Every fall, every kindergartner in Michigan sits down with his or her teacher to read a book. The child might not recognize the event as a test. But the teacher is trained to look for clues to the child’s emerging literacy skills. Does he hold the book right-side up? Can he identify the front and back covers? Does he recognize letters and words that rhyme?
Over the course of the 20-minute session, the answer to such questions will help the teacher identify ways to place the student on the path toward becoming a competent, independent reader by the end of 3rd grade--the goal set by Michigan Gov. John Engler in 1998.
Through the individual sessions, which occur periodically from kindergarten through grade 3, teachers get more information than a standardized test could ever provide.
“This allows a teacher to find out what each child’s individual needs are and tailor instruction to their needs,” says Steven A. Gaynor, the superintendent of the 6,600-student Royal Oak schools, north of Detroit. “What I’ve heard from teachers is, despite the fact that it’s time-consuming, [the assessment] has strengthened the early-elementary reading program.”
“When you use a standardized instrument, it doesn’t tell you what to do tomorrow in the classroom,” adds Lindy Buch, the curriculum supervisor for programs in early childhood through high school at the Michigan Department of Education. “This is an assessment that leads directly to instruction.”
Although the voluntary testing program is used in most K-3 classrooms throughout the state, it isn’t widely used in the state’s prekindergarten programs. But it will be soon, according to Buch.
Different Purpose, Different Test
While the literacy profile helps teachers decide what they need to do week to week for individual students, the test is not meeting all the assessment needs of the state’s early-childhood programs.
To gauge whether children are ready to enter kindergarten, the state also helps teachers evaluate the youngsters’ social, physical, and other skills throughout their early-childhood experiences, using the High/Scope Child Observation Record for Ages 2½-6.
The structured instrument helps teachers record their observations of children’s behavior in the classroom on a regular basis. While there is no single event that looks like a “test,” researchers say the results are as reliable as a standardized test would be.
“It does give a pretty clear and quantitative view of a child’s social, motor, and cognitive levels,” says Charles F. Hohmann, a senior research associate for the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, the Ypsilanti, Mich., nonprofit research group that publishes the assessment. “It’s not a soft measure. We produce the same kind of statistics that you’d see from a test.”
To evaluate specific programs, the state is using yet another measure: the High/Scope Program Quality Assessment. The assessment evaluates various ingredients of a center’s program--such as the experience and education of staff members and the type of activities children engage in--to judge whether the center is offering good experiences for children.
The High/Scope Foundation uses the assessment to monitor a random sample of 1,000 classrooms in the state’s prekindergarten program. Local educators conduct their own evaluations using the same instrument. Though the results are “very preliminary,” Buch says, they suggest that the preschools are successful. “Does this work?” she says.
A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2002 edition of Education Week