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Infants and toddlers in day care initially face a higher risk of colds and viruses, but may suffer fewer such illnesses than other children by the time they enter school, a new study suggests.

In the nation's largest study of day care's effects on children's health, the Centers for Disease Control studied 2,137 children, 957 of whom were in day care.

The study, published in the January issue of Pediatrics, attributed only about 10 percent of respiratory illnesses in children under 5 to day-care attendance.

The youngest group in day care in the study--children younger than 18 months--had 60 percent more respiratory illnesses than children not in day care.

For children 18 to 35 months, day care was associated with an increased risk of illness only for those without older siblings.

Day care was not seen as raising the risk of illness for children 36 to 39 months; in fact, those in day care 27 months or more had a lower risk than those unexposed to day care.

Concerned that testing young children for admission to private school "compromises sound early-childhood practice," the directors of 55 elite New York City nursery schools have threatened to stop sanctioning the administration of such tests at their schools for pupils applying to higher-level schools.

The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York (isagne) hired a testing service 25 years ago to administer a single standardized test for admission to city private schools. The nursery directors typically allow the firm to administer the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence at their schools.

Previously, children applying to different private schools were tested separately at each.

The use of a single test "began very innocently and constructively to cut down on the amount of testing children were being forced into," said Mary Ann Sullivan, head of the early-childhood directors' group within isagne.

While the group has long voiced concern over the validity of such tests for young children, a revision of the Wechsler test, expanding it to more than an hour, "brought things to a head," she said.

"It is not developmentally appropriate to expect a 4-year-old to focus on adult-initiated activities" for that long, a letter issued by the nursery directors said. It also warned that "labeling" children based on the tests can damage their self-esteem and unduly alarm parents.

Directors of the nursery schools and higher-level private schools have launched meetings to consider alternatives to the current testing practice, according to Ms. Sullivan.

Cheryl A. Kelly, co-chairman of isagne and admissions director of the Spence School, maintained that most schools receiving pupils from the nursery schools do not set cutoff points on test scores, and weigh factors other than tests in admissions decisions.

The Families and Work Institute is on the lookout for early-childhood programs that consciously try to involve fathers.

While experts agree parent involvement is crucial to school success, such involvement "typically means 'mother involvement,"' noted James A. Levine, who is heading up a study on the subject for the New York City-based research organization.

The one-year project, to be funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation, will include 10 Head Start programs and 10 other early-childhood programs serving low-income populations, comparing programs that offer models for getting fathers involved with more typical programs.

The project will identify barriers to and strategies for involving fathers, and produce a manual noting study findings and a plan for training approaches.

Leads on programs can be directed to Mr. Levine at the Families and Work Institute, 330 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10001; phone: (212) 268-4846.

Buoyed by support from parents, Cleveland's public schools are gearing up to expand a program that allows young children to progress at their own rates.

The "primary achievement" program, now being offered for the second year at two schools, groups children from kindergarten to grade 3 in a nongraded structure that allows them to move among ability levels.

The district has asked the U.S. Education Department to revise its magnet-school grant to Cleveland so the program can be added to 10 more schools.

To spur coordination and expansion of child-care services, the Maryland Department of Human Resources has merged all child-care functions under one agency.

Prior to 1988, licensing of centers and family day-care homes fell under the jurisdiction of two different state agencies and was overseen largely by local health and social-services departments. Addressing criticism that the system resulted in inconsistent enforcement of standards, the state placed oversight for all child-care licensing under the d.h.r.

Besides licensing, the Child Care Administration launched last month will oversee child-care subsidy programs and related activities, such as resource and referral, school-age child care, and efforts to encourage employers to offer child care.

Merging those functions will help "increase the supply of child care and make sure of its quality," said Roberta Ward, the new agency's assistant director for program standards. She added that it will give Maryland an edge in tapping new federal child-care aid.--d.c.

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