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Pediatrics Group Urges Caution on Readiness Tests

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School-readiness tests should not be the sole indicators of whether young children need special-education services, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns.

The group, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., published a statement in the March issue of its journal, Pediatrics, cautioning schools against relying exclusively on the tests to identify children. In part, the academy's statement said: "No child should be excluded from school, placed in a special-education setting, or provided with special-educational services on the basis of such testing."

The group's warning adds to an ongoing debate about the utility of such tests in the nation's schools.

Many school systems use some sort of test to admit or place very young children, according to Barbara A. Willer, a spokeswoman for the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The N.A.E.Y.C., among other groups, has in the past questioned the utility of school-readiness tests, whose content and sophistication vary widely from district to district, experts say. The tests can range from an individual district's informal checklist of certain developmental skills to more formal diagnostic tests, Ms. Willer said.

The problem, said an author of the academy's statement, is that some schools may be drawing inappropriate conclusions from the tests and making significant decisions--such as placing a child in special education--based on them.

"Screening shouldn't be used for labeling, just for more comprehensive assessment" by professionals such as pediatricians, child psychologists, or physical therapists, said Dr. Edward L. Schor, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Tufts University medical school who helped write the statement.

"We want school systems to stop and take a look at what they're doing. I'm not convinced all school systems have thought through the purpose and content of their screening protocols," he said.

Not the Final Word

Using school-readiness tests for the purpose of special-education placement can mean that students who do not need such services are misdiagnosed or that those who do need it get overlooked, Dr. Schor said.

Luzanne B. Pierce, a senior program associate in early-childhood education at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, welcomed the academy's statement but noted that federal special-education law requires that an evaluation team determine a child's needs.

"If any school is using readiness tests to do that, they shouldn't be," she said. "Any test by itself does not determine whether or not a child receives special education."

Noting that what is considered normal development in young children is highly variable, the academy cautioned that young children should be placed in special education or receive such services for developmental problems "only when appropriately administered developmental assessments clearly document significant developmental delays or serious emotional or behavioral problems."

Copies are available for $1.50 each from the A.A.P., Publications Department, P.O. Box 927, Elk Grove Village, Ill., 60009-0927.

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