Sunday, May 22, 2005

Children's Defense Fund's Critique of Pre-school Testing

This resonates with the dictum that there is no standard child. -Angela
WASHINGTON, May 17 /U.S. Newswire/ --

Today the Government Accountability Office confirmed what the Children's Defense Fund and other early childhood experts have maintained for the past two years, that the National Reporting System is not a reliable or valid method to assess the progress of young children. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released these findings in a new report titled, "Head Start, Further Development Could Allow Results to Be Used for Decision Making."

In 2003, with only 18 months of development, the Bush administration implemented The National Reporting System (NRS), an initiative to systematically test the early literacy, language, numeracy skills of all four and five year old children enrolled in Head Start. The test was controversial from its onset, with more than 400,000 young children mired in the politics of this detrimental test.

Questions about age appropriateness and cultural fairness of test items were raised by many advocates and scholars. Also, many argued the test was too narrow, and omitted entire areas of childhood development.

More than 900,000 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children from low- income families are served by Head Start each year. Twice a year, this standardized test was administered to more than 400,000 4- and 5-year olds at a cost of more than $22 million.

Experts on child assessment agree that the specific testing approach for young children will inevitably lead to "teaching to the test," narrowing of curriculum, and encouraging teachers to neglect critical components of children's growth and learning. This type of assessment is both limited and short-sighted in terms of helping children in Head Start develop content knowledge, motivation to learn and the ability to develop complex thinking skills-things research indicates are imperative for success in school. Advocates and members of Congress have expressed similar concerns.

"A host of factors make it unrealistic to measure 4- and 5- year olds' progress with an unproven standardized test," said Yasmine Daniel, Director of Early Childhood Development for the Children's Defense Fund. "Early childhood assessment is effective when used as a tool to improve curricula and classroom teaching. Tests, however, are an entirely different matter. They are not a good predictor of children's learning. Children's skills are constantly changing. What they do not know today, they may very well know tomorrow. Early childhood development is a process not a conclusion."

The Children's Defense Fund and other early child care advocates are calling for a freeze on the testing of Head Start children until the National Reporting System can be determined valid and reliable. As Congress debates the reauthorization of Head Start, we ask that it do the right thing for children.

"Early childhood is a time for exploring, engaging and instilling the love of learning, not drilling children with specific test questions. The last thing we need is 'teaching to the test' for preschoolers,"
Daniel said.


The Children's Defense Fund's Leave No Child Behind mission is to
ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe
Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood
with the help of caring families and communities.

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