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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers
All assessments, and particularly assessments for accountability, must be used carefully and appropriately if they are to resolve, and not create, educational problems. Assessment of young children poses greater challenges than people generally realize. The first five years of life are a time of incredible growth and learning, but the course of development is uneven and sporadic. The status of a child’s development as of any given day can change very rapidly. Consequently, assessment results—in particular, standardized test scores that reflect a given point in time— can easily misrepresent children’s learning.
Few early childhood teachers or administrators are trained to understand traditional standardized tests and measurements. As a consequence, misuse is rampant, as experience with readiness tests demonstrates. Likewise, early childhood personnel are seldom offered real preparation in the development and use of alternative assessments.
Assessment itself is in a state of flux. There is widespread dissatisfaction with traditional norm-referenced standardized tests, which are based on early 20th century psychological theory. There are a number of promising new approaches to assessment, among them variations on the clinical interview and performance assessment, but the field must be described as emergent. Much more research and development are needed for a productive fusion of assessment and instruction to occur and if the potential benefits of assessment for accountability are to be fully realized.
What is now known about the potential of the early years, and of the promise of high-quality preschool programs to help realize that potential for all children, stands in stark contrast to practice in many—perhaps most—early childhood settings. In the committee’s view, bringing what is known to bear on what is done in early childhood education will require efforts in four areas: (1) professional development of teachers; (2) development of teaching materials that reflect research-based understandings of children’s learning; (3) development of public policies that support—through standards and appropriate assessment, regulations, and funding—the provision of quality preschool experi-