REL researchers analyzed data from the 2002/03 Head Start Impact Study (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) using latent class analysis to determine whether multiple measures, each designed to address one aspect of classroom quality, could collectively differentiate classrooms in a consistent and substantively meaningful way. Using data on measures such as structural quality, process quality, teacher-child interactions, and instructional activities, they found that Head Start (n = 1,061) and center-based (n = 421) classrooms may be grouped according to three classroom quality patterns: good, fair, and poor. The researchers also found that classroom quality measures determined by independent observers distinguish classroom quality groups better than self-reported measures.
There are three main implications of this study: (1) it is possible to use multiple dimensions of the classroom experience to identify classroom quality patterns; (2) identifying classroom quality patterns will likely require independent observers; and (3) an individual classroom may not be perfectly characterized by its classroom quality group. This exploratory study, which was supported by the Early Childhood Education Research Alliance, shows an alternative way to measure classroom quality and provides an example of what patterns of classroom quality exist in programs serving Head Start-eligible children across the country—thus informing practitioners about what quality looks like in these settings and adding to the literature regarding measuring quality in early childhood education. Practitioners and policymakers can use the results of this study to inform the way that they measure the quality of their classrooms and to examine further the characteristics and practices of the different groups of classrooms.