December 1, 2003

The Scaling Progress in Early Childhood Settings (SPECS) Evaluation Team - part of the Early Childhood Partnerships programme of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and The UCLID Center at the University of Pittsburgh, Schoolof Medicine - tracked the progress of 1,350 children enrolled in ECI between 1997 and 2003. The team observed and profiled progress 3 times each year, focussing on thinking, language, early literacy, social, behavioural, and play skills. They regularly provided feedback to teachers and parents to guide their teaching and care. They also conducted programme quality evaluations in 25 programmes in 9 Pittsburgh neighbourhoods.

On entering the programme, 86% of the children were classified as "high risk" for shortcomings in overall thinking, language, and social and school-readiness skills. 14% of the students were deemed to be both high-risk and developmentally delayed, which would qualify them for early intervention or special education services in Pennsylvania. The documented national rate for developmental delays is 3% to 8%.

Other Impacts: 

Developmental Progress:

  • The longer children participated in ECI programmes, the greater the developmental progress and achievement of early school success skills.
  • After nearly 3 years in the programme, the high-risk group showed at least average developmental progress without the typical setbacks for children of poverty documented in national research.
  • The delayed group showed an accelerated rate of developmental progress into the average range that was 160% of the typical or expected rate in normal child development.

Social and Behavioral Progress:

  • ECI children in the full high-risk group achieved normal social skills and self-control behaviours compared to national peers.
  • 8% of the children at entry into ECI showed significant problems with social skills and self-control behaviours that would qualify them for mental health diagnosis and support; this challenging behaviour problem-group achieved normal social and behavioural skills after nearly 3 years of ECI participation.

Early School Success:

  • 125 of the children in the ECI programme transitioned to kindergarten and first grade over this period.
  • In the school districts from which students were recruited, an average of 23% of children are retained or "held back" in kindergarten and first grade, and 21% are referred to special education programmes. After nearly 3 years of ECI participation, less than 2% were retained and less than 1% were referred for special education.
  • End-of-year "blind" follow-up assessments by kindergarten and first grade teachers on the Basic School Skills Inventory-Revised, a nationally standardised achievement test of early learning skills, demonstrated that ECI children who transitioned to school performed at an average to above-average range compared to their national peers.

Parental Behaviour and Knowledge:

Based on interviews with and observation of ECI families,

  • 80% of parents gained more effective nurturing skills.
  • Most parents showed average parenting skills after 3 years of ECI (based on national norms).
  • Parents set expectations for learning and success.
  • Parents learned ways to encourage early reading.
  • Parents received social supports when needed.

"Alternative Designs for Community-Based Research: Pittsburgh's Early Childhood Initiative", by Stephen Bagnato, Robert Grom, and Leon Haynes, Harvard Family Research Project's The Evaluation Exchange, Volume IX, No. 3, Fall 2003. Source of the first 2 years of data: Bagnato, SJ, Suen, HK, Brickley, D, Smith-Jones, J, Dettore, E (2002). "Child developmental impact of Pittsburgh's Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) in high-risk communities: First-phase authentic evaluation research. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 17(4), 559-80; "The Mismeasure of Young Children: The Authentic Assessment Alternative" (2004), by Neisworth, JT, Bagnato, SJ. Infants and Young Children, 17(3), pp. 198-212; and emails from Stephen Bagnato to The Communication Initiative on November 25 2003 and March 21 2006.