Illinois Early Learning Project

Questions: Ask Dr. Katz

Archive: Question 5

Question How do you feel about standardized testing of preschool-age children?

Dr. Lilian G. Katz Dr. Katz
The issue you raise is such an important one. My own reservations about the use of standardized testing with very young children include, first of all, recognition that they are notoriously poor test takers. (Many adults are also poor test takers, but the young ones are even worse!) They are easily distracted and may not be fully aware of what the test giver really wants. I wonder if you have heard the true story about a Head Start teacher who was giving the required test to a child in which she had to point to various parts of her body--nose, eyes, ears, etc., and ask the child, “What do you call this?” The child was fine with it until the teacher raised her thumb, and the child's answer was "Good Job!" She then asked again, "What do you call this?" and again he responded, "Good Job!" She tried again with the same result and eventually had to fail the child on that item!

A related problem is that testing almost always requires high levels of specificity, and there seems to be a general rule that the more specific a test item is, the more trivial it is.

Furthermore, a child’s patterns of development vary such that there are often slow periods and spurts, so that it is easy to misjudge a child who might have reached a plateau for a while.

There are alternative strategies for evaluating a child's progress, such as Sam Meisel's Work Sampling System adapted for Illinois preschool settings as Work Sampling Illinois. Some teachers may use portfolios of children's work or other kinds of documentation. If, however, a parent or teacher has a concern that a developmental delay (e.g., in speech) may have an impact on evaluation of a young child’s progress, it may be best to consult an expert.

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