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Readiness for School:
A Survey of State Policies and Definitions

Gitanjali Saluja
National Center for Early Development and Learning;

Catherine Scott-Little
SERVE

Richard M. Clifford
National Center for Early Development and Learning

Editors' Note:

Join us in an electronic discussion of this paper. The dialog box makes it easy to comment on the article, ask questions, or suggest additional considerations or implications. Selected substantive contributions will be listed by topic on this Web site.

Lilian G. Katz & Dianne Rothenberg

Read comments about this article.
Date: July 18, 2001
Name: Lyn Weiner
Position: President
Affiliation: Syndactics, Inc
Comments:

In anticipation of the coming collision between assessment requirements and high-quality preschool practices, Syndactics developed a plan in the early 1990s to create a developmentally appropriate assessment that would meet stated program and child criteria. Funded by two U.S. Department of Education contracts, the resulting test took nine years to develop. The final version of Pre-K Success combines naturalistic observation, direct requests, and neural network based interpretation to provide maximally friendly and useful procedures and results. Central to the assessment is our definition of "School Readiness"-Those [measurable] skills a child in a responsive environment elects to develop by age 5 AND which schools expect. Components of the model of school readiness include motor skills (fine and gross), nonverbal problem solving (space and seriation), verbal problem solving (classification, number, and time), and language development (receptive, expressive for semantics, syntax, and pragmatics).

We strongly advise that any assessment of young children:

  • Include the concept of child election
  • Be comprehensive enough to accommodate child variations
  • Acknowledge that the ultimate school readiness definition lies in the appropriateness of the kindergarten which the child attends.

The Model of School Readiness with a brief explanation is in a Microsoft Word document, which will be emailed as an attachment to anyone requesting it from syndactics@aol.com.


Date: September 10, 2001
Name: Matt Jaroneski
Position: parent
Comments:

I did not see discussion in this paper regarding those regulations concerning overriding the dates in those states that do not test. For example, Virginia law states that

"...children whose fifth birthday occurs between October 1 and December 31 of the school year may be enrolled in kindergarten after an appropriate readiness evaluation has demonstrated that attendance in these programs will educationally benefit such children." (VA code 22.1-199)

The NC code has similar regulations at NC 115C-364

Abstract

Understanding the condition of children as they enter school can provide clues to help parents and teachers understand children's performance later in their school career. This information can also provide teachers with essential information for individualizing the curriculum to help children learn more effectively. Finally, assessment of the condition of children could be an important part of accountability measurement.This paper provides data on what states are doing with regard to defining and assessing the condition of children as they enter school, often referred to as readiness for school. Early childhood state representatives in each of the 50 states were contacted and interviewed regarding their state's policies on children's readiness for kindergarten. Results indicate that as of January 2000: (1) age was the criterion most often used to determine eligibility for kindergarten, (2) no state had an official statewide definition of school readiness, (3) several states were studying the issue of school readiness, and (4) local school districts were often making decisions about how children should be assessed and how data on children should be used. Further research is needed to track changes in state policies over time.

Introduction

With the increasing demand for accountability and improved student performance that has swept the nation, policy makers and educators have struggled to find ways to assess children when they enter school. Understanding the condition of children as they enter school can provide clues to help parents and teachers understand children's performance later in their school career. Further, this knowledge can provide teachers with essential information for individualizing the curriculum to help children learn more effectively. Finally, assessment of children's condition at school entrance may play an important role in accountability measurement, because this information can provide baseline data against which future data on children can be compared. It should be noted that different assessment methods and instruments may be needed to accomplish these separate and distinct functions. The importance of positive early life experiences is widely recognized; however, questions about how to describe children at the time of school entrance through both formal and informal assessments have been the subject of considerable debate over the past decade.

In an effort to document the most current efforts to define and measure children's condition as they enter school, the National Center for Early Development and Learning (NCEDL) and SERVE (Note 1) partnered to complete a survey of readiness initiatives in all 50 states. This paper provides data on what states are doing with regard to defining and assessing children at school entrance.

Defining and Assessing Children's Status at School Entrance

Despite the recent attention that the topic of school readiness has received, there is still much debate on what it means to be "ready" for school. Parents, teachers, school administrators, policy makers, and politicians are all concerned about young children and whether or not they enter school "ready to learn." This concern has been especially true since the National Education Goals Panel adopted the first goal that "by the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn" (National Education Goals Panel, 1991). Most people (Kagan, 1999; National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1988) argue that all children are ready to learn and prefer to use the phrase "ready for school." So what does it mean to be "ready for school?" Both terms appear to be problematic because of unintended consequences of presuming that children need to know certain things before they can enter school.

The majority of states determine a child's eligibility for kindergarten by his or her age. Although the date varies by state, most states allow children to enter kindergarten in the fall if they have turned or will turn 5 years old by a certain date. Table 1 displays the cutoff dates used by states to determine entry to kindergarten (Education Commission of the States, 2000).

Table 1
Cutoff Dates for Eligibility for Kindergarten
Date States Using Cutoff Date
June 1 Indiana
July 1 Missouri
August 15 Alaska
August 31 Delaware
Kansas
North Dakota
Washington
September 1 Alabama
Arizona
Florida
Georgia
Idaho
Illinois
Minnesota
Mississippi
New Mexico
Oklahoma
Oregon
South Carolina
South Dakota
Texas
West Virginia
Wisconsin
September 2 Utah
September 10 Montana
September 15 Arkansas
Iowa
Wyoming
September 30 Nevada
Ohio
Tennessee
Virginia
Louisiana
October 1 Kentucky
October 15 Nebraska
Maine
October 16 North Carolina
December 1 Michigan
New York
December 2 California
December 31 Rhode Island
Hawaii
Maryland
January 1 Connecticut
Vermont
Dates are determined at the local or district level Colorado
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
New Jersey
Pennsylvania

Age is one characteristic that children generally have in common when they start kindergarten. However, when children are 5 years old, they vary greatly with regard to their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. The National Education Goals Panel (Kagan, Moore, & Bredekamp, 1995) has established five dimensions in which children vary and that contribute significantly to children's success in school. According to the Goals Panel, school readiness should be thought of as having at least the following dimensions:

Although most researchers, educators, and policy makers agree that these dimensions are essential elements of readiness, there is some debate as to whether these dimensions are exhaustive (Meisels, 1999). Further, individuals vary with regard to what they believe should be included as indicators of the standard to be met on each of these dimensions.

Although the five dimensions guide us with regard to what we should measure, the question of how to measure these domains remains unanswered. Assessing preschool-age children is challenging. At this age, children's development is rapid and uneven, and their development is greatly impacted by environmental factors such as the care they have received and the learning environments they have experienced. Furthermore, typical standardized paper-and-pencil tests given in later grades are not appropriate for children entering school (Shepard, Kagan, & Wurtz, 1998).

The demand for standard methods to document children's readiness has become increasingly strong despite the difficulties in assessing young children. A number of organizations have developed policy statements to outline how children should be assessed. Six professional organizations (Association for Childhood Education International, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, International Reading Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children) issued a joint statement in 1986 discouraging the use of "rigid, formal pre-reading programs" and standardized testing for preschool-age children (International Reading Association, 1986). In 1987, the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) issued a position statement titled "Unacceptable Trends in Kindergarten Entry and Placement." NAEYC and NAECS/SDE joined together to issue a position statement on appropriate curriculum and assessment for children ages 3 through 8 in 1990, and the National Education Goals Panel published "Principles and Recommendations for Early Childhood Assessments" in 1998 (Shepard, Kagan, & Wurtz, 1998). NAECS/SDE updated and reissued the position statement in "Still! Unacceptable Trends in Kindergarten Entry and Placement" in 2000.

Taken together, these position statements indicate that readiness assessment should

There is agreement that school readiness is a two-dimensional concept and that both elements of readiness are equally important: in addition to children being ready for school, schools need to be ready to receive all children. The National Education Goals Panel has identified ready schools as a critical element of Goal 1. Further, the Ready Schools Resource Group of the Goals Panel (Shore, 1998) has outlined "Ten Keys to Ready Schools." Included in these "Ten Keys" are the following: "Ready schools should have strong leadership, strive for continuity between early care and education programs, promote smooth transitions between home and school, be committed to the success of every child as well as every teacher and adult who interacts with children at school, use approaches that have been shown to raise children's achievement and then alter practices and programs if they do not benefit children."

Trends in Readiness Assessment

With increasing demand for accountability in the preschool and early school years, defining and measuring readiness have become even more important in the past decade. States have been left to develop their own frameworks, with guidance provided by the National Education Goals Panel, NAEYC, and other national efforts.

State-level efforts to assess children's readiness can best be described as a pendulum swinging from standardized measures that did not meet the above principles in the mid-1980s (Gnezda & Bolig, 1988) to limited readiness testing in the mid-1990s (Shepard, Taylor, & Kagan, 1996). In the mid-1980s, many states had requirements for standardized testing for children prior to kindergarten or first grade. Gnezda and Bolig (1988) conducted a national survey of early childhood specialists and testing and evaluation specialists in state departments of education to gather information on pre-kindergarten and kindergarten testing. Nineteen states mandated that children be screened, and 7 states mandated "readiness" testing upon entry to kindergarten. Confusion between screening and readiness testing was reported by a number of respondents. Results from both screening and readiness tests were, in several instances, being used to delay school entry or place children in special programs. Six states mandated and 37 states reported local districts using first-grade readiness testing. In 35 of these states, assessment results were used to determine children's placement at the end of kindergarten.

In the early 1990s, states began to move away from readiness testing, perhaps as a result of the concerted efforts to outline the principles for appropriate early childhood assessment described above. Shepard, Taylor, and Kagan (1996) conducted extensive surveys between May 1995 and August 1996 to determine states' early childhood assessment policies and practices. Telephone interviews were conducted with early childhood coordinators and state testing directors, Part H and IDEA coordinators, Title I coordinators, Head Start directors, and Goals 2000 contact persons. Their sample included in-depth interviews with at least one person from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

This study found that most states had made efforts to move away from readiness testing by developing policies against the use of readiness testing, issuing publications on appropriate assessment in early childhood, or providing professional development opportunities on early childhood assessment. However, a number of states reported that local districts continued to use standardized testing with young children. A number of states mandated formal screenings for every child to meet the federal IDEA requirements for a plan whereby children with disabilities can be identified. Many states reported efforts to clarify the difference between readiness testing and screening, and how screening results should be used. While Gnezda and Bolig (1988) found frequent examples of special education screening measures being misused to make decisions to delay school entry or plan instruction, respondents to Shepard, Taylor, and Kagan's survey indicated that this type of misuse was less frequent but still common.

Shepard, Taylor, and Kagan (1996) also found that some states and local districts were moving to new forms of assessment in the early grades. Respondents indicated that there was less readiness testing and increased use of teacher observation assessments such as the High/Scope (1992) Child Observation Record (COR) or the Work Sampling System by Meisels (Meisels, Jablon, Marsden, Dichtelmiller, & Dorfman, 1994). These efforts to support individualized instruction were, however, mostly concentrated at the local district level. Few state-level assessment programs had been developed to support instruction.

It seems as though the pendulum of assessment policies had swung from widespread use of readiness assessments and other instruments in the 1980s to fairly limited use of readiness assessments in a few states in the 1990s. To determine where the assessment pendulum had moved toward the end of the 1990s, NCEDL and SERVE conducted a follow-up study to collect information on how states are defining and measuring readiness.

Method

Study Purpose

The purpose of the study was to report on current readiness assessment efforts in all 50 states. We were interested in learning how states have defined readiness and what approaches they were using to measure readiness. We were fully aware that readiness activities were a "moving target," with policies in some states changing within a few months' time. Description of policies at the time of the interview may not reflect the most current information on policies and practices in each state.

Sample

Data were collected from a total of 71 respondents from October 1999 through January 2000. We interviewed at least one individual in each state. We began by contacting the early childhood state specialist in each state Department of Education. We obtained these names from the directory of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE). For those states not represented in the NAECS/SDE directory, we called the state Department of Education and asked to talk to the individual most familiar with the policies regarding the education of young children.

Procedure

Data were collected through phone interviews. SERVE enlisted the assistance of four other Regional Educational Laboratories (AEL, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, and Laboratory for Student Success) to collect data. The regions of the country were divided so that each lab collected information in their own regional area, and SERVE and NCEDL collected data from the remaining regions of the country.

To make initial contact in each state, we sent each state representative a letter explaining the purpose of the study and a copy of the interview questions. In the letter, we explained that we would be calling them to conduct a phone interview using the enclosed questions. In some cases, the initial contact person in a state suggested that another individual be interviewed instead. In states where there was more than one individual with knowledge of state policies, we conducted multiple interviews. To ensure content validity, interviewers provided each respondent with a summary of his or her interview. At this point, respondents were able to make changes or corrections to their interview data. Once these alterations were made, the responses were emailed to a project coordinator and organized into a large matrix.

The matrix was placed on a private Web site that only the respondents and project staff could access. After viewing their responses and the responses of those from other states, respondents had another opportunity to make changes to the data from their state. This step spurred some to make additions based on what others had included. After the verification process was complete, we examined the data by question, searching for common themes.

Instrument

The following questions were asked:

Is there a systematic way of pulling these data together at the state level? If so, please describe this process.

Results

This section reviews the results of the survey related to each of the five questions.

How Do States Define School Readiness?

No state has a formal, statewide definition other than an age of eligibility requirement. Five states (Illinois, Colorado, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota) stated that local districts may have formal definitions of school readiness. Five states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, and Mississippi) reported that they have developed frameworks or benchmarks to describe school readiness. Three of these states have created frameworks that align with broader state frameworks. Further, 6 states (California, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin) stated that they believe that states should place emphasis on schools being ready for all children.

How Do States Measure School Readiness?

States vary with regard to measurement of school readiness. Thirteen states responded that they conduct statewide screening or assessment when children enter kindergarten (see Table 2). In addition to these 13 states, 5 states require statewide screenings or assessments, but local school districts decide how to conduct them. Some of these states provide guidelines that districts must follow, while other states allow districts to follow their own guidelines. Twenty-six states responded that they do not mandate any readiness assessments, but local districts may choose to assess children prior to, or as they enter, kindergarten. Sixteen states currently have readiness assessment initiatives in place, with task forces, committees, or state agencies mandated to develop a plan for readiness assessment or assessment systems under development or being piloted. Finally, 6 states indicated that they do not assess school readiness. Some states, such as Nebraska, have made this decision for fear that the process of assessing readiness may be harmful to children (see Table 3).

Table 2
State Efforts to Assess Pre-kindergarten and Kindergarten Children
State Type of Assessment/Screening
Alabama Alabama Learning Inventory
  • Administered by teachers to every public school kindergarten student within the first 4 weeks of school
  • Measures pre-reading and quantitative concepts
  • Information used for instructional purposes
  • Data compiled at the local and state level
Alaska Alaska Developmental Profile
  • Global measure used to provide summary information on each school to the state Department of Education
  • Districts decide how to gather the information
  • Information will be used to determine patterns and identify areas with high need
Arkansas
  • Health and developmental screening is conducted on all children entering kindergarten
Florida
  • All children entering kindergarten are assessed by their teachers within the first 3 weeks of school
  • Local districts can decide upon instruments, as long as they measure the 16 indicators outlined by the state Department of Education
  • Information is used to guide instruction
Louisiana Kindergarten Developmental Readiness Screening Program
  • Every kindergarten child is screened within 30 days of the first day of school (before or after)
  • One of four state-identified instruments may be used
  • Information is used to guide instruction but is also collected at the state level
Maryland Work Sampling System
  • Data used as a school improvement device and for instructional purposes
Minnesota
  • Early childhood health and developmental screening
New Mexico
  • All children undergo an initial screening upon entry to school
New York
  • All children are screened for health; English proficiency; and motor, cognitive, and language development
North Carolina
  • Early childhood health and developmental screening
Ohio
  • Teachers collect data on children in preschool programs through naturalistic observations
  • The Galileo computer system is used to aggregate data
  • Information is used for program accountability
Tennessee
  • General screening is done (usually the Brigance is used) of all students entering kindergarten
  • Information is used to guide instruction
Utah
  • All kindergarten children are assessed during the first 2 weeks of school
  • Information is used to guide instruction
Table 3
State Policies Regarding School Readiness Assessment
Readiness Assessment Policies Number of States Names of States
State conducts screening or assessment

13

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah
Local schools conduct screening or assessment

5

Florida, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas
Some local school districts conduct assessments

26

Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
State is developing plans to implement statewide readiness assessment

16

Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming
State does not assess school readiness

6

Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Virginia

Vermont has included an assessment of schools' readiness to receive children as part of its school readiness assessment system.

How Do States Use the Data Obtained on School Readiness?

Twelve states reported that they use data collected on children prior to kindergarten for instructional purposes. These data are given to kindergarten teachers to inform them about their incoming class and help them develop individual education plans for children needing them. Seven states use data for school improvement purposes. The data help them to identify high-need schools and improve outcome and services for children in families in need. Six states reported that the data they collect are used for screening purposes, to identify children with special needs, developmental delays, and health problems (vision and hearing). Finally, four states reported that districts decide how data should be used (see Table 4).

Table 4
How States Use Data Obtained on School Readiness
Purpose of Data (How Are Data Used?) States
Instructional purposes Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah
School improvement and accountability Alaska, Connecticut, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont
Screening and/or placement Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Wisconsin
Districts use information differently Idaho, Kentucky, New Jersey, Pennsylvania

How Do States Deal with Assessing Children with Special Needs?

Since most states do not have statewide readiness assessments in place, the methods for addressing children with special needs also tend to be locally dominated. Those states that commented on this issue indicated a recognition of federal regulations relating to the identification and placement of children with special needs but provided only very general indications of how this requirement was carried out at the local level. Of the 13 states with some state-level effort to conduct a screening or assessment when children enter kindergarten, 7 indicated that specific adaptations in the procedures or instruments were provided, 3 indicated that some or all children with identified special needs were exempted from the assessments, and 6 indicated that a separate system for assessing these children was provided. A number of state representatives pointed out that readiness assessments were, in general, not suitable for making placement decisions and were not used.

Is There a Systematic Method in Place to Pull These Data Together at the State Level?

At least 8 states collect data on children's readiness at the state level (see Table 5). The remaining states either do not have a system in place to collect any data or have a system in place to collect data but do not collect data on readiness. Four states did not indicate whether they had a statewide system for collecting readiness data (see Table 5).

Table 5
States' Data Collection Procedures
Are Data Collected at the State Level? States
Yes Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Vermont
No or Not Applicable Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Not Determined Colorado, Idaho, New York, North Carolina

A complete summary of readiness policies in each state related to the five survey questions is given in Table 6. This table can be viewed in its searchable database format. The database can be searched by state and by any of the five survey questions.

Conclusions and Implications

School readiness continues to be a "hot topic" among early educators and policy makers across the country. Historically, the early childhood community has been reluctant to define school readiness and pursue assessment of young children on a wide-scale basis. There are good reasons for this position. Assessing young children is theoretically, psychometrically, and logistically difficult. The potential for long-lasting impacts of misuse of the data is high. From another perspective, however, it seems hard to believe that we cannot indicate in some way how well prepared children are as they come to school. Data on the condition of children as they arrive at school are important in interpreting later accountability measures. Such data are also helpful in understanding how well early childhood services perform in raising the developmental level of young children prior to entry into school. Finally, it seems logical that schools should be able to use data on the condition of children entering school to help design and implement educational programs for these children.

With the ever-increasing emphasis on improved school performance and program accountability, it is doubtful that the early childhood community can sidestep the issue of readiness assessment. The sheer number of states working on policy initiatives in this area is an indication that readiness assessments are going to be a common experience for children in many states. The question is not if but how children will be assessed and how these data will be used (Kagan, 1999).

Results from this survey indicate some changes in assessment policies and practices over time. In the 1980s, Gnezda and Bolig (1988) found evidence of fairly widespread use of standardized assessments with kindergarten children, and many states reported that these assessments were used to make placement decisions for individual children. In the mid-1990s, Shepard, Taylor, and Kagan (1996) reported that most states had made efforts to inform policy makers and educators of appropriate uses of assessment in kindergarten. Fewer states reported using standardized assessments of children and assessment data to make placement decisions for children. Data from this current survey indicate that perhaps the pendulum of readiness assessment is swinging back toward states implementing readiness assessment systems, but in a new way. Rather than using readiness assessment for placement decisions, many states are developing readiness assessment systems to profile the condition of children as they enter school and to develop classroom curriculum activities to better meet the needs of children.

Data from this survey also indicate that efforts to minimize the misuse of readiness assessment tools may have had some impact at the state level. Respondents seemed to indicate an increased awareness of recommended early childhood assessment practices. For instance, many respondents articulated the difference between "screening" and "readiness assessment." Many indicated that statewide assessments are used not to make decisions about individual children's placement but to guide instruction in the classroom or for accountability purposes.

Although the work that many states have done in the area of school readiness is significant, two fundamental issues have been largely unaddressed: the importance of schools being ready for all children and the role of local districts in readiness assessment. School readiness is a two-sided equation: the child's readiness for school and the school's readiness to receive the child. Although several survey respondents indicated that their state emphasizes the importance of schools being ready for all children, only one state reported efforts to incorporate assessment of schools into its school readiness assessment system. It is clear that the second side of the equation—the readiness of schools—is not being widely assessed. Yet, the readiness of schools can play a critical role in explaining children's performance in later grades. To gain a true assessment of school readiness, data must be collected on both children and schools.

The role of the local district is the second issue that warrants consideration. Many respondents indicated that local districts have a great deal of latitude in how children are assessed when they enter school and how data from these assessments are used. Data on how local districts are assessing children are scarce. These assessment strategies are likely to vary in quality. Some may use standardized assessment strategies, while others may use instruments that are locally developed and have not been tested for validity and reliability. It is impossible to determine local school districts' assessment strategies without further research. The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE, 2000) recently revised its position statement on assessment of kindergarten children. The document, titled Still Unacceptable Trends in Kindergarten Entry and Placement, indicates continuing concern over the misuse of assessments in kindergarten settings. Respondents to this survey of state-level assessment practices indicated that their states do not use assessment data to determine children's placement in school; however, the policies and practices of local districts need to be examined to ensure that they are doing no harm to children.

Relatively little attention has been given to issues related to children with special needs and readiness assessment. Responsibility for dealing with these issues is almost uniformly left up to the local district or school with little guidance from state agencies. Although a few states address these issues directly, for the most part there seems to be a disconnect between the early childhood and special education communities when it comes to readiness assessment. It is clear that special educators and parents of children with special needs should be partners as states work to develop readiness assessment systems.

Results from this survey indicate a need for education on principles of early childhood assessment and for additional research. Efforts need to be made to inform policy makers and educators of recommended assessment strategies and how the data from the assessments should be used. Research on early childhood assessment must be translated into a format that can be used by policy makers as they design readiness assessment systems. Finally, safeguards such as random sampling must be built into assessment systems to ensure that assessments provide valid information and the information is used in a manner consistent with good early childhood practice.

Additional research is needed to monitor state policies and practices over time. Many states are on the brink of implementing new statewide assessment systems. Future research will be needed to document the implementation of these systems, the effectiveness of these systems, and how data from these assessments are used. Further study is also needed to determine how local districts approach readiness assessment and how they are using the data.

This survey indicates that the vast majority of work in school readiness assessment is taking place at the local district and individual school levels, but that many states are now moving toward more direction at the state level. This situation provides both opportunities and concerns. If such systems are developed with the best knowledge of young children, of appropriate assessment practices for children at this point in their lives, and with the understanding that there are risks of substantial harm if systems are not designed to safeguard individual children and teachers, then the move to increase readiness assessment can have substantial benefits for both children and for schools. To make this vision a reality will require involvement of a broad array of professionals and families in a concerted effort to make schools a better place for young children.

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education, through the National Center for Early Development and Learning (under contract no. R307A60004) and SERVE (under contract no. RJ96006701). The findings and opinions expressed do not reflect the position or policies of OERI or the U.S. Department of Education. The authors gratefully acknowledge assistance from the following persons and Regional Educational Laboratories in collecting the data for the study: Glyn Brown, Kathleen Dufford-Melindez, Pamela Kahlich, Carol Perroncel, Sandra Ritter, Jenna Clayton, AEL, Laboratory for Student Success, North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, and Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. We would also like to thank the Early Childhood State Specialists and other respondents who participated in the phone interview process and the anonymous reviewers who offered helpful suggestions for the manuscript.

Notes

1. The National Center for Early Development and Learning (NCEDL) is a national early childhood research center. SERVE is one of 10 Regional Education Laboratories across the United States and the lead laboratory in early childhood research. Both NCEDL and SERVE are funded by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education.

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Author Information

Gitanjali Saluja, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral research associate at the National Center for Early Development and Learning at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is involved in several studies of public school involvement in pre-kindergarten education.

Gitanjali Saluja, Ph.D.
National Institute for Child Health and Human Development
NIH
Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research
Room 7B03 MSC 7510
6100 Executive Blvd.
Bethesda, MD 20892-7510
Telephone: 301-435-6917
Fax: 301-402-2084
Email: salujag@mail.nih.gov

Catherine Scott-Little, Ph.D., is the Early Childhood Project Director for SERVE, one of the Department of Education’s 10 Regional Educational Laboratories. She has extensive experience managing early childhood programs. Her interests include readiness assessment systems and the development of practitioner-oriented publications to assist parents, caregivers, teachers, administrators, and policy makers apply research-based child development information.

Catherine Scott-Little
SERVE
UNC-Greensboro
P.O. Box 5367
Greensboro, NC 27435
Telephone: 800-755-3277
Email: cscottli@serve.org

Richard M. Clifford, Ph.D., is a senior investigator and fellow at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center and co-director of the National Center for Early Development and Learning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is past president of NAEYC and conducts research on quality assessment and policy in early childhood education.

Richard M. Clifford, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist and Co-Director
National Center for Early Development and Learning
Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
CB #8040, 300 Bank of America Center
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8040
Telephone: 919-962-4737
Fax: 919-962-7328
Email: dickclifford@unc.edu

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