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For Immediate Release:
February 26, 2004
Early Education Experts Highlight Concerns About New Nationwide Test for Four-Year-Olds in Head Start
(Washington, D.C.) - Several leading experts in early childhood education and assessment discussed their concerns about the new nationwide test of four-year-old children in Head Start programs. Nearly half a million children in Head Start were given the test (known as the National Reporting System) last fall, and will be tested again this spring. Following are a few examples of the experts' comments:
Dr. Samuel J. Meisels, President of Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development located in Chicago:
This Head Start test is gravely flawed, and has many technical limitations. This is the largest single testing of young children in U.S. history, and yet it hasn't been properly assessed.
Traditionally, it takes years to develop good tests. The development of the Head Start test took place in record time. Some of the test was made by selecting portions from other tests, and some of it is new. Accuracy studies should be conducted whenever you create or change a test, and they haven't been conducted on this Head Start test. It shouldn't have been launched until after a complete review by independent early childhood assessment experts.
Considering the damage that it may cause, for young children and for the programs that help them get a better start on learning, we should wait until the Head Start test itself has been properly tested.
Dr. Linda M. Espinosa, Associate Professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia:
I'm especially concerned about the problems in the National Reporting System for children who have not grown up speaking English. Some of the vocabulary words in Spanish are not appropriate for many children, because of differences in Spanish dialects. The test uses words that will be completely unfamiliar to children from low-income backgrounds, and from many areas of Mexico and Latin America. In addition, children who speak Spanish must first fail part of the test in English, in order to take the test in Spanish. Failure can undermine future performance, and this approach is inappropriate in an assessment for four-year-olds.
There is no evidence, especially for Spanish speaking children, that this test reliably measures a child's school readiness. The National Reporting System will not help early childhood teachers or programs, and it has the potential to do real harm to our very vulnerable population of English-language learners.
Dr. Larry Schweinhart, President of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and leader of High/Scope's Head Start Quality Research Center:
The Head Start test ignores the very skills that lead to lasting benefits for children. It focuses only on a few selective literacy-related skills, and does not include measurements of social and emotional development, which are a core part of Head Start, and a reason for its historic success.
The reporting from the Head Start test needs to take into account the pre-existing socio-economic differences among children. If it doesn't, Head Start agencies will be motivated to enroll the least disadvantaged children, rather than the most, so that their programs look better on this test. The children who need Head Start most will be the most damaged by this test.
The primary purpose of assessment should be providing information to help teachers teach. The Head Start test fails that test.
Dr. Mark R. Ginsberg, Executive Director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children:
NAEYC historically has promoted appropriate assessments and accountability systems. Our revised position statement, developed with the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, reaffirms the use of appropriate assessments for improving teaching and programs. However, we have real concerns about inappropriate assessments leading to inappropriate conclusions and actions for young children, whether in Head Start or in other programs.
Since this new test of children in Head Start will have a direct impact on our nation's most vulnerable children, it is especially important that we make sure this test measures up to the highest standards. We should take the time to do it right.
Founded in 1926, the National Association for the Education of Young Children has nearly 90,000 members worldwide. The association is the largest and most influential advocate for early care and education in the
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Founded in 1926, the National Association for the Education of Young Children is the largest and most influential advocate for high-quality early care and education in the United States.