Preschool Children with Special Educational Needs: Achievement, Retention, and Classification through Second Grade




Crane, Jennifer

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Since the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and subsequent modifications (Public Law 108-446, 2004), millions of children have been enrolled in early special education programs as three and four year olds. Yet there continues to be a lack of empirical outcome studies of the outcomes for children who began their career in special education at such a young age. Comparisons with children who entered special education after preschool (kindergarten or first grade) are virtually non-existent. It is also acknowledged within the special education system that children experience many changes in services as they move through the system. The data for this dissertation came from the Miami School Readiness Project [MSRP] a longitudinal, collaborative project designed to improve the quality of child care in the county. Data available included assessment information from preschool special education programs, subsidized child care programs, and follow-up data from public elementary school in an urban, ethnically diverse environment. Children enrolled in public school pre-kindergarten programs (n =359), community child care (n =284), and early childhood special education services (n =695) were assessed for overall development and socio-emotional protective factors in the fall and late spring of their pre-kindergarten year and then followed for several years in early elementary school. Children were assessed in the fall and spring of their pre-kindergarten year using the LAP-D (Nehring, Nehring, Bruni, & Randolph, 1992) or ELAP (Glover, Preminger, & Sanford, 2002), and the DECA (LeBuffe & Naglieri, 1999). Children with autism and developmental delays had the lowest developmental scores on average and showed the slowest rate of development in pre-kindergarten. There was significant movement of children both in and out of special education services and change from one primary exceptionality classification to another. Transitions out of special education in early elementary school, as well as changes in primary exceptionality classification were significantly related to pre-kindergarten assessment information. Children who left special education prior to second grade had lower scores on the cognitive and language portions of the LAP-D, and fewer behavior problems. Children with speech impairments often only spent one year receiving special education services, while children with autism, developmental delays, or emotional disturbances were likely to continue to receive special education services for all four years of the study. Children who were enrolled in pre-kindergarten special education had significantly higher grades and literacy skills as measured by kindergarten readiness tests, and were less likely to be retained in-grade in kindergarten or first grade than their peers who did not enroll in special education until early elementary school. Generally, even children with severe disabilities showed positive gains in all areas over their pre-kindergarten year, and children appeared to benefit from pre-kindergarten special education. These children are being assigned fairly good grades and, as a group, just below average scores on school readiness assessments and standardized tests. It appears that most children in this jurisdiction with developmental disabilities are being identified, referred, and enrolled in special education services prior to elementary school.



Early childhood, Special education, Developmental disabilities, Educational outcomes, Longitudinal research