Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Follow-Up of Children from Academic and Cognitive Preschool Curricula at Age 9

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Follow-Up of Children from Academic and Cognitive Preschool Curricula at Age 9

Article excerpt

Early childhood special education is undergoing substantial changes in curriculum models (e.g., Carta, Schwartz, Atwater, & McConnell, 1991; Mallory, 1992). Challenges are mounting to approaches that have historically been considered appropriate for use with young children with disabilities, and educators and researchers are advocating quite different theoretical approaches. Some of the key aspects that vary across contrasting intervention models are the instructional content (e.g., specific academic goals vs. broad cognitive processes); the roles of the child and teacher (i.e., teacher as initiator vs. responder); types of reinforcement (i.e., secondary reinforcers vs. natural consequences); response requirements placed on the child by the teacher (eliciting responses vs. modeling); educational context (predetermined stimulus materials vs. natural context); and pacing of teaching opportunity (discrete blocks of instruction time vs. dispersed instruction based on opportunity and child's interest). These contrasts are often grouped under the broader debate of "early childhood special education" versus "developmentally appropriate practice." They are really a continuation in only slightly modified form of older debates about academic versus cognitive focus, and about direct versus cognitive instruction (Carta et al., 1991).

Despite the passion surrounding these debates (Heshusius, 1991) and their potential importance for the education of young children with disabilities, there is a shortage of valid evaluation data. As Dale and Cole (1988) wrote,

Progress in the education of handicapped children can come only from a reciprocal interaction between theoretical innovations and a careful evaluation of the effectiveness of models when they are actually implemented in programs. The experience of recent decades suggests, perhaps surprisingly, that innovations may be more easily implemented than evaluated. (p. 439)

To a considerable extent, the situation remains as it was 5 years ago. For the largest proportion of empirical examinations of preschool efficacy, study subjects have comprised disadvantaged or at-risk children (e.g., Lazar & Darlington, 1982); and the generalizability of results from this subset of the typically developing population to children with early identifiable disabilities is questionable (O'Connor, Jenkins, Cole, & Mills, 1993).

Children with disabilities have only rarely found main-effect differences resulting from curricula that differ along the dimensions described previously (Cole, Dale, Mills, & Jenkins, 1993; Yoder, Kaiser, & Alpert, 1991). For example, Cole et al. (1993) observed no main-effect differences between two highly contrasting preschool programs after 1 year of intervention for children randomly assigned to the programs.

Although main-effect differences appear to be uncommon, several recent studies have found aptitude-by-treatment interactions, whereby the efficacy of specific treatment programs was dependent on the children's abilities prior to intervention. Both Cole et al. (1993) and Yoder et al. (1991) found that children with relatively lower cognitive or language abilities at pretest performed better in interactive curricula, and children with relatively higher ability performed better in direct-instruction models. These findings suggest that one curriculum may not be best for all children and that it may be possible to match a program to the individual needs of a child.

The aptitude-by-treatment interactions observed by Cole et al. and Yoder et al. were produced over intervention periods of 1 year or less. Little information is available regarding the long-term effects of different curricular approaches in early childhood special education, either for overall program effects or for aptitude-by-treatment interactions. Yet a major goal of early intervention, perhaps the major goal, is the establishment of a learning base that facilitates long-term development. …

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