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Evolving Field on Early Childhood Assessment

Useful new report from NAEYC outlines key considerations in implementing Kindergarten entry and other large scale assessments for young children. It's a very thorough and informative piece and is, given the subject matter, shockingly clearly written. I particularly liked this refreshingly truthful discussion of standardized assessment:

In early childhood, there is great sensitivity to the idea of "standardized assessment." The popular concern is that of very young children completing paper and pencil assessments en masse, similar to perceptions of large-scale standardized assessments used for older children. The use of this type of assessment is not appropriate for young children. However, the concept of standardization is relevant. Briefly, standardization means that an assessment is administered in the same way, each time it is administered (regardless of who is delivering and who is responding to the assessment). Violating standardization certainly undermines the assessment's reliability, but also threatens its validity.

That NAEYC put this report out at all is noteworthy, and demonstrates how the positioning of the early childhood field on assessment and accountability is evolving. When the Bush administration bungled the National Reporting System in the early 2000s, I was convinced that it had set the cause of collecting solid outcome measures for early childhood programs back for quite a long time. But Early Learning Challenge and the policies that this administration has adopted to implement the 2007 Head Start reauthorization actually place a strong emphasis on the importance of assessment in early childhood, both within programs to inform instruction and better support children, and at a state/system/program level to monitor progress and drive policy and resources. That said, the report continues to raise concerns about the use of early childhood assessments for accountability purposes. There are some very valid potential concerns here, particularly from poorly designed efforts, and the report makes some useful recommendations around avoiding some of those. But if early childhood advocates want significant increased public investment in early childhood programs, we're going to have to come to agreement on some way of assessing outcomes to demonstrate impact of those investments.

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