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Graphic of a check boxSpecial Education Quality Indicator Study
August 2003


Part 1:  Program Quality
red check boxMore than half of the preschool special education programs can be considered quality programs. (See Figure 1)
  • Using the quality index, more than half of the 258 participating programs (52 percent) scored at Level 3 or Level 4, which means they surpassed the quality threshold. In these programs, 60 percent or more of the quality indicators were in place.
  • Seven programs (3 percent) performed exceptionally well, implementing 80 percent or more of the quality indicators.
  • Of the 48 percent that scored below the quality threshold, only 1 percent performed at the lowest level (i.e., less than 30 percent of the quality indicators were implemented). The remaining programs have implemented 30 to 59 percent of the quality indicators.
Figure 1: Percentage of Preschool Special Education Programs at Four Quality Levels
red check boxPrograms performed particularly well in three component areas. Partnerships, Organization/Administration and Teaching and Learning. (See Figure 2)
  • Partnerships. More than three-quarters of the participating programs (76 percent) scored at Level 3 or Level 4 (see page 3) on this component scale and thus surpassed the quality threshold.
  • Organization/Administration. Two-thirds of the programs (65 percent) scored at Level 3 or Level 4 on this component scale and surpassed the quality threshold. 
  • Teaching and Learning. On this scale, 59 percent of the programs scored at Level 3 or Level 4 and surpassed the quality threshold.
Figure 2: Percentage of Preschool Special Education Programs Surpassing the Quality Threshold in Major Program Component Areas
red check boxPrograms fared less well in the component areas of Personnel and Family Relationships. (See Figure 2)
  • Personnel. Only about one-fifth of the participating programs (21 percent) surpassed the quality threshold on this component scale which includes the elements of staff qualifications, professional development and staff evaluation. It was a major area of weakness.
  • Family Relationships. Performance in this component area was mixed as half of the programs (50 percent) in the study surpassed the quality threshold, while the other half did not. This component includes family involvement and family services.
red check boxPrograms fared less well in the component areas of Personnel and Family Relationships. (See Figure 2)

Field Note
Family Communication

Some programs have moved the Student Notebook to the next level, specifying child information that is useful to all team members, e.g., likes and dislikes, helping strategies, independent work schedule, bathroom routine, necessary equipment, photographs of family/friends.

Three-quarters or more of the 258 participating programs had the following quality elements in place:

  • Vision – A philosophy/vision that conveys high expectations for academic success and the belief that special education children should be integrated with their non-disabled peers.
  • Policies and Procedures – Clearly defined policies and procedures for directing all operations; comprehensive record keeping procedures; and frequent review/update of policies and procedures.
  • Environment – A safe program environment conducive to learning.
  • Stakeholder Support – Support for the program among important stakeholders: parents, board members, district staff and community members/agencies.
  • Family Involvement – Frequent communication with parents/families.
  • Family Services – A variety of opportunities to meet parents'/families' needs and build their skills and capacities.
  • Curriculum – A skills-oriented curriculum that prepares children for the school-age curriculum. 
  • Instruction – A consistently followed daily routine; a variety of learning formats and instructional material to address a range of student performance levels; and methods of behavior management that emphasize problem solving and social skills instruction.
  • Agency Collaboration – Frequent collaboration with community agencies/providers in planning services for children and families, making referrals, case management and managing resources.
  • Relationships with CPSE – Collaborative working relationships with the CPSE to ensure that children receive appropriate services.
  • Transition Strategies – A variety of strategies to facilitate the transition from preschool to school-age programs.

Field Note

None of the programs visited adopted a single skills-based curricular model. Rather, programs tailored their curricular approaches to meet children’s individual needs.

Field Note
Transition Strategies

Facilitating the transition of children to school-age programs is structured differently by each of the programs in the case studies. Programs with children from a large number of districts have a more difficult task of facilitating all of the communication among parents and CPSE/CSE representatives. While their programs offer a variety of transition activities—meetings, discussions, observations, etc.—they are hard-pressed to address some of the procedures and practices idiosyncratic to a specific district.

red check boxThere were other areas where many programs performed below the quality threshold.
Areas of program functioning that require serious attention include the following:
  • Involvement of Stakeholders – There is limited involvement of program stakeholders in determining/developing program policies and procedures, in making program decisions, in determining the program budget and other aspects of program design.
  • Evaluation Reporting – Dissemination of evaluation results is mainly confined to internal program stakeholders, e.g., staff and administrators.
  • Staff Credentials – A large percentage of preschool special education teachers—56 percent—lack certification or credentials in early childhood education.iv
  • Staff Turnover – The staff turnover rate averages 18 percent.
  • Professional Development Strategies – There is limited use of “professionalized” forms of staff development e.g., direct classroom assistance from external consultants, mentoring/peer coaching, teacher study groups – strategies that research considers as more effective than traditional stand-alone workshops. 
  • Staff Evaluation Strategies – Strategies to evaluate staff are confined to administrator observation; there is limited use of other strategies such as observation by peers, self-assessment and parent feedback.
  • Level of Parent Participation – In several areas of program functions, levels of parent participation were low. Few parents, for example, were reported to perform volunteer work in classrooms, participate in training sessions, be involved in program decision-making or participate in program evaluation activities.


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