Technology Connects Assessment, Accountability Standards in Early Childhood Education


By Kathryn Costello, President, Pearson Early Learning Group and David Zarowin, Vice President and General Manager, Pearson Education SchoolSuccess

As federal pressure for accountability standards moves into the preschool arena, it is important for states to rapidly develop processes that align preschool standards with K-12 standards and evaluate how prepared children are to succeed in school. Districts and states can now utilize observational assessments and technology to make the connection between developmentally appropriate practices and accountability standards.

Evaluating Assessment, Accountability Standards

Early childhood assessments are different from high-stakes testing done in grades 3-12. Two types of achievement tests exist: norm-referenced and criterion-referenced. Standardized tests common in grades 3-12 compare a child’s performance to a norm. Criterion-referenced assessment focuses on a child’s performance compared to clearly defined criteria. Research shows that early childhood assessment is best done through observation over time against clear criteria.

In early childhood, assessment is focused on determining individual needs and appropriate instructional strategies. The ongoing monitoring of a child’s performance empowers the teacher to use the information they acquire about a child’s skills and knowledge to plan and individualize instruction more precisely. As accountability standards move into the early years, it is important for programs to be able to continue to use this method of assessment. In addition, young children should not be compared to one another. Instead, their learning and progress should be compared to meaningful age-level performance indicators linked to research-based curricula and assessments.

Today, only 15 states and the District of Columbia have prekindergarten standards, with only six states requiring preschool programs to adhere to them. Only a small percentage of states require diagnostic testing at either the kindergarten or preschool level. The only national adherence is found in Head Start, where all 50 states plus the District of Columbia adhere to the federal government’s standards for the Head Start program. The new federal legislation, coupled with the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement, provide clear direction and financial incentives to improve education for young children.

These efforts, along with President Bush’s “Good Start, Grow Smart” initiative will be a driving force for reorganization within the early childhood community. The goals are to establish a new system of accountability for Head Start, forge partnerships with states to ensure that preschool programs are more closely coordinated with state K-12 education goals, and provide better information to teachers and parents through an unprecedented research effort on early literacy.

Utilizing Assessment and Technology Solutions

Pearson Education’s SchoolSuccess builds technology solutions that will help states respond to the emerging standards on assessment in the early childhood community. In partnership with Pearson Early Learning and other leading experts in early childhood education, SchoolSuccess’ core platform technology connects curriculum and assessment to outcomes reporting that is required by state departments of education and federal funding sources.

Pearson Early Learning offers the Work Sampling System (WSS), a research-based assessment tool for students in preschool through sixth grade that relies on a criterion-referenced approach. Its performance indicators and guidelines are correlated to national and state standards. WSS was researched and developed by Dr. Samuel Meisels, president of the Erikson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development. WSS has been studied more intensively than any other comparable performance assessment.

When presented with the challenge of providing Work Sampling programs with an answer to the federal Head Start Outcomes requirements, Pearson Early Learning developed a comprehensive assessment system, Work Sampling for Head Start, which clearly aligns individual child assessments with the federally mandated outcomes. In response to stated needs from teachers and administrators to streamline this process — especially in situations where multiple funding and reporting mandates may exist — Pearson Early Learning partnered with SchoolSuccess to address these needs through technology.

The result of this partnership is Work Sampling Online (WSO), an Internet-based reporting and aggregation system. WSO assists teachers in transforming a mass of observational data into a more accessible profile of the child’s knowledge, skills and behaviors. It also enables administrators to aggregate data on an overall program performance, as compared against state, federal or other standards. Administrators can easily evaluate their program’s progress on federally mandated outcomes, as well as target key areas, such as language and literacy.

WSS is based on state standards for preschool and elementary education. States can now implement technology, enabling state administrators to publish enhanced reports on overall development against specific learning standards, while helping them to better understand the progress being made by preschool children in each of their schools. SchoolSuccess’ platform and suite of online products offer school systems flexible technology solutions to customize their assessment and reporting tools to meet their unique early childhood requirements.

Looking Ahead

The NCLB Act offers a proposed solution to the problem that a significant percentage of children are entering school lacking basic proficiencies, such as language, literacy and social skills. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching estimates that 35 percent of American kindergarten children arrive at school unprepared to learn. The statistics are even more alarming for children from low-income families, with 50 percent starting first grade up to two years behind their peers in preschool skills.

Studies consistently show that early inequalities in skills persist and increase with time. Children who encounter difficulty learning to read fall further and further behind their peers in their school careers. Early and ongoing assessment enables caregivers and teachers to deliver more effective instruction, which will certainly help close this gap. Research supported, ongoing assessments tied to standards will help ensure school readiness and school success. In addition, by using technology, teachers and administrators are more easily able to connect developmentally appropriate practices and performance assessments to accountability standards.

Contact Information

Boston, MA
(617) 542-6500

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.

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