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Ask Dr. Katz: How do you feel about standardized testing of preschool-age children? About


Lilian G. KatzLilian G. Katz, a graduate of Stanford University (Ph.D.—1968), is an international leader in early childhood education. She taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for more than three decades—from 1968 until the year 2000, as well as directing the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education (ERIC/EECE) for more than 30 years. She has lectured in all 50 U.S. states and in 43 countries, and she has held visiting posts at universities in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, India, Israel, the West Indies (Barbados campus), and many parts of the United States. In 1997, she served as Nehru Professor at the University of Baroda in India.

She also was one of the founders of the Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children and served as its first president. In addition, she served as vice president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) from 1986 to 1990 and later was elected president of NAEYC, serving from 1992-1994.

Dr. Katz has authored more than 150 publications, including articles, chapters, and books about early childhood education, teacher education, child development, and parenting. She wrote a monthly column for several years for Parents Magazine on parenting 3- and 4-year-olds. Dr. Katz founded two journals: Early Childhood Research Quarterly and Early Childhood Research & Practice, which began publication in early 1999 as the first peer-reviewed, Internet-only, journal in early education, and recently became fully bilingual.

Dr. Katz is professor emerita at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and lectures and consults around the world.

Question & Answer

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

Answer 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.


If you have a question about some aspect of early care and education that will require an in-depth response, you can ask Dr. Lilian G. Katz, Director of the Illinois Early Learning project and an internationally recognized expert in early childhood education and parenting.

Dr. Katz will respond directly to questions that are of general interest. Responses to other questions wil be provided by IEL's information services staff.

To ask Dr. Lilian Katz a question about raising or educating young children, please fill out the Ask Dr. Katz online form.

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