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Early Childhood Assessment: Why, What, and How Part II Child-Level Outcomes and Measures The question of what outcomes are worthy of attention is in part one of values rather than an issue to be resolved with empirical evidence. The outcomes of interest vary to some extent as a function of a child’s age; it is harder to distinguish domains of functioning in infants and toddlers than older preschoolers, and likewise younger preschoolers are exposed to more similar demands across settings than older preschoolers. In addition, the domains usually assessed for older children are more heavily influenced by the constraints of the traditional school curriculum. In selecting a domain or a measure, it is crucial to start with a well-defined purpose and to explore whether the outcomes and measures chosen are well suited for that specific purpose. In our efforts to select domains of importance, the committee reviewed three kinds of evidence: Evidence of substantial consensus on the value of a domain, as shown by its recurrence in theories of and research on child development or its inclusion in federal, state, or program standards or other such expressions of policy relevance. Evidence for continuity within a domain over development or that it links to other current or later emerging outcomes of
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Early Childhood Assessment: Why, What, and How importance, such as school achievement, life satisfaction, or avoidance of the criminal justice system. Evidence that the domain is a frequent target of investment or intervention and that child performance in it is affected by changed environmental conditions. None of these by itself settles the matter, and it is not always the case that all three are available, but convergence among them suggests that a domain deserves attention in this report. In categorizing the domains, for the sake of simplicity we adapt the distinctions adopted by the National Education Goals Panel (Kagan, Moore, and Bredekamp, 1995), since these map onto both the developmental research literature (McCartney and Phillips, 2006; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000) and state and federal standards and policies. The boundaries between the domains discussed are, we acknowledge, artificial, as is the way constructs are categorized within them. Vocabulary, for example, is categorized here under Language and Literacy, but is also often included in Cognition as it is so directly relevant to performing well in mathematics, science, and other domains of general knowledge. Similarly, some researchers include constructs identified in this report as part of Approaches to Learning in the category of Socioemotional Functioning. Thus, we offer this categorization as a heuristic for discussing constructs and their measurement, not as a grand theory of child development. We differentiate and discuss five domains in the following chapters: physical well-being and motor development, socioemotional development, approaches to learning, language (and emergent literacy), and cognitive skills, including mathematics. This categorization provides an initial mapping of what might be considered important enough aspects of children’s development to deserve systematic scrutiny from pediatricians, early childhood educators, parents, researchers, and policy makers. Some of these domains are better conceptualized and better instrumented than
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Early Childhood Assessment: Why, What, and How others; language, for example, has long been a target of interest for scholars of early childhood, and thus research-based descriptions, theories, and instruments for language have a long history. Such domains as socioemotional development and approaches to learning, which have come more recently to the center of research and educational interest, are not yet supplied with so many well-tested assessment instruments. We recognize with regret that our categorization omits entirely domains of potentially great importance to the optimal development of children; there simply was not a basis in theory, research, or practice to include such domains as art, music, creativity, science, or ethics, despite their obvious importance. We emphasize that our omission of them in this discussion should in no way be interpreted as a license to diminish or omit them from the curriculum. We are interested not just in identifying the domains of importance, but also in summarizing information about the availability of measures that reflect variation and change in these domains (as well as the ideal qualities of measures that might be developed in the future). Thus, we take as further support for the importance of attention to any domain the existence of widely used measures of it, coupled with evidence that those measures can be used reliably and validly. We divide the treatment of domains and measures into those most commonly used in pediatric versus educational settings, and those most commonly implemented for purposes of screening and diagnosis versus providing instructional guidance, progress monitoring, and evaluation. Although Chapter 4 deals mostly with assessment typically done in the first year of life, we recognize that pediatric assessment continues throughout childhood. Furthermore, although many of the instruments discussed in Chapter 4 are used most widely with older preschoolers, we realize that many infants and toddlers (especially those enrolled in prevention or intervention programs) experience assessment that is more “educational” in nature. In Chapter 5, we turn to a justification of the five domains. While it may be obvious that those domains should include the developmentally and educationally relevant ones of physical well-being, language and literacy, mathematics, and socio-
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Early Childhood Assessment: Why, What, and How emotional development, a closer examination of each of these domains reveals considerable internal complexity, as well as some controversy about the actual subskills of greatest importance in those domains. In Chapter 6, we turn from child measures to review measures that reflect aspects of the context in which young children spend their time. These context measures are, we argue, as important as the child-specific measures, because a child’s score on any measured outcome cannot be interpreted without knowing something about the familial and educational contexts in which that child has developed and the opportunities to learn those contexts have provided. Measures of context can also serve as interim markers of program quality for both formative and summative assessments.