Early Lessons in Early Childhood Assessment

Early Lessons in Early Childhood Assessment

From Memberanda, Spring 2012 

The Enrollment Management Association has embarked on a study to better understand the early childhood (PK-2) assessment practices used by private and independent schools. The study, led by Chris Bigenho, Director of Instructional Technology, Greenhill School (TX), incorporates an extensive literature review and a qualitative assessment of selected representative schools across the U.S. and into Canada. In the next phase of the study, The Enrollment Management Association will develop and disseminate a quantitative survey assessment of common practices, methods, and objectives, which will be delivered to all The Enrollment Management Association member schools and beyond.

Thus far, the literature review has examined various assessment instruments, including their biases, predictive abilities, historical development, and intended uses. Other topics include the cognitive development of children and the current state of early childhood educational assessment in the U.S. The range of assessment instruments being used by member schools has necessitated a review of the literature on IQ testing of young children, achievement tests, school readiness assessments, assessment of developmental age, and various reading and language development assessments.

The project’s initial focus involves site visits to, and interviews with, selected member schools. Care was taken to include schools of different structures, sizes, single gender and coeducational, parochial and non-parochial, schools from diverse geographic regions and differing market pressures, and diverse educational philosophies. Selected schools have the following entry points: pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade. Using these criteria, about 20 schools were identified as possible study candidates. The goal is to visit and capture, through interview and observation, the early childhood admission process at a minimum of 10 of these schools. Since the study started, five site visits have been completed.

While it is too early to report full findings, there are several emerging themes that may be of immediate interest to the community. First, none of the schools visited are using instruments specifically designed for early childhood admissions. Most schools are using a combination of tools in conjunction with observations. The observational process is very important to schools, with the greatest emphasis at the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten entry points. Most schools have developed their own observational protocols that mimic a shortened version of a day in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten. This pre-kindergarten/kindergarten observational testing session is augmented, at most but not all visited schools, by additional assessment instruments that range from assessing developmental age to tests of developing language and reading skills. In some cases, these assessments are administered in near entirety, while in others, selected portions are deemed important for the admissions process. Some schools using these individual assessment instruments have trained members of their staff to administer and interpret the tests, while others bring in an outside assessor or use a testing consortium available in that school’s market area.

Schools that have chosen to use a published achievement assessment as part of their process have reported issues with the effectiveness of these tests, depending on the assessment being used and the time in the academic calendar when it is administered. Some schools have reported a lack of differentiation in results, with most scores clustered at or near the ceiling, while other schools indicate a dramatic difference between the scores they get from their testing process and prior scores supplied by the applicant. In most cases, schools are aware that the achievement tests they are giving midterm were normed at the end of the school year. Depending on how they select the achievement assessment they use, they report that the test is either too difficult or too easy. Virtually all schools using standard assessments for language development, developmental age, and achievement have indicated evidence of test preparation and its effect on the validity of the results. This has led some schools to start to develop their own assessment measures in an attempt to stay ahead of the test prep industry. This finding seems to be closely linked to admission pressures in different markets.

As this part of the study continues, Bigenho expects to see more confirmatory findings with a decrease in unique assessment approaches being reported. The Enrollment Management Association believes this will help to validate the initial findings and inform the possible survey phase of the study.

The Enrollment Management Association is grateful to the following schools, which have agreed to be part of this study:

Berkeley Preparatory School (FL)
Blue School (NY)
Capitol Hill Day School (DC)
Crane School (CA)
Crofton House School (BC)
Durham Academy (NC)
Fay School (MA)
Flint Hill School (VA)
Oakridge School (TX)
Punahou School (HI)
St. Mark’s School of Texas (TX)
Stevenson School (CA)


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