PreK=-3rd Data Resource Center: The First Six Years of Schooling and Beyond


About the Guide

This resource guide provides a brief overview of the Pre-Elementary Education Longitudinal Study (PEELS) and instructions for obtaining the restricted-use PEELS datasets. PEELS users should refer to the National Center for Special Education Research's PEELS data webpage, which provides greater detail on the topics discussed below.

About the Data

The Pre-Elementary Education Longitudinal Study (PEELS) was funded by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). It followed a nationally representative sample of 3,104 children with disabilities (physical, mental, emotional, etc.), who were 3 through 5 years of age when the study began in 2003-04, for a period of six years. This study was designed to describe the characteristics of children receiving preschool special education, their educational programs and services, and their transitions from preschool programs to elementary schools. The study examined the achievement of students with disabilities in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school and determined the factors associated with this achievement.

Information on children with disabilities and their families was gathered through parent/guardian interviews, child assessments, and teacher and service provider questionnaires. In addition, information was collected through mail questionnaires from each child's preschool program director or school principal, local educational agency (LEA), and state educational agency (SEA). PEELS data are weighted to generate national estimates; therefore, the results can be generalized to the entire U.S. population of children with disabilities, ages 3-5.


This resource guide was prepared by Sara C. Lazaroff, ICPSR. It was developed for the PreK-3rd Data Resource Center: The First Six Years of Schooling and Beyond, a website hosted by ICPSR with support from the Foundation for Child Development.


PEELS drew a national sample of children with any disabilities, ages 3-5. The sample was selected by age, not by grade, so some of the children were in kindergarten, while others were in preschool, day care, or at home. The children may or may not have received early intervention services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C.

PEELS used a two-stage sample design to obtain a nationally-representative sample of 3- to 5-year-olds receiving special education services. In the first stage, a national sample of local education agencies (LEAs) was selected. In the second stage, a sample of preschoolers with disabilities was selected from lists of eligible children provided by the participating LEAs.

In 2001, SRI International, the contractor for the design work on PEELS, selected 2,752 LEAs from the universe of LEAs serving preschoolers with disabilities. The sample was stratified by Census Region, estimated preschool special education enrollment size, and district poverty level. It was then divided into subsamples. The contractor recruited from the minimum number of subsamples possible to secure participation from 210 LEAs, the target number needed to generate a sufficient number of children in the second stage sample. Ultimately, 709 LEAs were contacted during recruitment, and 245 LEAs agreed to participate.

Because the initial recruitment occurred in 2001, and data collection did not begin until 2003, Westat, the contractor for the implementation phase, re-contacted the participating LEAs to confirm their willingness to participate. In spring 2003, forty-six of the 245 LEAs recruited in 2001 dropped out of the study. The 199 remaining LEAs confirmed their participation and began to supply Westat with the lists of preschool children receiving special education services. Participating districts in the combined sample submitted lists of eligible children, from which the sample of children was selected. There are three age cohorts in PEELS: Cohort A is comprised of 3-year-olds; Cohort B of 4-year-olds, and Cohort C of 5-year-olds, defined in table 1.

Table 1. Definition of PEELS age cohorts

Cohort Age at Entry into PEELS Date of birth
A 3 years old 3/1/00 - 2/28/01
B 4 years old 3/1/99 - 2/29/00
C 5 years old 3/1/98 - 2/28/99

Site coordinators were responsible for determining whether sampled children were eligible and, if so, invited their parents or guardians to participate in PEELS. While some family recruitment began in summer 2003, it began in earnest in fall 2004. Signed consent forms were received from 2,678 families in the main sample.

Data Collection

The PEELS design called for five waves of data collection during the 6 years from 2003-04 to 2008-09. Data were collected through several different instruments and activities, including a telephone interview with the participating children's parents/guardians, direct one-on-one assessment of participating children, and mail questionnaires to the teacher or service provider of each child. Additionally, questionnaires were mailed to program/school-, LEA-, and state-level administrators to obtain contextual information about service environments. Please refer to table 2 for the data collection schedule.

Table 2. PEELS data collection schedule

Instrument Wave 1
Wave 2
Wave 3
Wave 4
2007-2008 Wave 5
Parent/guardian interview X X X X
Child assessment X X X X X
SEA questionnaire X
LEA questionnaire X X
Principal/program director questionnaire X X X
Teacher questionnaire X X X X

Parent/Guardian Interview

A parent/guardian of each child in the sample was asked to complete a 1-hour computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) about the participating child's health and disability, behavior, school programs and services, special education and related services, child care, and out-of-school activities. Respondents also were asked a series of questions about their household, its resources, and family background.

Assessment Instruments

The direct child assessment averaged about 40-60 minutes and included the following subtests:

  • preLAS 2000 Simon Says (Duncan & De Avila 1998)
  • preLAS 2000 Art Show (Duncan & De Avila 1998)
  • Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (Dunn & Dunn 1997)
  • Woodcock-Johnson III: Letter-Word Identification (Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather 2001)
  • Woodcock-Johnson III: Quantitative Concepts (Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather 2001)
  • Woodcock-Johnson III: Applied Problems (Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather 2001)
  • Leiter-R Attention Sustained Scale (Roid & Miller, 1995, 1997)
  • Individual Growth and Development Indicators: Picture Naming (ECRI MGD 2004)
  • Individual Growth and Development Indicators: Alliteration (ECRI MGD 2004)
  • Test of Early Math Skills (US HHS 2005b)
  • Individual Growth and Development Indicators: Rhyming (ECRI MGD 2004)
  • Individual Growth and Development Indicators: Segment Blending (ECRI MGD 2004)

Mail Questionnaires

PEELS included several mail questionnaires:

  1. The State Education Agency Policy and Practices Questionnaire, which was sent to state preschool special education coordinators, listed a number of program areas and requested information about the state's strengths, weaknesses, and work toward improvement in these areas.

  2. The Local Education Agency Policy and Practices Questionnaire was sent to local directors of special education. It was used to collect information on LEA enrollment figures and demographics, availability of preschool programs for nondisabled children, use of various preschool special education service settings, and interagency agreements related to preschoolers with disabilities.

  3. The Elementary School Principal Questionnaire or Early Childhood Program Director Questionnaire was sent to principals or program directors, as appropriate, of the children's schools/ programs. These questionnaires ask about school/program and community characteristics, student characteristics, staff, programs, and resources; special education programs and practices, and parent involvement.

  4. Two versions of the teacher questionnaire were used in Wave 1, the Early Childhood Teacher Questionnaire (for children not yet in kindergarten) and the Kindergarten Teacher Questionnaire. An Elementary Teacher Questionnaire for children in grades 1 and higher was added in Wave 2. All three teacher questionnaires ask about the specific child named on the inside cover and the child's experiences in the class or program. Questionnaire items address classroom staffing and materials, interaction with nondisabled peers, teachers' philosophies of early childhood education, and children's transitions in and out of their current programs. The teacher questionnaires also include the following teacher rating scales (indirect assessments): three subtests of the ABAS-II--Functional (Pre) Academics, Self-Care, and Self-Direction; the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales Classroom Edition, Motor Skills Domain; and the Preschool and Kindergarten Behavior Scales, Second Edition. The Kindergarten Teacher Questionnaire also includes an Academic Rating Scale (ARS).


Because PEELS includes a nationally representative sample of local education agencies (LEAs) and children with disabilities, ages 3-5, weighted estimates reflect the characteristics of the population, not the sample. Weight selection varies depending on which waves are selected for analysis. A detailed description of the weights is available in the Appendix of each Wave's report at the National Center for Special Education Research's PEELS publications webpage.

How to Obtain Data
and Documentation Files

Downloading Data and Documentation from the National Center for Education Statistics

Researchers interested in downloading documentation files can do so free of charge through the National Center for Special Education Research's PEELS publications webpage. Data from the Pre-Elementary Education Longitudinal Study (PEELS) are made available through the National Center for Special Education Research's PEELS data webpage. All PEELS datasets are restricted and accessing these files requires a restricted use agreement. To gain access to the PEELS restricted-use datasets, contact the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Data Security Office at or visit IES/NCES will accept restricted-use data license applications only through their Electronic Application System. Any license application that does not come through this system will be returned to the applicant. More information about applying for a license is available in the online application system instructions and in their Restricted-Use Data Procedures Manual.

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