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Evaluation of Preschool Special Education Practices

Contract Information

Current Status:

Analysis and report preparation are underway.


November 2013 – November 2021



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Florida
Vanderbilt University
University of Denver
University of South Florida


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), most recently authorized in 2004, provides funding to states to support special education and related services for children and youth with disabilities, including young children ages 3- through 5-years old. For this young age group, a goal of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities the supports they need to learn the pre-academic, social-emotional, and behavioral readiness skills important for later school success. Currently there is limited information available on the special education supports that young children are receiving and the curricula and interventions being used in inclusive preschool classrooms across states. The objectives of this evaluation are twofold: (1) to provide nationally representative descriptive information about preschool special education programs and the curricula or interventions being delivered to preschool children with disabilities, and (2) to assess the feasibility of a large-scale impact study by conducting an efficacy study piloting the implementation of an intervention program that integrates targeted instructional supports for children with disabilities with an evidence-based curriculum and promotes the language/literacy, and social-emotional skills of children with disabilities in inclusive preschool classrooms.

The evaluation will address the following questions:

  • Which curricula and interventions are used nationally for preschool children with disabilities to promote learning of language, literacy, and social emotional skills?
  • What are the curricula and interventions that recent research demonstrates to have the most promise for improving the literacy, language, and social emotional skills of preschool children with disabilities?
  • In what settings, and using what program structures, are these curricula and interventions being used with preschool children with disabilities?
  • What level of implementation is achieved for the intervention program that integrates targeted instructional supports for children with disabilities with an evidence-based curriculum?
  • What are the intervention program's impacts on the classroom environment and the social-emotional/behavioral skills and language outcomes of children in inclusive preschool classrooms?

All states and a nationally representative sample of district grantees of IDEA funds are included. Information on the programs, curricula, and interventions available to children ages 3 through 5 identified for special education services were collected over two years (from 2015 through 2016) through: (1) surveys of state and district special education administrators collected in spring/summer 2015 and; (2) administrative data on the population of children ages 3 through 5 served under IDEA and state eligibility criteria used to identify children eligible for services under IDEA. Information collected as part of this descriptive study will be analyzed using qualitative and quantitative research methods. The efficacy study will test whether an intervention program integrating targeted instructional supports for children with disabilities with an evidence-based curriculum can be implemented with fidelity in inclusive preschool classrooms. The sample will include approximately 40 inclusive preschool classrooms that will be randomly assigned to implement the intervention program being tested or the regular curriculum and intervention they have been using in the classroom.

Key findings will be available after the study report is published.

The report for the descriptive study is expected in 2019 and will be announced on