Article

Parent involvement in an early childhood special education program: A descriptive analysis of parent demographics and level of involvement

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Psychology in the Schools (Impact Factor: 0.72). 02/2006; 30(3):255 - 263. DOI: 10.1002/1520-6807(199307)30:3<255::AID-PITS2310300308>3.0.CO;2-3

ABSTRACT The present study was conducted to evaluate the level of parent involvement in an early childhood special education program in a large midwestern urban school district. Areas surveyed included parents' current input, participation, and desired level of participation in the initial eligibility evaluation, the Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) meeting, and the initial Individual Education Plan (1EP). Additional areas assessed included parent-teacher contact, overall satisfaction with the early childhood program, and services the parent might be interested in receiving. Generally, parents were satisfied with their involvement and input in their child's educational program. Differences between parents' level of income, education, race, gender, and marital status and their subsequent level of involvement in their child's education were noted.

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    ABSTRACT: Overview: A recent evaluation of children who had participated in the Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP) as toddlers found that at kindergarten age, these children were performing at levels expected for their age, despite the fact that they had multiple factors putting them at risk for school failure.The Study: In the winter and spring of 2002, 135 kindergartners in five Long Island school districts received a battery of tests focusing on 2 interrelated areas of school readiness: social-emotional skills such as the ability to follow teachers' directions and early literacy skills such as knowledge about books and about the alphabet. In addition, keeping in mind the recommendation of the National Education Goals Panel with regard to school readiness, parents were interviewed about their participation in and support of children's learning at home and at school.Children who had participated in PCHP at ages 2 and 3 were compared, at kindergarten age, with classmates who had not been in the program. Preliminary analyses revealed that PCHP graduates were different from their classmates on a number of variables, however. Specifically, children who participated in PCHP were more likely to have parents who were less educated, more likely to be Latino, and more likely to have parents who worked less hours per week for pay. While there were areas in which the two groups were similar—such as family size, likelihood of parents being married, and parents' age—the areas in which the groups were different each represent risk factors for school failure. Low parental education, immigrant status, and poverty are additive risk factors with regard to children's school readiness, such that children who have all three characteristics are at greater risk than children who have two or one. Further, while these are risks that we have defined, they are likely to be concomitant risks that we haven't defined, such as substandard housing and less health care.The Result: The fact that PCHP children, as a group, exhibit more risk factors than their classmates means that PCHP is effectively targeting those in the community most in need of their services. It also means that PCHP should be performing worse than children who do not enter school with these risk factors. They are, essentially, entering school with strikes against them.The data indicated, however, that PCHP children are performing at the level expected for their age on virtually all measures. These are summarized in greater detail below.With regard to social-emotional skills, the study found no differences between the intervention and comparison group on several measures. Teachers and parents were given questionnaires about children's behavior, and the evaluators who tested the children rated their behavior. In addition, children were tested on a variable called “inhibitory control” which measures the capacity to suppress a desired behavior. This sort of skill is required in the classroom all the time as the child is expected to suppress the desire to get out of his or her seat or speak out of turn, for example. On all of these measures, covering multiple methods and multiple sources, no differences were found between the two groups.The lack of difference between the intervention and comparison groups on measures of social-emotional competence is a key finding for two reasons: 1) the PCHP group has a much greater likelihood of being unprepared, behaviorally, for school, but instead is as well-behaved as more privileged children. This suggests that a gap has been closed in terms of behavioral readiness for school and that PCHP children are indistinguishable from their peers in terms of classroom behavior, not only in the eyes of parents and researchers, but in the eyes of their teachers, who spend a great deal of time with them (and are less biased than parents). 2) Research indicates that social-emotional competence in the early school years is predictive of both academic and interpersonal success throughout a child's school career.With regard to early literacy skills, PCHP children are again indistinguishable from comparison group children on a number of measures. Teachers' reports of early literacy indicated no difference between the groups. There were also no differences between the groups on additional tests involving knowledge about books and basic story comprehension. No differences were present in early literacy skills such as rhyming and basic spelling, either.Differences were apparent on two standardized tests of verbal and literacy skills, however. The intervention group was, as noted, more likely to be Latino, and Latino children as a group tend to perform worse on standardized tests than Caucasian children. Since these were tests that often involved vocabulary, having parents who speak English as a second language is likely to have presented a hurdle that children of predominantly English-speaking parents did not face. Most importantly, despite their relatively lower scores, PCHP graduates still performed in the range expected for their age on these tests. They did not, as a group, exhibit delays in their skills, despite the challenges they confront.The early literacy results are important because they tell us that teachers do not see differences in the literacy skills of children who come to school with multiple risk factors and those who are more privileged. This is crucial, because teachers make decisions about children's placement in supplemental programs, as well as more “micro” decisions in the way they respond to children, and have an enormous influence on children's school careers.Parents' support for children's learning was examined through questionnaires given to parents over the telephone. Analyses of these data revealed that PCHP parents were as likely as comparison parents to meet with their children's teachers and other school personnel. This is particularly remarkable given that PCHP parents are less likely to speak English as a first language and are less educated—both of which represent factors that contribute to less involvement in children's schooling.PCHP parents were, however, less likely to participate in school activities such as volunteering in the classroom and attending field trips. This is to be expected for parents with limited English abilities. PCHP parents also reported less home-based activities for children's learning, such as working with them on letters and numbers, but this last finding was based on a measure on which no validity data has been obtained, meaning that any inferences we draw should be made with caution.The parent involvement findings tell us that while PCHP parents are as willing as comparison parents—who are more likely to be English proficient—to attend school meetings regarding their children, they are less likely to volunteer in the classrooms. This is consistent with data on parents with lower levels of education and English language proficiency.It is worth noting that the dissimilarity between the two groups in this study not only made the study more conservative—that is, presented a greater challenge to demonstrating success of PCHP—but also made it more valid from the point of view of those who work with the children, specifically teachers. That is, teachers do not generally make evaluations of their students by considering variables such as parents' educational status, but do so based on children's behavior. A typical teacher does not say, “Junior is performing similarly to other free lunch children in my class,” or “Junior is performing similarly to other children whose mothers did not graduate from high school,” but simply, “Junior is performing similarly to others in my class.” On most of the tests and questionnaires given, PCHP children were performing similarly to others in their classrooms—not other poor children, not other immigrant children, but other, more advantaged children in their communities—the children with whom they will be compared.
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