In the United States, nearly 1.3 million children attend publicly-funded preschool. As enrollment continues to grow, states are under pressure to prove these programs serve to increase school readiness. Thus, the task of figuring out how best to measure preschoolers’ learning outcomes has become a major policy focus.
First, it should be noted that researchers are almost unanimous in their caution about this subject. There are inherent difficulties in the accurate assessment of very young children’s learning in the fields of language, cognition, socio-emotional development, and even physical development. Young children’s attention spans tend to be short and there are wide, natural variations in children’s performance in any given domain and on any given day. Thus, great care is advised for both the design and implementation of such assessments (see here, here, and here for examples). The question of if and how to use these student assessments to determine program or staff effectiveness is even more difficult and controversial (for instance, here and here). Nevertheless, many states are already using various forms of assessment to oversee their preschool investments.
It is difficult to react to this (unsurprising) paradox. Sadly, in education, there is often a disconnect between what we know (i.e., research) and what we do (i.e., policy). But, since our general desire for accountability seems to be here to stay, a case can be made that states should, at a minimum, expand what they measure to reflect learning as accurately and broadly as possible.
So, what types of assessments are better for capturing what a four- or a five- year old knows? How might these assessments be improved? Read More »