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Indicators Panel Weighs Assessment for Preschoolers

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Washington--A national advisory committee is reviewing a draft proposal that calls for the creation of national assessments of the developmental skills of 3- and 6-year-olds.

The draft was unveiled last month by the Special Study Panel on Education Indicators, which was formed by the Congress to suggest changes in the federal education database.

The panel's proposal also calls for upgrading measures of student performance, developing new ways of gauging teacher quality, and improving indicators of school finance.

It also suggests that the Education Department report regularly on the number of youths subject to factors that place them at risk of school failure, as well as on the contributions to schools of families, communities, and businesses.

The proposal represents a menu of options the panel will consider as it works toward issuing a final report, which is due next June, according to the panel's chairman, Alan D. Morgan, New Mexico's superintendent of public instruction. He added that the group is likely to recommend a substantial increase in the amount and quality of data the states and federal government collect.

"The panel has discussed the need to collect a broader variety and greater depth of information than has been collected thus far in this country," Mr. Morgan said. "That may require more resources."

"If you're going to make informed decisions," he added, "you can't do so by collecting the most superficial statistics."

A New Base of Information

The proposed early-childhood assessments, according to the draft report, are aimed at providing greater information on children's abilities before and as they enter school.

"Schools that are not given time to adapt to changes in the student populations they will serve," it states, "will not be able adequately to serve their students."

Information about children from different family backgrounds, races, and income levels, it adds, "will allow us to determine the sources of educational inequities near their roots, rather than after children have already spent time in elementary school."

The proposal states that the assessments should measure "age-appropriate" cognitive and sensorimotor skills, as well as "attitudes and social capabilities relevant to future success in school."

While the assessments would be uniform and national, it states, they should be administered only to samples of children, and not to all children. Moreover, the report cautions, such assessments should not be used to screen children for entry into particular educational programs.

In addition to recommending new assessments for young children, the draft also proposes expanding current student assessments, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, to include broader measures of student abilities.

It also proposes:

Collecting data on teachers' subject-matter knowledge and teaching skills. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is doing ''considerable work in this area," the report notes, although it cautions against using paper-and-pencil assessments to measure teaching ability.

Expanding school-finance data to include private funds available at the school level that supplement base allocations from the school district, as well as indicators of inequities in school-facility funds and comparisons of education spending with spending on other social programs.

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