[Federal Register: September 30, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 189)]
[Page 61441-61444]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

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Part III

Department of Education


Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research; Notice

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Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research

AGENCY: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Department of 

ACTION: Notice of proposed priority.


SUMMARY: The Assistant Secretary proposes a priority for Preschool 
Curriculum Evaluation Research (PCER). The Assistant Secretary may use 
this priority for competitions in fiscal year (FY) 2003 and in later 
fiscal years. We take this action to implement rigorous evaluations of 
preschool curricula that will provide information to support informed 
choices of classroom curricula for early childhood programs. We intend 
this priority to focus support on research that will determine, through 
randomized clinical trials, whether one or more curricula produce 
educationally meaningful effects on children.

DATES: We must receive your comments on or before October 30, 2002.

ADDRESSES: Address all comments about this proposed priority to Heidi 
Schweingruber, U.S. Department of Education, 555 New Jersey Avenue, 
NW., room 602-c, Washington, DC 20208-5501. You may fax your comments 
to (202) 219-1402. If you prefer to send your comments through the 
Internet, use the following address: heidi.schweingruber@ed.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Heidi Schweingruber. Telephone: (202) 
219-2040 or via the Internet, heidi.schweingruber@ed.gov.
    If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDY), you may 
call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339.
    Individuals with disabilities may obtain this document in an 
alternative format (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, or computer 
diskette) on request to the contact person listed under FOR FURTHER 


Invitation To Comment

    We invite you to submit comments regarding this proposed priority. 
We also invite you to assist us in complying with the specific 
requirements of Executive Order 12866 and its overall requirement of 
reducing regulatory burden that might result from this proposed 
priority. Please let us know of any further opportunities we should 
take to reduce potential costs or increase potential benefits while 
preserving the effective and efficient administration of the program.
    During and after the comment period, you may inspect all public 
comments about this proposed priority in room 602-c, 555 New Jersey 
Avenue, NW., Washington, DC, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., 
Eastern time, Monday through Friday of each week except Federal 

Assistance to Individuals With Disabilities in Reviewing the Rulemaking 

    On request, we will supply an appropriate aid, such as a reader or 
print magnifier, to an individual with a disability who needs 
assistance to review the comments or other documents in the public 
rulemaking record for this proposed priority. If you want to schedule 
an appointment for this type of aid, please contact the person listed 

General Information

    The Secretary believes that research that provides evidence about 
the effectiveness of preschool curricula for supporting school 
readiness is essential to improving educational opportunity for all 
    The proposed priority is based on responses to the first PCER 
competition held in FY 2002. In reviewing the content of applications 
and feedback from applicants, we have revised the priority. For 
background information, you may view the original notice soliciting 
applications for the FY 2002 PCER competition on the Internet at: 
    We will announce the final priority in a notice in the Federal 
Register. We will determine the final priority after considering 
responses to this notice and other information available to the 
Department. This notice does not preclude us from proposing or funding 
additional priorities, subject to meeting applicable rulemaking 

    Note: This notice does not solicit applications. In any year in 
which we choose to use this proposed priority, we invite 
applications through a notice in the Federal Register. When inviting 
applications we designate the priority as absolute, competitive 
preference, or invitational. The effect of each type of priority 
    Absolute priority: Under an absolute priority we consider only 
applications that meet the priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(3)).
    Competitive preference priority: Under a competitive preference 
priority we give competitive preference to an application by either 
(1) awarding additional points, depending on how well or the extent 
to which the application meets the competitive priority (34 CFR 
75.105(c)(2)(i)); or (2) selecting an application that meets the 
competitive priority over an application of comparable merit that 
does not meet the priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(2)(ii)).
    Invitational priority: Under an invitational priority we are 
particularly interested in applications that meet the invitational 
priority. However, we do not give an application that meets the 
invitational priority a competitive or absolute preference over 
other applications (34 CFR 75.105(c)(1)).


Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research

    The importance of early child-care and preschool experiences in 
supporting cognitive development and other skills essential to a 
successful transition into school is a focus of the administration's 
early childhood initiative--Good Start, Grow Smart. This initiative 
calls attention to the need for preschool programs to enhance their 
instructional content in order to ensure that young children start 
school with the skills that will lead to continued academic success.
    The evidence that would allow informed choices of classroom 
curricula for early childhood programs is weak. Rigorous preschool 
program evaluations that exist are for programs designed and delivered 
decades ago. The results from historical evaluations of preschool 
curricula and current research on the learning and development of young 
children provide some insights into general features of successful 
preschool programs. However, they give little guidance for selecting 
from among the ever-expanding list of available preschool curricula. 
The proposed priority is intended to address the lack of rigorous, 
systematic evaluation of preschool curricula currently in use.
    PCER is intended to build on recent initiatives aimed at evaluating 
the preschool experiences of children. These initiatives include The 
Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) undertaken by Head Start, 
and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten (ECLS-K) and 
the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), both 
ongoing projects of the National Center for Education Statistics within 
    The outcomes of greatest interest to PCER are those skills that are 
most highly predictive of academic success in the early years of 
elementary school and that are most amenable to influence by factors 
within the realm of classroom curricula and practice. These outcomes 
include language development, pre-

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reading and pre-math abilities, cognition, general knowledge, and 
social competence.
    The curricula of primary interest to PCER are those with sufficient 
standardized training procedures and published curriculum materials to 
support implementation of the curriculum by entities other than, and at 
a distance from, the curriculum developers. In addition, the curricula 
of interest to PCER are those that focus on the child outcomes 
described in the preceding paragraph and those with instructional 
approaches supported in the scientific literature on learning and 
    An applicant is not expected to compare different well-articulated, 
well-implemented preschool curricula, though we do not discourage 
these. Rather, we anticipate that the typical applicant will propose to 
implement a well-articulated, well-implemented curriculum and compare 
it to the prevailing approach, which is likely to be a home-grown, 
unlabeled preschool experience that lacks specific instructional goals 
and a detailed curriculum.
    PCER is not intended to support the development of new curricula, 
nor to support research on interventions for children from birth to 3 
years of age. These efforts are the focus of other programs of research 
to be sponsored by other Federal agencies participating in the 
Interagency Task Force in Early Childhood Development.
    Grantees would coordinate with a national evaluation coordinator, 
funded separately by OERI, to ensure that evaluations carried out in 
different locations follow consistent protocols and use a core set of 
comparable measures. The cross-site data collected by the national 
coordinator would be returned to grantees in a timely manner for their 
own use. For the purposes of planning proposed studies and calculating 
participant burden, a full listing of the measures and procedures used 
in the 2002-2003 PCER data collection can be found at: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://pcer.rti.org.
Description of Priority
    Each applicant must propose to (a) implement one or more pre-
kindergarten (pre-K) curricula, with attention to fidelity of the 
curriculum implementation; and (b) coordinate with a national 
coordinator the assessment of children and classrooms in the fall and 
spring of the pre-K year, and in the spring of the kindergarten and 
first grade year.
    (a) Specifically, an applicant must--
    (1) Provide a letter of cooperation from participating preschool 
programs for the purposes of conducting the research. In the letter of 
cooperation, representatives of the preschool would have to clearly 
indicate and accept the responsibilities associated with participating 
in the study. These responsibilities must include--
    (i) Agreement to provide a sufficient number of preschool sites and 
classrooms to participate in the study; and
    (ii) Agreement to the random assignment of children or classrooms 
to the curriculum being evaluated versus one or more comparison 
    (2) Provide an on-site coordinator to manage all aspects of data 
collection, curriculum implementation, and interaction with the 
national coordinator;
    (3) Be prepared to obtain informed consent of parents of children 
participating in the study, and of all teachers and other 
administrators from whom data will be collected;
    (4) Be prepared to provide all necessary materials and professional 
development to teachers and staff to implement the curriculum to be 
evaluated in the intervention classrooms;
    (5) Be prepared to make all on-site arrangements necessary for the 
national coordinator to assess participating children and classrooms;
    (6) Be prepared to conduct face-to-face interviews with parents and 
provide incentives for parent participation in the interviews;
    (7) Be prepared to work with the national evaluation contractor for 
the collection of cross-site data, in coordination with any local data 
collection activities; and
    (8) Be prepared to send at least one representative to attend up to 
two meetings each year of all of the grantees, national coordinator, 
and Federal staff. The applicant's budget must include travel funds for 
these purposes.
    (b) An applicant must also do the following:
    (1) Be able to guarantee access to a minimum of 10 classrooms with 
a total of 150 children. The national coordinator can accommodate data 
collection using the core PCER battery for a maximum of 20 classrooms 
and 300 children for each applicant. An applicant that proposes to 
include more than this maximum must include the costs of additional 
data collection in its budget.
    (2) Propose to include only children who are of an age in the first 
year of the study to be eligible for entrance into public kindergarten 
in the second year.
    (3) Either focus on preschools that serve children from low-income 
backgrounds or assure that these children are present in significant 
numbers within the preschool classrooms that are sampled.
    (4) Employ random assignment in the evaluation design. A preschool 
program that is to be a site for curriculum implementation must agree 
to cooperate fully with the random assignment as a condition for the 
applicant to receive an award.
    To facilitate random assignment, we encourage applicants to 
consider the use of incentives for schools and families. These may 
include, but are not limited to: compensation for additional preschool 
staff time required to cooperate with the research effort; funding for 
a new classroom; provision of additional resources to enable a program 
to conduct new activities; securing vehicles for transportation; and 
stipends to families.
    (5) Provide a convincing rationale for its intervention being 
likely to improve children's outcomes compared with the practices used 
in the control or comparison conditions. In this regard and for all the 
projects, we require a reasonable assumption that children in the 
intervention classrooms will experience neutral to positive outcomes--
rather than negative outcomes--compared with children in the control 
    (6) Follow children who participate in studies of PCER curricula 
that generate educationally meaningful effects at the end of the pre-K 
year into kindergarten and first grade. The national coordinator will 
assess all children at follow-up in both the intervention and control 
or comparison conditions. However, each grantee would be responsible 
for making arrangements for these assessments, including obtaining 
parental permission and negotiating access to children for testing in 
their schools.
    The applicant must address how it will provide access to children 
for follow-up testing. The grantee would also be responsible for 
conducting interviews with parents, using the established PCER parent 
interview, each time children and classrooms are assessed by the 
national coordinator.
    (c) Evaluation Design: The applicant must propose an evaluation 
design that includes the following:
    (1) A description of the control condition and the intervention 
condition or conditions.
    (2) An explanation of procedures for random assignment and 
discussion of procedures for tracking fidelity to the assignment and 
potential sources of contamination.

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    (3) The logic of sampling so as to capture, to the degree possible, 
diversity in the preschool population to be studied. Core variables an 
applicant should consider for capturing diversity include: race, 
ethnicity status or language status or both; household income; and 
parental education.
    (4) A discussion of possible variations in the structure of the 
participating preschool program or programs (part-day or full day, 
public or private, profit or non-profit, etc.) and how the applicant 
will take these variations into consideration in the evaluation design.
    (5) A discussion of how the applicant will document implementation 
of and fidelity to the curriculum.
    (d) Partners and consultants: An applicant that is not a research 
organization must obtain the services of at least one consultant who is 
an established researcher and who has committed enough time to the 
project to assure the integrity of the local evaluation and to 
participate in all required meetings.
    An applicant that is a research organization may involve curriculum 
developers or distributors in the project, from having the curriculum 
developers as full partners in its proposal to using off-the-shelf 
curriculum materials without involvement of the developer or publisher. 
Involvement of the curriculum developer or distributor must not 
jeopardize the objectivity of the evaluation and must not involve a 
level of professional training or support for the curriculum that rises 
above that available to ordinary adopters of the curriculum.
    In addition, an applicant that is a commercial curriculum developer 
must indicate in the budget summary the value of any nonfederal 
resources that would be devoted to the research project, such as their 
curriculum products.

Additional Considerations

    In any given year, the Secretary may, in the application notice, do 
either or both of the following:
    (a) Give competitive preference to applicants proposing to evaluate 
preschool curricula not currently under study by existing PCER 
    (b) Request or require proposals that incorporate complementary 
research studies to further knowledge of the mechanisms by which 
curricula support children's learning. The complementary research may 
address a range of issues related broadly to curriculum effectiveness, 
such as the impact of curriculum implementation on preschool staff, the 
influence of individual differences in children on program impact, the 
development of instrumentation, or other related topics.
    Complementary research provides an opportunity to identify outcomes 
that, because of data constraints, are not explored in the core 
evaluation or are specific to an individual site. It expands the 
possibilities for multiple measures of the same variable, and for the 
development of new measures. Complementary research designs may involve 
continued pre-K implementations and ongoing research in the pre-K 
setting for some or all years of the grant while children in the first 
cohort are being followed into first grade.
    Two areas of complementary research are of particular interest:
    (1) Studies that address how individual or background differences 
in children interact with the curriculum to influence developmental 
outcomes. These studies would address the question: For which children 
under which conditions is the curriculum most successful?
    (2) Studies that compare different versions of the curriculum or 
different approaches to implementation in order to identify key 
features of the curriculum and approaches that might improve 
effectiveness and ease of implementation. These studies would address 
the question: Under what circumstances does the curriculum achieve the 
greatest impact?

Intergovernmental Review

    This program is not subject to Executive Order 12372 and the 
regulations in 34 CFR part 79.

Electronic Access to This Document

    You may view this document, as well as all other Department of 
Education documents published in the Federal Register, in text or Adobe 
Portable Document Format (PDF) on the Internet at the following site: 
    To use PDF, you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is available 
free at this site. If you have questions about using PDF, call the U.S. 
Government Printing Office (GPO), toll free, at 1-888-293-6498; or in 
the Washington, DC area at (202) 512-1530.

    Note: The official version of this document is the document 
published in the Federal Register. Free Internet access to the 
official edition of the Federal Register and the Code of Federal 
Regulations is available on GPO Access at: http://

(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number 84.305J Preschool 
Curriculum Evaluation Research Program)

    Program Authority: 20 U.S.C. 6031.

    Dated: September 24, 2002.
Grover J. Whitehurst,
Assistant Secretary for Educational Research and Improvement.
[FR Doc. 02-24656 Filed 9-27-02; 8:45 am]