Contextually relevant assessment of the emotional and behavioral adjustment of Head Start children

Megan Noone Lutz, University of Pennsylvania


This empirical project recognizes the importance of early identification and early intervention for young children facing threats to their well-being. Young, low-income children are particularly vulnerable to the ill-effects of poverty and associated risk factors. Head Start is the nation's most comprehensive response to the needs of these children. However, recent data suggest that children with emotional and behavioral difficulties are under-identified in Head Start. The present study developed an assessment instrument, based on developmental-ecological theory and sound psychometric principles, to improve Head Start's capacity for early identification of these problems. The assessment instrument developed by the current study, the Adjustment Scales for Preschool Intervention (ASPI), was adapted from the Adjustment Scales for Children and Adolescents (ASCA; McDermott, 1994). Adaptation of the measure for use in Head Start included (a) ensuring age-appropriate and culturally sensitive content, (b) investigating construct validity, (c) investigating concurrent validity, and (d) exploring age and gender variability with respect to ASPI scales. A sample of 829 children enrolled in an urban Head Start program constituted the target population of the study. Results showed that partnerships with Head Start professionals were successful in adapting ASCA content for appropriate use in Head Start. Exploratory principal components analyses revealed five reliable and unique dimensions of emotional and behavioral difficulties: Aggressive, Lethargic/Withdrawn, Reticent, Oppositional, and Inattentive/Hyperactive. These dimensions were related in significant and meaningful ways to other indicators of children's behaviors. Examination of age and gender effects for the five ASPI dimensions revealed that boys showed higher levels of Aggressive behaviors and Inattentive/Hyperactive behaviors than girls. Younger children scored higher on the Lethargic/Withdrawn, Reticent, and Inattentive/Hyperactive dimensions than did older children. In addition to scale development procedures, a teacher survey was conducted as part of this study. This survey was designed to explore teacher beliefs related to the under-identification of adjustment problems in Head Start. Eight categories of teacher responses were found. Implications of these results for Head Start policy and practice are discussed. Specifically, this study provides tools for Head Start programs to implement an effective screening, assessment, and service delivery program for children with adjustment difficulties.

Subject Area

Psychological tests|Preschool education|Educational psychology|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Lutz, Megan Noone, "Contextually relevant assessment of the emotional and behavioral adjustment of Head Start children" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9953561.