Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Rebecca Bulotsky Shearer

Second Committee Member

Daryl Greenfield

Third Committee Member

Christine Delgado

Fourth Committee Member

Heather Henderson

Fifth Committee Member

Neena Malik


Head Start has the strategic opportunity to address the school readiness needs of children from low-income families and to narrow the national achievement gap. Research suggests that targeting domain-general skills during preschool is effective in increasing readiness across multiple domains. Children’s classroom engagement, or how children interact with teachers, peers and tasks in the classroom, is recognized as one such malleable and domain-general skill serving a critical foundation to supporting academic development. However, children enter the classroom with unique sets (or profiles) of competencies and needs in their ability to engage successfully in the classroom. Research is needed to examine children’s engagement profiles so teachers have tools to identify the children in greatest need of intervention before they transition to kindergarten. This study used observations of 527 children’s engagement with teachers, peers and tasks to identify their membership in engagement profiles. Specifically, this study used a latent profile approach to analyze data collected through a larger University-Head Start partnership research project. This study extends prior work in several important ways. First, by using a child-centered analytic approach to identify profiles of children’s classroom engagement within a culturally and linguistically diverse sample of Head Start children. Second, by examining whether children’s patterns of classroom engagement changed across a year in Head Start and whether child- and classroom-level factors were associated with that change. Finally, by examining differential associations between patterns of engagement and gains in academic skills. Results revealed three unique profiles of children’s classroom engagement, positively engaged, independently engaged, and negatively engaged, that remained stable across the year (structural stability). A majority of children in the sample (60%) remained in qualitatively similar profiles across the year, whereas 40% transitioned to qualitatively different profiles. Most children ended the year in the independently engaged profile. Child age, sex, ethnicity and classroom emotional and instructional support were significant predictors of children’s transition pattern membership; remaining in the negatively engaged profile across the year was associated with greater academic difficulty. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.


Classroom engagement; Latent Profile Analysis; Latent Transition Analysis; School Readiness; Head Start