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Bush Administration Proposes Testing 4-Year-Olds
January 21, 2003

"The best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time." — Abraham Lincoln


The January 17 edition of the Washington Post contained this alarming story about the Bush Adminstration's continued attack on the Head Start program....

"The Bush administration announced yesterday that it will soon implement an unprecedented annual assessment of the 908,000 4-year-olds in Head Start programs nationwide, an effort that officials said will determine how much the children are learning in the government-funded preschool program for the poor. Government officials ....said the system would for the first time provide standardized data that would allow them to evaluate local Head Start programs. The results of the assessments -- scheduled to be administered for the first time this fall -- would help determine where to target resources, they said. 'This is necessary to ensure that every child is progressing the way that they should,' said Windy Hill, chief of the Head Start Bureau....

"Some experts and leaders of local Head Start programs criticized the government's National Reporting on Child Outcomes plan, saying it amounts to a high-stakes test for preschoolers that will yield little useful information because children are too young to be evaluated with a standardized exam. 'Young children are poor test takers . . . and have a restricted ability to comprehend assessment cues,' said Samuel J. Meisels, president of the Erikson Institute, a nonprofit organization that trains child development professionals.

"The national reporting system is the latest effort in a major early-childhood initiative announced last spring by President Bush, who wants to shift Head Start's focus from nurturing children's social and emotional development to emphasizing early literacy. Bush views the program as a follow-up to his K-12 education program, which emphasizes standardized tests.

"Last year, the administration began the early-childhood initiative by promoting literacy seminars for local Head Start officials, many of whom said they were pressured to learn and use techniques that they didn't want or need. Critics say promoting literacy over other services that develop a child's social and emotional well-being is counterproductive because Head Start children are unable to focus on learning their ABC's if they are burdened by other troubles....

"Craig Ramey, a co-director of the Center on Health and Education at Georgetown University who is heading the group creating the assessment, acknowledged there are 'a limited number of high-quality, usable tools' on the market but that his panel would find what works....Ramey's panel is working with Westat, a research company being paid $1.8 million to help develop the assessment.

"An outstanding issue is who will administer the assessments. Ramey said teachers would be involved, but suggested some might be tempted to cheat. 'The simple way to game the system is to have kids not do well in the fall and do well in the spring,' he said, adding that independent verification was key. Ramey likened the new system to industrial quality assurance programs. 'What we are bringing to Head Start is not different from what you encounter when you go to buy a car,' he said, noting that car buyers trust that companies maintain quality from plant to plant...

"Hill said programs that fail to meet standards have always risked decertification. But in a recent interview, Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families in HHS, said that 'people who are anxious about the use of this to defund [local programs] . . . are being overly concerned. We don't anticipate that happening very often.'"

For articles reflecting views on child evaluation, go to the Article Archives at www.ChildCareExchange.com, and type in the keyword "assessment".


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