With the original grant (R01 HD051498), we developed, field-tested, and validated the Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System (inCLASS), an observational assessment of a child's behavioral engagement with teachers, peers, and tasks within pre-k and kindergarten (K) classrooms. Justification for this work rested on evidence that children's interactions with peers, teachers, and instructional activities in pre-k were proximal mechanisms contributing to their social, mathematics, language, and literacy learning. As such, a direct assessment of children's classroom engagement provides essential information as to how children actually develop school readiness skills. We propose this competitive renewal as the pressing next step in a line of work with the inCLASS observational tool to understand how the interplay between children's engagement and their executive functions (EF) contribute to school readiness and K school performance, beyond the role of individual differences and home experiences children bring with them to pre-k.
The aims of this longitudinal observational study are to: 1) Examine how children's engagement and EF relate to one another during pre-k. We hypothesize that engagement and EF will have a positive, reciprocal association with each other over time, with EF serving as the leading indicator; these links will be stronger under conditions of high classroom quality. 2) Determine the extent to which children's engagement and EF contribute to development of more distal readiness skills and school performance. The repeated measures, longitudinal design will permit us to examine mechanisms by which engagement and EF facilitate school readiness skill development and later K school performance. In particular, we expect engagement will mediate the links between children's EF and the more distal child outcomes. 3) Examine the role of classroom quality (e.g., teacher-child interactions, time spent on literacy instruction) over time. We anticipate classroom quality indicators having a positive direct effect on children's EF, behavioral engagement, readiness skills, and school performance, while also hypothesizing that classroom quality will moderate the links between children's engagement and EF, and the development of readiness skills and school performance We propose a longitudinal study of 100 pre-k teachers and 800 pre-k children and their primary caregivers, with follow-up of children into 200 K classrooms. Within each pre-k classroom, eight children will be randomly selected for assessments of school readiness (language, literacy, mathematics, social skills) in the fall and spring of the pre-k and K years, with supplemental K school performance data collected from school archives. Assessments of behavioral engagement and classroom quality will be obtained through repeated live observations, whereas EF will be measured during repeated direct assessments (all across both years). The knowledge gained from this examination of how children's engagement and EF interact with classroom quality will inform our understanding of how pre-k programs can impact children's school readiness.

Public Health Relevance

By age 5, an unacceptably large number of children in and near poverty are lacking in competencies fundamental to their school success, notably in the areas of language, literacy, mathematics, and social competence. A core assumption guiding the current research is that work aimed at addressing this public health issue needs to progress at the direct intersection of developmental science and applied early education settings. In other words, the problems that need to be solved to close achievement and social gaps are problems of development in context, and the solutions to these problems can only be found through research conducted in real-world settings that identify how children in poverty engage with the developmental inputs in early childhood classrooms that are most salient to helping them be successful upon entry into school.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
Program Officer
Griffin, James
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University of Virginia
Schools of Education
United States
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Sabol, Terri J; Bohlmann, Natalie L; Downer, Jason T (2018) Low-Income Ethnically Diverse Children's Engagement as a Predictor of School Readiness Above Preschool Classroom Quality. Child Dev 89:556-576
Maier, Michelle F; Bohlmann, Natalie L; Palacios, Natalia A (2016) Cross-Language Associations in the Development of Preschoolers' Receptive and Expressive Vocabulary. Early Child Res Q 36:49-63
Bohlmann, Natalie L; Maier, Michelle F; Palacios, Natalia (2015) Bidirectionality in Self-Regulation and Expressive Vocabulary: Comparisons Between Monolingual and Dual Language Learners in Preschool. Child Dev 86:1094-1111
Curby, Timothy W; Downer, Jason T; Booren, Leslie (2014) Behavioral Exchanges between Teachers and Children Over the Course of a Typical Preschool Day: Testing Bidirectional Associations. Early Child Res Q 29:193-204
Williford, Amanda P; Vick Whittaker, Jessica E; Vitiello, Virginia E et al. (2013) Children's Engagement within the Preschool Classroom and Their Development of Self-Regulation. Early Educ Dev 24:162-187
Williford, Amanda P; Maier, Michelle F; Downer, Jason T et al. (2013) Understanding how children's engagement and teachers' interactions combine to predict school readiness. J Appl Dev Psychol 34:299-309
Booren, Leslie M; Downer, Jason T; Vitiello, Virginia E (2012) Observations of Children's Interactions with Teachers, Peers, and Tasks across Preschool Classroom Activity Settings. Early Educ Dev 23:517-538
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Barbarin, Oscar A; Downer, Jason; Odom, Erica et al. (2010) Home-School Differences in Beliefs, Support, and Control during Public Pre-kindergarten and their Link to Children's Kindergarten Readiness. Early Child Res Q 25:258-272
Downer, Jason T; Booren, Leslie M; Lima, Olivia K et al. (2010) The Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System (inCLASS): Preliminary Reliability and Validity of a System for Observing Preschoolers' Competence in Classroom Interactions. Early Child Res Q 25:1-16