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Evaluation of Preschool Special Education Practices (EPSEP)

Contract Information

Current Status:

Data collection is underway.


November 2013 – November 2022



Contract Number:



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


Experiences in early childhood programs can help young children, including those with disabilities, develop skills important for classroom learning. But many children need help to strengthen their social-emotional skills and facilitate their engagement in classroom activities. Currently, there is limited evidence on how to effectively integrate these kinds of supports into the general curriculum, particularly in classrooms where children with disabilities are served alongside their peers as promoted by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This study will test the efficacy of a coordinated set of evidence-based strategies, with multiple levels of intensity depending on student needs. The approach includes programs for classroom-wide instruction of social and emotional skills and supports targeting children who demonstrate risk for social-emotional delays or persistent behavior challenges with the general preschool curriculum. If the efficacy study shows promise, a large-scale impact evaluation may be conducted in the future.

The evaluation will address the following questions:

  • Are teachers able to successfully implement a new approach that integrates targeted instructional supports for children who demonstrate risk for social-emotional delays or persistent behavior challenges with instruction for all children?
  • What are the impacts of this approach on the classroom environment and the social-emotional, behavioral, and language skills of children with and without disabilities inclusive preschool classrooms?

To help plan for the efficacy study, the study collected descriptive information in spring/summer 2015 on the programs, curricula, and extra supports available to children ages 3 through 5 identified for special education services. This collection was based on surveys of state agency staff coordinating grants and services under IDEA Part B Section 619 and a nationally representative sample of district preschool special education coordinators. The study will randomly assign 34 inclusive preschool classrooms in 29 schools from three districts to either receive training and coaching support to implement the study's program integration approach or continue with the teachers' regular program and practices. The addition and integration of the programs will begin in 2019 and data on participating preschool students will be collected for 2 school years. These data include documentation of training to teachers, classroom observations to assess how program components are being implemented, teacher surveys, and measures of children's social skills.

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

Data tables have been released from the national surveys. The tables highlight how preschool special education programs are structured, where and when children with disabilities receive services, the extent to which children with disabilities are educated in schools and classrooms along with their peers, and the curricula, programs, strategies, and practices used to support instruction of preschool children with disabilities. Tables also provide information on district-required qualifications to teach preschool and the professional development available to preschool teachers.

Characteristics of Preschool Special Education Services and Practices (August 2020)

A restricted-use file containing survey data is available for the purposes of replicating study findings and secondary analysis.

The report for the efficacy study is expected in 2022 and will be announced on