Ann S. Epstein, Ph.D., Director, Early Childhood Division
Lawrence J. Schweinhart, Ph.D., President
Andrea DeBruin-Parecki, Ph. D., Director, Early Childhood Reading Institute Purpose of Paper
This paper addresses the many questions the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation has received about testing four-year-olds. Our reasons for sharing this paper with early childhood practitioners, policymakers, and parents is three-fold: (a) to provide basic information about the terms and issues surrounding assessment; (b) to add an empirical and pragmatic perspective to what can sometimes be an impassioned debate; and (c) to affirm our commitment to doing what is best for young children and supporting those who develop the programs and policies that serve them.
High/Scope believes child assessment is a vital and necessary component of all high quality early childhood programs. Assessment is important to understand and support young children’s development. It is also essential to document and evaluate how effectively programs are meeting their educational needs, in the broadest sense of this term. For assessment to occur, it must be feasible. That is, it must meet reasonable criteria regarding its efficiency, cost, and so on. If assessment places an undue burden on programs or evaluators, it will not be undertaken at all and the lack of data will hurt all concerned. In addition to feasibility, however, assessment must also meet the demands of ecological validity. The assessment must addresses the criteria outlined below for informing us about what children in real programs are learning and doing every day. Efficiency and ecological validity are not mutually exclusive, but must sometimes be balanced against one another. Our challenge is to find the best balance under the conditions given and, when necessary, to work toward altering those conditions. Practically speaking, this means we must continue to serve children using research-based practices, fulfill mandates to secure program resources, and improve assessment procedures to better realize our ideal. This paper sets forth the criteria to be considered in striving to make early childhood assessment adhere to these highest standards.
The concern with assessment in the early childhood field is not new. Decades of debate are summarized in the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) publication Reaching Potentials: Appropriate Curriculum and Assessment for Young Children (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992). This position statement has just been expanded in a new document titled Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation: Building an Effective, Accountable System in Programs for Children Birth through Age 8 (www.naeyc.org/resources/position_statements/pscape.asp).
What is new in this ongoing debate is the heightened attention to testing young children as a means of holding programs accountable for their learning. Assessment in the Classroom (Airasian, 2002) offers the following definitions:
Assessment is the process of collecting, synthesizing, and interpreting information to aid classroom decision-making. It includes information gathered about pupils, instruction, and classroom climate.
Testing is a formal, systematic procedure for gathering a sample of pupils’ behavior. The results of a test are used to make generalizations about how pupils would have performed in similar but untested behaviors.
Testing is one form of assessment. It usually involves a series of direct requests to children to perform, within a set period of time, specific tasks designed and administered by adults, with predetermined correct answers. By contrast, alternative forms of assessment may be completed either by adults or children, are more open-ended, and often look at performance over an extended period of time. Examples include objective observations, portfolio analyses of...