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Education Experts Warn Against Pre-K Testing

In all of the United States, only Oklahoma offers prekindergarten to every child. Now officials there want to test the children to see how well the program is working.

Seems reasonable, doesn't it? The catch is recent research by early learning experts casts doubt on not only how to best test young children, but if tests, as we have come to know them, are useful at this age.

At the recent International Infant Toddler Conference in Tulsa, Samuel Meisels, president of Chicago's Erikson Institute and a leading expert on early learning had much to say to the gathered early childhood advocates, teachers and professionals. Namely, that results obtained using tests that have recently been called into question could result in unfounded setbacks to Oklahoma's program. http://http://illinoisearlylearning.org/interviews/meisels.htm

He argues against standardized testing of young children and points to the failure of the National Reporting System test used from 2002 to 2007 in Head Start programs. That test had timed items, cultural bias and was given only in English and Spanish, even though 98 other languages were used by the toddlers in various programs throughout the nation.

"You've got the opportunity in Oklahoma, now we have to see how well the opportunity you've been given is used," Meisels told the group.

He believes that knowing whether programs are working is different from knowing whether a child scores high or low.

"Many have been led to believe that a score on a test will inform us about a child, a program, a teacher, a school, or a district. No brief test of young children’s achievement administered in a summative way can capture the complexity of PreK children’s growth."

Meisels has long been considered a leading authority on evaluating and assessing young children and believes toddlers are best "tested" through observational assessment. He also believes that such assessment is also the way to guage an early learning program's effectiveness. To that end, he has recently completed research on the validity of the Ounce Scale, which is an observational assessment for infants to 3-year-olds and includes their families. http://http://www.erikson.edu/default/faculty/faclistings/samuel_meisels.aspx

He states that to find out about the quality of a program, we need to engage in some form of evaluation that is much more than just giving a test. To evaluate a PreK program he suggests examining the emotional climate for learning created by the teacher as well as her instructional practices, the demographic details about the child, his/her family, the teacher, and the school, as well as the child’s baseline performance.

Teachers also must have an easy and accessible way to routinely record observations and a valid method for interpreting and evaluating the information.

"All of this and more goes into a program evaluation."

He said states including Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Maryland have implemented effective evaluations.

For an in-depth interview with Meisels go to http://http://illinoisearlylearning.org/interviews/meisels.htm

For further reading on the testing and evaluation of both young children and educational programs go to http://http://www.isbe.state.il.us/earlychi/pdf/meisels_accountability.pdf

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