Sensitivity to the child’s current competence means taking the child’s home culture into account in assessment.

Assessing Children with Disabilities

One of the most difficult issues in early childhood assessment has to do with children who appear to need special assistance as a result of cognitive, emotional, visual, auditory, or motor impairments. On one hand, research has demonstrated that early intervention can often reduce or prevent later problems in school (National Research Council, 1998; Meisels and Margolis, 1988). But there is also a long and unhappy history with the unsophisticated use of IQ and achievement tests.

In a study of several hundred psychologists who work with young children, Bagnato and Neisworth (1994) found that only 4 percent of their respondents supported the use of norm-referenced, standardized intelligence tests for young children with developmental problems. Most respondents to their survey emphasized the importance of flexibility in the choice of assessment methods, the potential for modification of the instruments, and the need for a multidimensional, team-based assessment approach.

Potential problems with the use of norm-referenced tests are numerous. Some pertain to the technical adequacy of the instruments, and others derive from the way they are used (National Research Council, 1982b; Fuchs et al., 1987; Barnett and MacMann, 1992; National Research Council, 1997). In the first category are inadequate or unknown psychometric properties, including the common absence of children with disabilities in the samples used to develop test norms. Some children will require accommodations, but determining what accommodations are appropriate for whom and under what circumstances is difficult. The lack of knowledge about the functional characteristics of disability makes it difficult to determine whether or not the disability is related to the construct being measured, which in turn makes the interpretation of test results difficult. But even when tests are carefully developed, the test content may be inappropriate for certain subgroups of the population or biased against economically disadvantaged children. And finally, as is true of any assessment,

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