Current Issues and Trends in Assessment in Early Childhood Education
The 1980s brought a new reform movement in education, accompanied by a new emphasis on testing. The effort to improve education at all levels included the use of standardized tests to provide accountability for what students are learning. Minimum competency tests, achievement tests, and screening instruments were used to ensure that students from preschool through college reached the desired educational goals and achieved the minimum standards of education that were established locally or by the state education agency. As we continue in a new century, these concerns have increased.
Trends in a New Century
In the 1990s many schools improved the learning environment and achievement for all children; nevertheless, a large percentage of schools were still low performing in 2000 and 2001. Inadequate funding, teacher shortages, teachers with inadequate training, aging schools, and poor leadership affected quality education (Wortham, 2002). During the 2000 presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush named quality education as one of the goals of his presidency. After his election, President Bush worked for legislation that would improve education for all children. After months of dialogue and debate, Congress passed a new education actin December 2001. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), signed into law onJanuary 8, 2002, had an impact on testing required by individual states. In addition to other provisions, all states were required to administer tests developed by the state and to set and monitor adequate yearly progress (Moscosco, 2001; Wortham, 2002). Former President Bush was also committed to strengthening early childhood programs. In 2002, several projects were conducted to support early childhood programs. Under the Sunshine Schools program, the U.S. Department of Education focused on what is working in early childhood education and gave attention to highly effective state, district, city, county, and campus programs (Grissom, personal communication, April 4, 2002). Another Bush initiative, Good Start, Grow Smart, was intended to strengthen Head Start and improve the quality of experiences for children. The initiative provided the following:
- Training for nearly 50,000 Head Start teachers in the best techniques
- Assurance that preschool programs are more closely coordinated with K–12 educational programs
- A research effort to identify effective early literacy programs and practices (Grissom, personal communication, April 4, 2002).
In July 2001, the White House hosted the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development. The Early Childhood–Head Start Task Force formed following the summit published a new guide, Teaching Our Youngest (Grissom, personal communication, April 4, 2002). The early childhood education projects initiated by the Bush administration to improve education stressed the importance of improving early childhood programs; nevertheless, there is no doubt that mandates for increased standards-based testing will continue in the future in spite of concerns of their relevancy, especially for young children. Fortunately, child-outcome standards have also been developed by professional organizations in addition to state education agencies. The National Council for the Social Studies issued Curriculum Standards for the Social Studies (National Council for the Social Studies, 1994). Improved Head Start Performance Standards published in 1996 included children from birth to age 5 (Early Head Start, 2000). These standards and others provide guidelines for early childhood educators as they strive to improve programs and experiences for young children. By 2005 standards that included early childhood were available in many states. Some were in response to NCLB, but others were part of the emerging efforts to establish state and national standards for development and learning (Seefeldt, (2005).
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
NCLB requires states to do the following:
- Provide public school choice and supplemental services for students in failing schools as early as fall 2002.
- Integrate scientifically based reading research into comprehensive instruction for young children.
- Set and monitor adequate yearly progress, based on baseline 2001–2002 data.
- Issue annual report cards on school performance and statewide test results by 2002–2003.
- Implement annual, standards-based assessments in reading and math for grades 3 to 8 by 2005–2006.
- Assure that all classes are taught by a qualified teacher by 2005–2006.
Source: Retrieved February 14, 2007, from www.ed.gov/aclb/overview/intro/factsheet/html
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