KU News Release

Aug. 31, 2011
Contact: Karen Henry, Life Span Institute, 785-864-0756

KU researchers improve effectiveness of Early Head Start

More Information

LAWRENCE — Kansas Early Head Start home visitors in Wyandotte County, Manhattan, Clay Center, Hays and Dodge City saw significant improvement in children’s language development when they used a Web-based “intelligent advisor” system developed at the University of Kansas Juniper Garden’s Children’s Project, a research group working in the Kansas City, Kan., urban core.

Early Head Start receives federal and state funding and is administered locally by community-based programs and schools to provide services for children ages birth to 3 years whose families are at or below the poverty line to improve family functioning and infant and toddler development.

The randomized study was published in the August 2011 issue of “NHSA Dialog: A Research-to-Practice Journal for the Early Childhood Field.”

The Making Online Decisions system, or MOD, is accessible through an interactive Web-based data management system and allows service providers to quickly identify young children whose language development is below age-based expectations, select interventions and monitor the effectiveness of the interventions. Kansas and Missouri Early Head Start programs contributed to the development of the measures and the online data system.

One of these measures, the Early Communication Indicator (ECI), is now used by programs in 22 states and three countries, including 11 Early Head Start programs in Kansas. Early communication was the focus of the MOD study.

Practitioners can compare a child’s status and progress to expected performance through the Child Data System that generates graphs and charts based on frequent six-minute play-based ECI assessments. In the MOD study, the practitioners who did not use the MOD had access to these tools but not the MOD’s intervention recommendations.

The MOD provides practitioners with specific individualized intervention recommendations for family members to use during daily routines to promote their child’s language development.

For example, said Dale Walker, KU associate research professor, parents can increase their child’s vocabulary by commenting on or “labeling” what a young child is doing, playing with, pointing or looking at. The MOD intervention recommendations are largely based on Walker’s Strategies for Promoting Communication and Language of Infants and Toddlers.

The MOD prompts practitioners when a child’s language development is below expectations by automatically generating a graph showing the discrepancy when assessment data is input. If a child’s assessment is within norms, no graph appears.

In the MOD study, the researchers compared infant and toddler’s growth in communication between those receiving MOD services and those receiving standard services without MOD support.

Children who received MOD support had significantly more growth in communication than those who did not have MOD services.

“These results are particularly promising in light of earlier research suggesting that children with early language delays often show similar deficits later in life related to reading and general school readiness,” said Buzhardt.

Buzhardt said the MOD will help early childhood practitioners use data to individualize language interventions for young children whose language is below expected benchmarks for their age.

“There are going to be some children who clearly need more intensive services, like those of a speech-language pathologist, and the MOD can recommend that as well.”

Buzhardt said that the Obama administration has supported the development of evidence-based practices for home visiting early childhood programs and that the MOD contributes to this goal.

“We believe the MOD is a major step forward in providing home visitors and others access to tools that support evidence-based decision making in early childhood services.”

The MOD development and randomized trial were funded through grants from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs' Steppingstones of Technology Innovation program.

The study authors included Buzhardt, Walker, Charles R. Greenwood, KU senior scientist, professor of applied behavioral science and director of the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project in the Children’s Campus of Kansas City.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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