Standards Take Spotlight At NAEYC Gathering
Performance or outcome standards for preschoolers should not be simplified versions of K-12 standards—rather, they should be specifically tailored to the way that young children learn, two leading groups in early-childhood education argue.
That position statement was adopted here last week at the annual convention of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Written in partnership with the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, the statement outlines conditions under which learning outcomes should be crafted.
For example, early-learning standards should not only focus on academic subjects, but also should reflect the multiple areas of children's development, including social, emotional, and physical growth.
The writing of standards should also include child care, special education, and family experts—people who may not have been involved in the development of K-12 academic standards.
Called "Early Learning Standards: Creating the Conditions for Success," the new position statement was prepared to help guide states and professional groups as they write standards for programs in early-childhood education.
The movement to set standards in the field has experienced "rapid expansion" in recent years, the statement says. The authors cite preliminary results from a recent survey, which found that more than 25 states now have specific outcome standards for children younger than kindergarten age.
Judging by the numbers of participants trying to squeeze into sessions on standards here, the topic is on the minds of many early-childhood educators.
"I really do believe that standards are the like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead," said Sharon L. Kagan, a researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University.
"When they're good, they're very, very good. But when they're bad, they're horrid."
Ms. Kagan was part of a panel of experts on early-childhood education who last week released "Guidelines for Prekindergarten Learning and Teaching," the first national standards for 3- to 5-year-olds, which cover academic areas as well as such skills as being motivated to learn and developing an awareness of world languages.
Concerns About Standards
The development of the standards—which are designed to be freely used by states, districts, or individual schools—took three years and was underwritten by the New York City- based McGraw-Hill Cos.
The standards, Ms. Kagan said, emphasize "comprehensive development," but are not "anti-cognitive or anti- academic"—meaning they emphasize academic skills in reading and math as well as social skills.
Still, some teachers say they are worried that even young children are feeling the pressure of high standards, such as the expectation that children be able to read by the end of kindergarten.
"I hate seeing what's happening," said Phyllis Hopkins, a prekindergarten teacher from Austin, Texas, who attended the conference.
Ms. Hopkins said she and her colleagues "fight like dogs" to keep their pre-K classroom appropriate for young children.
Marilou Hyson, the associate executive director for professional development at the NAEYC, said that her organization and the state early-childhood specialists' group believed they needed to write the position statement to respond to current policy trends. But she acknowledged that many members of the NAEYC are still far from wanting to hold preschoolers to specific expectations.
The statement lays out potential risks in adopting such standards, such as placing the responsibility for meeting the standards on "children's shoulders," instead of on "those who should provide opportunities and supports for learning."
"A test of the value of any standards effort," the document says, "is whether it promotes positive educational and developmental outcomes and whether it avoids penalizing or excluding children from needed services."
But the two organizations also highlight possible benefits, such as bringing more focus to curricula and instruction, improving parents' awareness of their children's development, and strengthening connections to the K-12 system.
While the NAEYC is not one of the organizations writing preschool standards, it is moving forward with a revision of the standards and criteria for the accreditation it grants. Even if they are not accredited by the NAEYC, many early-childhood programs strive to meet those guidelines.
Many of the final details of the guidelines will be worked out in future months as a new panel rewrites the group's standards.
What is known about the actual structure of the revised system—which the NAEYC board approved in July—is that accreditation could last longer than the current three years, and that the organization will focus on accrediting centers and schools serving children from birth through kindergarten age. The group will, however, still represent educators who work with children through age 8.
Professionals who coordinate accreditation visits will be compensated, while "assessors"—people who were formerly called "validators"—will still work on a volunteer basis. Previously, everyone who did that work was a volunteer. ("Rules for Accrediting Early-Childhood Programs Revisited," May 15, 2002.)
Vol. 22, Issue 13, Page 5