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The Essential 0-5 Survey

The research behind The Essential 0-5 Survey, a measurement system that acts as a catalyst for program improvement.

Research on early childhood education has demonstrated that children, families and staff thrive when organizations invest in teams. When we shift the focus out of the individual classroom and onto high-quality organizational conditions, we can help teams become stronger in the areas most critical for child outcomes and drive lasting system change. With that in mind, Start Early collaborated with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research to create, pilot and test The Essential 0-5 Survey framework and surveys.

The Essential 0-5 Survey measurement system offers educators three powerful resources to understand the strength and quality of their organization and catalyze program improvement: teacher/staff and parent surveys, user-friendly reports and data, and a data-use and improvement toolkit.

Our research team tested and evaluated whether The Essential 0-5 Survey captures reliable and valid information about the organizational quality of early education programs. The results confirmed the reliability of the surveys across school- and center-based settings. Responses also aligned with survey scores on teacher-child interaction quality and attendance outcomes, confirming that the surveys provide valuable information for measuring organizational effectiveness.

Looking ahead to additional applications of The Essential 0-5 Survey, our team has adapted them for use in infant-toddler settings as well. To date, these birth-to-age 2 versions of the surveys have been piloted within Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership programs in Colorado, Florida and the District of Columbia. Our team is in the process of analyzing the pilot survey data for a validation study in 2020, before broader release in the field.

Key Findings

  • Reliability
    • All the measures on the surveys were reliable. Many measures were sensitive enough to detect differences between sites. The surveys did not have strong bias toward either school- or community-based early childhood education (ECE) sites; or English or Spanish speakers (on the parent survey).
  • Validity
    • Most, but not all, Essential scores were significantly related to site-level outcomes including teacher-child interactions and children’s attendance.
    • Neither Ambitious Instruction nor Parent Voice scores were significantly related to either outcome measured. Researchers will continue to refine the survey tool and parent survey.
  • “Practical” Validation
    • Interview and observation evidence confirmed that The Essential 0-5 Survey differentiates between ECE programs. Staff and families in sites with high and low survey responses provided qualitatively different descriptions and experiences of organizational climate and conditions.

Publications & Resources

Note: Research and reports published prior to 2020 refer to The Essential 0-5 Survey as the Early Education Essentials.

Research & Evaluation Team & Collaborators


  • Anonymous Funder
  • Crown Family Philanthropies
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • The Joyce Foundation
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  • Pritzker Children’s Initiative