Addressing School Readiness: Expanding School Psychology in Early Education

Article excerpt

Abstract. Historically, the school psychologist's work in early education has been restricted primarily to providing services to young children with special education needs. A more contemporary model calls for an expanded role with a focus on school readiness and the provision of services to all young children and their families in a prevention-oriented approach that is likely to maximize efforts to improve educational and social outcomes. Guided by best practices in school psychology, school psychologists can assist parents and early educators in taking a deliberate and intentional role in facilitating child development. By acting as a liaison between the school system and early childhood settings, school psychologists can assist schools in preparing to meet the diverse needs of their youngest students and can assist early childhood educators in better preparing children for school entry (Carlton & Winsler, 1999). The purpose of this article is to discuss an expanded role for school psychologists in early education within the context of school readiness and organized around the domains of assessment, consultation, and intervention. In addressing each of these domains, applications of best practices in school psychology are presented, with modifications relevant to early education and research highlighted to illustrate the potential contributions of collaborative efforts of school psychology and early education. Finally, challenges to this contemporary model are discussed.

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More than ever, children between birth and the age of 5 years are exposed to educational experiences before formal schooling in some type of structured setting (Lombardi, 2003; National Institute for Early Education Research, 2003). Historically, young children have participated in structured preschool experiences as a result of an identified disability (e.g., Part H [now known as Part C] of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which has served roughly 5% of the preschool population since 1986) or as part of a compensatory program (e.g., Head Start, which has served roughly 50% of preschool-aged children living in poverty since 1965). In 1999, however, almost 65% of all children ages 3-5 years participated in some type of center-based preschool, with 46% of 3-year-olds, 69% of 4-year-olds, and 76% of 5-year-olds enrolled in programs (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2000).

Regular amendments to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act have ensured continued delivery of services to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities and renewal of Head Start funding has allowed for continued programming for children at risk and living in poverty. Other federal legislation, such as No Child Left Behind and Good Start Grow Smart: The Bush Administration's Early Childhood Initiative (2002), has recognized the need to include all young children in service delivery and promoted strengthening the quality of early childhood education services. State initiatives have promoted universal preschool, which "refers to the goal of making available to families of all 3- and 4-year-olds a program of services that provides high quality education for children and helps to prepare them for a successful entry to kindergarten" (Bailey, 2002, p. 3). As of fiscal year 2000, 32 states and the District of Columbia had state-funded preschool initiatives (Gilliam & Ripple, 2004).

Although increasing numbers of children are accessing educational opportunities before kindergarten, there are tremendous differences in the types and qualities of preschool experiences available. In the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care, fewer than 20% of preschool centers offered care highly characteristic of positive caregiving (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network, 1996). Across states providing preschool, program components such as teacher qualifications, in-service training requirements, technical assistance, and collaboration with other service providers vary (Gilliam & Ripple, 2004), potentially affecting the quality of the services provided. …