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N.A.E.Y.C. Criticizes School-'Readiness' Criteria

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Criteria used to gauge children's "readiness" for school often put unreasonable demands on children and fail to address the inequities in experience that place some at greater risk of failure, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

At a summer meeting in Denver, the group's governing board adopted a position statement cautioning against misuse of the "readiness" concept to justify inappropriate testing, grouping, and curricular practices.

The issue has gained national prominence, the group noted, since President Bush and the nation's governors set as one of their national education goals that "by the year 2000, all children will start school ready to learn."

The current "construct of school readiness is based on the assumption that there is a predetermined set of capabilities that all children need to enter school," the n.a.e.y.c. board's statement says, but that assumption fails "to recognize normal individual variation in the rate and nature of development and learning."

Rather than placing "the burden of proof on the child" to show that he or she is ready for school, the statement continues,"it is the responsibility of the schools to meet the needs of children as they enter, and to provide whatever services are needed in the least restrictive environment to help each child reach his or her fullest potential."

Because socioeconomic disadvantages place many children at risk of failure before entering school, the group concluded that it is a "public responsiblity" to ensure all families access to basic health care, nutrition, housing, family-support services, and high-quality early-childhood programs.

"Until the inequities of life experience are addressed, the use of readiness criteria for determining school entry or placement blames children for their lack of opportunity," the statement says.

Investments in staff training, classroom equipment, and smaller classes are needed, it says, to allow schools to accommodate a wide range of abilities among children within classrooms and offer "meaningful contexts" for learning, rather than focusing on isolated skills.

Because of the variable rate and nature of young children's learning, the group says, existing school-readiness tests are unreliable and should not be depended upon to assign those deemed "slow" to special classes or delay their school entry or promotion.

Raising the school entry age or holding a child out of school a year are "misdirected efforts to impose a rigid schedule on children's growth," according to the group.

"The only legal and defensible criterion for determining school entry is whether the child has reached the legal chronological age of entry," the statement says.

Noting that the "undervaluing" of early-childhood educators jeopardizes the quality of care and education available to young children, the n.a.e.y.c. board adopted another position statement in Denver calling for:

  • Equitable compensation for similarly qualified early-childhood professionals, whether they are based in schools, child-care centers, or family day-care homes;
  • Equivalent compensation to that of professionals working with older children and to other professionals with comparable preparation, experience, and responsibilities;
  • Adequate benefits packages;
  • Career ladders based on performance and participation in professional-development activities.

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