Preschool Outcomes Project Results


In 2016, the Early Childhood Center (ECC), together with the Indiana Department of Education Special Education Office (OSE), launched the Preschool Outcomes Project. The long-term outcome of the project is to increase the number of preschool children with disabilities who are served in high-quality, inclusive, and regular early childhood programming. The first phase of this project was to identify the quality practices and resources Indiana districts currently employ, or have the opportunity to employ, while supporting preschool children with disabilities in inclusive settings. The Preschool Outcomes Project is in alignment with the overall OSE goal: All students, including those with disabilities, are held to high expectations and have equitable access to educational opportunities that enrich their lives and prepare them for future success.

Following a review of the literature and development of a Theory of Action, a number of research activities were conducted: We analyzed data from the Office of Special Education’s Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and ISTAR-KR, identified evidence-based practices, examined current Indiana practices, and summarized many of the challenges and needed resources.

2015 LRE and ISTAR-KR data reflected the state percentages for including preschoolers with disabilities in general education classrooms was 29% (of 12, 890 children), while the substantial impact was 76%. Seventeen districts agreed to participate in the study, and were categorized in three ranges of inclusion and impact percentages: above state averages, at state averages, or below state averages. Seventeen districts participated, with 57 personnel providing information regarding the evidenced-based practices in use, models of service delivery, their challenges and needed resources for implementing high quality inclusion.

Using our Theory of Action as well as recommended practices in the literature, we surveyed, interviewed, and observed classrooms during the 2016-2017 school year. According to our data, 15 out of 17 participating districts included preschool children in the general education classroom at or above the state average (29%). In these 15 districts, the preschool children receiving inclusive services made substantial gains in learning either at or above the state average of 79%.

Data from the 15 districts reflected the following models and evidenced-based practices: embedded special education within activities and routines including some co-teaching or consultative services; some level of collaboration on a regular basis; and made instructional adjustments based on ongoing data collection and analysis.

The following challenges to designing and implementing inclusive early childhood special education services were commonly reported by all participants: They lacked sufficient staff in the classroom to meet individual needs; there were children with intensive educational and behavioral needs; they experienced time challenges (to collaborate, collect data, travel to different schools, do paperwork, eligibility evaluations, provide direct services); and they reported limited access to ongoing professional development.

We theorized what practices might also contribute to children’s learning. While this part of our study is exploratory, we looked for discrete practices that are supported in the literature as contributing to children learning and answering the fundamental question:

How do we include children with intense learning needs and provide individualized instruction to meet those needs?

Four practices that answered this question were identified: embedded instruction; universal design for learning; ongoing progress monitoring; and collaborative decision-making. The second phase of the Preschool Outcomes Project will develop technical assistance for districts to implement system change efforts in order to implement these practices and thereby to include even more children in general education classrooms.

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