Psychologists have designed a variety of tests to evaluate development and to detect developmental problems during the preschool years. Just as the testing of infants and toddlers presents challenges to test administrators because of the children’s developmental limitations, the evaluation of preschool children under age 6 must also be conducted with their developmental characteristics in mind. Instruments that assess characteristics used to identify developmental delays or to diagnose sources of disabilities that affect the child’s potential for learning are administered to one child at a time. Test items are concrete tasks or activities that match the child’s ability to respond; nevertheless, validity and reliability are affected by such factors as the child’s limited attention span and willingness to attempt to respond to the examiner. As children enter the preschool years, more instruments are available for evaluating development and developmental delay. To better understand the various types of tests, preschool tests are organized into screening, diagnostic, language, and achievement tests.

Screening Tests

This type of test is administered to detect indicators that a child might have a developmental problem that needs to be further investigated. Screening tests can be contrasted with diagnostic tests that examine the possible difficulties in depth to determine what measures need to be taken to correct the problems.

The Denver II (Frankenburg et al., 1990) was discussed earlier as a measure that can be used with infants and older children It is administered by an examiner. In contrast, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (Squires, Bricker, & Twombly, 2002) uses parental reporting. The parent can complete the questionnaire or participate in an interview with an examiner. It is administered from age 4 months to 60 months and is also applicable for infants and toddlers.

Baker School for Early Learning
Baker School is a community school that targets services for toddlers and preschool children from a nearby public housing development. The children in the housing development represent a variety of ethnic groups and languages. Some are from families that recently emigrated from another country. Teachers in the program need input from parents on their child’s current stage of development prior to entering the program. Parents can fill out the Ages and Stages Questionnaire with information about their child. The form includes questions about behaviors, speaking abilities, and physical skills as well as other indicators of development. Because the teachers are sensitive to possible language and literacy limitations, they are available if the parents need help filling in the information. In many cases they read the questions to the parents and record their responses on the test form.

The AGS Early Screening Profiles (Harrison et al., 1990) can be administered from ages 2 years to 6 years, 11 months. They include parent-teacher questionaires as well as profiles in cognitive language, motor, and social development. The Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning (DIAL III) (Mardell-Czundowski & Goldenberg, 1998) also is used for overall developmental delay. Administered to children ages 3 to 6 years, it includes direct observation and tasks presented to the child. The Early Screening InventoryRevised (ESI-R) (Meisels, Marsden, Wiske, & Henderson, 1997) has two forms: one for ages 3 to 4 1/2 years, and the other for ages 4 1/2 to 6 years. It screens developmental domains and uses cutoff scores to determine whether the child needs to be referred for further evaluation. A parental questionnaire is used to provide supplementary information. Finally, the First Step Screening Test for Evaluating Preschoolers (First Step) (Miller, 1993) has 12 subtests grouped into cognitive, communicative, and motor categories. There is also an optional social-emotional scale and adaptive behavior checklist. First Step is administered to children from ages 2 years, 9 months, to 6 years, 2 months.

The screening tests just discussed cover various categories of development. The tests discussed next focus on social-emotional development. These screening instruments look at social behaviors and require sensitive and careful collaboration between the home and school because children’s behaviors are affected by environmental differences. While this type of screening is difficult to do accurately, social-emotional competence is very important and should be monitored (Meisels & Atkins-Burnett, 2005).

The Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA) (Le Buffe & Naglieri, 1999) is designed to be administered through classroom observations. It has items that examine positive and negative behaviors such as attention problems, aggression, depression, and emotional control. The Early Screening Project (ESP) (Walker, Severson, & Feil, 1995) is administered to children ages 3 to 6 years and is administered in three stages. Children are ranked in social interaction, adaptive behavior, maladaption behaviors, aggressive behaviors, and reactions to critical events. A parent questionnaire looks at how the child plays with other children, how the child interacts with caregivers, and social problems such as difficulties with self-esteem or social avoidance. An instrument that uses parent ratings is the Preschool and Kindergarten Behavior Scales (PKBS-2) (Merrell, 2002). Administered to children ages 3 to 6 years, it examines positive and problem behaviors.

Examples of items on screening tests:

Motor Skills

Gross Motor
    Jumping, skipping, hopping, catching, walking a straight line
Fine Motor
    Building with cubes, cutting, copying forms, writing name and copying words, drawing shapes

Cognitive Development

Pointing to body parts
Rote counting
Counting objects
Sorting and classifying pictures
Identifying and naming colors and shapes
Answering simple questions about concepts

Language Development

Identifying correct item in an array of pictures
Answering personal questions
Identifying objects and pictures
Placing object using positional words (under, over, in, etc.)

Diagnostic Tests

After a child has been screened and there are indicators that further evaluation is needed, tests for diagnostic assessment can be administered. Measures of adaptive behaior assess possible developmental problems related to learning disabilities. Adaptive behavior instruments attempt to measure how well the young child has mastered everyday living tasks such as toileting and feeding. The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (Sparrow, Balla, & Cicchetti, 1984) assesses the everyday behaviors of the child that indicate level of development. The scale determines areas of weakness and strength in communication, daily living, socialization, and motor skills. Another instrument, the AAMR (American Association on Mental Retardation) Adaptive Behavior ScaleSchool (ABS-S:2) (Nihira & Lambert, 1993) assesses adaptive behavior in 16 domains for social competence and independence. Figure 3–3 describes categories of adaptive behaviors.

Some categories assessed in adaptive behaviors:

Independent Living Categories

Physical development

Language development

Independent functioning

Social Behavior Categories

Social engagement



Disturbing interpersonal behavior

Hyperactive behavior

Self-abusive behavior

Stereotyped behavior

Preschool intelligence tests and adaptive behavior scales are used to diagnose mental retardation. Although intelligence measures during the preschool years are generally unreliable because children’s IQs can change enormously between early childhood and adolescence, they are used with young children to measure learning potential.

The Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale (Thorndike et al., 1986), the original IQ test, was designed to assess general thinking or problem-solving ability. It is valuable in answering questions about developmental delay and retardation. Conversely, McCarthy’s Scales of Children’s Abilities (McCarthy, 1983) is useful in identifying mild retardation and learning disabilities. Another instrument, the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-III) (Wechsler, 2002), is useful in identifying signs of uneven development.

Other instruments address all domains of development. The Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC) (Kaufman & Kaufman, 1983), Battelle Developmental Inventory (Newborg, Stock, Wnek, Giudubaldi, & Svinicki, 1988), and Bracken Basic Concept ScaleRevised (Bracken, 1998), have comprehensive assessments of development.

Language Tests

The category of language tests for preschool children is very important because many children who are at risk for not learning successfully because they are poor or their first language is not English are frequently served prior to kindergarten. While some language tests for at-risk children are in English, others are available in both English and Spanish. The Preschool Language Scale (PLS-4) (Zimmerman, Steiner, & Pond (2002) and Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (Dunn & Dunn, 1997) provide information on a child’s language ability, which can help determine whether a child will benefit from a language enrichment program.

With the expanding numbers of LEP (limited English proficiency) children who are living in many states, language assessment tests are growing in importance. Children who have limited English proficiency may be served in a bilingual program or ELL program. The Pre-LAS, Pre-IPT, and Woodcock-Munoz Language Survey (discussed shortly) are available in English and Spanish editions. There are also forms of these tests for school-age children.

The Pre-Language Assessment Survey (Pre-LAS) (CTB/McGraw-Hill, 2000) measures oral language proficiency. It is also used to make placement decisions, monitor progress over time, and identify learner needs. The IDEA Proficiency Tests (Pre-IPT) were designed to help districts identify LEP children. The Pre-IPT is administered to 3- to 5-year-olds and can later be used to release children from the LEP program. The Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey (Woodcock & Muñoz-Sandoval, 1993) can be administered to children as young as age 2.

Achievement Tests

The National Reporting System (NRS) (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Head Start Bureau, 2003) was designed for children in the Head Start program. This test was introduced in response to a policy established by the George W. Bush administration requiring a measure similar to those used for the NCLB Act in public schools.