Assessing Young Children
Several of the presenters suggested that assessing children, possibly at ages 3 and 5, to monitor their development during the preschool years and their readiness for kindergarten (most advocated assessing only a representative sample), and participants had many thoughts about this proposal.
One approach would be to expand NAEP for this purpose, and participants noted that this could be a reasonably affordable model for sampling the national population. Adding a preschool component to NAEP would make it possible, but several practical concerns were raised. NAEP’s samples are drawn from public school enrollments, but many preschoolers are enrolled in programs that are not connected to the public school system; thus, it would be necessary to identify an additional sample of children not enrolled in public pre-K programs in order to fully represent the population. NAEP is given in the spring, but if the goal is to capture kindergarten readiness, it would be necessary to assess children in the early fall. An advantage to NAEP is that it includes a background questionnaire that collects data on students, families, and schools, one participant pointed out, but privacy concerns have severely constrained what can be included on these questionnaires, to the point, in his view, that they are almost useless. Presenters had emphasized the importance of contextual information about children and families, so this could be a serious drawback to using NAEP, in this participant’s opinion.
Another participant noted that sampling is a useful way to track basic trends but that if states or districts would like to have formative data that would allow them to plan instruction and to target students’ needs, it would be necessary to use a different measurement approach.
Other assessment instruments might also be tapped for preschool indicators, and participants mentioned a web-based early childhood assessment used in Australia, the Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS), as well as the fact that OECD, UNESCO, and the World Bank are all interested in the development of improved indicator systems for early childhood. Using the ECLS program is another option, several people noted.
Addressing Language and Immigration
Each state has its own definition of what an English-language learner is, noted García, “so if we are going to measure it we probably ought to have some consensus about what it means.” Language development is a central aspect of the first 5 years of life, and language mediates children’s relationships with their teachers and caregivers. If a measure of language proficiency is concluded among the indicators, García suggested, it could have unintended consequences if it does not capture the benefits of development in the family language as well as of developing proficiency in English.
High rates of immigration to the United States mean that populations are changing, sometimes very rapidly, and cultural norms are evolving as well. Development and learning are culturally mediated, García added, and it is important to be careful about standardizing expectations for children and the adults who work with them unnecessarily. For example, expectations related to how adults communicate with children, for example,