
Barbara Alexander Pan, Ph.D.
Lecturer on Education
Harvard University Graduate School of Education
Cambridge, MA 02138