Chapter 1: New Approaches to Funding, Testing, and Teaching Advocated

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As interest in early-childhood education waxes and funding for new programs wanes, Chapter 1 holds new promise for giving disadvantaged young children an academic edge that can head off costly remediation later, many experts agree.

Although Chapter 1 is most associated with the early elementary-school grades, the program has allowed for the funding of preschool programs since its inception in 1965.

In the 1988-89 school year, the most recent for which data are available, only about 6.5 percent of the 5 million children receiving Chapter 1 services were kindergarten age; 1.5 percent were in pre-kindergarten programs.

Nonetheless, the program has played a significant role in supporting early-childhood education, and many believe that it has the potential to play a much larger one.

"A lot of preschools would not be in existence, or kindergartens would not have been extended full day, if not for Chapter 1 funds," said Nancy Karweit, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students.

"Simply enlarging the number of children that can be served in preschool would be a wonderful service--and one that is badly needed--because there are a lot of children who need to be better prepared to take on the curriculum of kindergarten and 1st grade," said Barbara Bowman, director of graduate studies at the Erikson Institute in Chicago.

In addition to prodding districts to funnel more Chapter 1 aid into early schooling, however, she and other early-childhood experts contend, the teaching, testing, and grouping styles traditionally used in the kindergarten to 3rd-grade period must be rethought in order to tap the program's full potential.

While acknowledging some of these practices stem from misperceptions of what Chapter 1 requires, these experts argue that an over reliance on standardized tests and programs that pull low achievers out of regular classes for remedial instruction clash with more "developmentally appropriate" practices.

Such approaches include more hands-on, play-oriented learning and exploration; a focus on whole concepts and themes, rather than isolated skills; assessments based on observation; and settings that allow children of varying abilities--and even ages--to interact and work at their own pace.

The National Association of Early-Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education is in the process of compiling comments from members who have raised concerns about how Chapter 1 relates to early-childhood-education reforms, and the group plans to circulate a paper on the issue among national experts and groups later this spring.

Chapter 1 officials contend, meanwhile, that the program is flexible enough to support a wide range of innovative teaching and testing approaches in the early grades, and they point out that they are taking steps to promote such strategies.

"We're encouraged about a lot of good things that are going on, but we also know that we have to clarify where there are misunderstandings and promote the good practices," said Mary Jean LeTendre, director of compensatory-education programs for the U.S. Education Department.

Potential for Growth

The 1965 law establishing Chapter 1 identified preschool programs as one option for meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children.

Many districts in states that did not have a mandate to serve kindergarten-age children tapped Chapter 1 to fund their first kindergarten programs, Ms. LeTendre noted. Others have used Chapter 1 dollars to extend state-sponsored half-day kindergartens to full-day programs.

In an apparent effort to encourage districts to use the funds for pre-kindergarten programs as well, the Congress clarified in its 1988 reauthorization of Chapter 1 that money could be spent on children "not yet at a grade level where the [school district] provides a free public education, yet are of an age at which they can benefit from an organized instructional program."

Much as it has supported kindergarten, Chapter 1 allows districts to start pre-K programs or to supplement them with new services, such as extended-day programs.

While the percentage of Chapter 1 participants in pre-kindergarten programs is still small, the Education Department reported a 12 percent jump in their numbers between 1987-88 and 1988-89.

And state interest in Chapter 1 preschool programs appears to be growing. The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently held the first statewide Chapter 1 meeting focusing on early-childhood programming, and the New York Department of Education is considering holding a similar meeting. The National Association of State Chapter 1 Coordinators formed an early-childhood committee in February to explore such issues as appropriate testing and curricular practices and coordination with other federal programs geared toward young children, including Head Start and Even Start.

Early-childhood experts, meanwhile, are hoping some provision will be made to place increased emphasis on early intervention when Chapter 1 is reauthorized in 1993.

Of the $150-million increase President Bush requested for Chapter 1 in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, $60 million would go toward a 21 percent hike in Even Start, a program that combines adult-literacy and parenting programs with preschool for young children.

While districts must now apply to the federal government for Even Start grants, the increase would trigger a provision in the law that guarantees each state a set allocation based on the Chapter 1 formula.

Prevention Focus Urged

Current restrictions in Chapter 1 bar the federal government and states from mandating that school districts direct their Chapter 1 aid to specific grade levels.

But some experts, such as Sharon L. Kagan, associate director of the Yale University Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy, advocate a "realignment" of priorities, "so new monies that come in could be used to support effective early intervention."

Emphasizing "prevention versus remediation," she said, "may necessitate a commitment of new dollars or a rethinking of how we are using existing dollars, but clearly that should be the focus."

The Education Department, meanwhile, is undertaking several initiatives to alert program administrators to the benefits of directing more Chapter 1 aid to early education.

"We want to encourage more districts to consider Chapter 1 programs for children below grade 2," Ms. LeTendre said.

The selection and assessment of preschool Chapter 1 children is a key focus of three regional meetings the Education Department has planned for Chapter 1 program specialists. The first was held in April in St. Louis; the second, last week in San Francisco; and the third, next month in Washington.

The meetings are also addressing such issues as how to ensure a smoother transition between preschool and elementary-school programs and how to promote greater coordination of Head Start and Chapter 1. That subject is also being studied by a joint task force of the Education Department and the Health and Human Services Department.

The Education Department is also planning to prepare a brochure identifying early-childhood approaches allowed under Chapter 1 and offering clarification on how funds can be used to launch and support them.

For example, Ms. LeTendre noted, some administrators are not aware that Chapter 1 preschool programs can be operated in settings other than schools, or that program funds can be used for building modifications and transportation.

Driving Assessments

In recent years, the increased demand for child care among working parents and research from such highly acclaimed programs as Head Start and the Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Mich., have inspired many districts and states to launch preschool programs.

The national goal set by President Bush and the nation's governors to ensure that all children start school ready to learn--as well as the business community's interest in upgrading the quality of the work force-- has also heightened the visibility of early-childhood issues.

On a separate track, the school-reform movement, with its focus on raising academic standards, has encouraged more formal schooling and the testing of younger children.

But concerns that rigid academic drills and tests are out of sync with how these children learn has begun to spark reforms in teaching children in the developmentally volatile period from kindergarten through 3rd grade.

In recent years, for example, early-childhood experts have made strides in convincing state policy makers that standardized tests are unreliable gauges of young children's learning.

"The younger the child you test, the more errors you make," said Lilian Katz, director of the eric Clearing House on Elementary and Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois. "The problem is, we don't have reliable measures for this age."

Against this backdrop, some early-childhood experts are concerned that practices linked with--even if not explicitly required by--Chapter 1 are posing unintended barriers.

Chapter 1 requires that standardized norm-referenced tests be used beginning in 2nd grade to measure children's growth from the previous year. Children below grade 2 are not subject to that requirement, but must undergo some form of systematic assessment.

In practice, experts note, standardized testing under Chapter 1 typically begins in 1st grade.

But of greater concern, said Harriet A. Egertson, administrator of the Nebraska Department of Education's office of child development, is that "dependence on standardized-test scores discourages districts from studying other, more informative kinds of approaches."

"Because schools don't want to do more testing than they have to," she observed, "the requirements of Chapter 1 end up driving the district's assessment program."

Dichotomy for Teachers

Chapter 1 rules have posed a special problem for states that have begun phasing out standardized tests for children in the early grades.

In North Carolina, for example, where the legislature in 1988 voted to scrap statewide standardized testing until 3rd grade, Chapter 1 guidelines "have created an enormous problem," said Laura Mast, an early-childhood consultant for the state education department.

Although the state has developed a new observation-based assessment process and districts are eager to implement it, Ms. Mast said, "we still have school systems giving standardized tests only to meet the Chapter 1 guidelines."

Delaware, which also dropped standardized testing for 1st and 2nd graders this year, faces a similar dilemma, said Darlene Bolig, early-education supervisor for the state education department.

"A lot of districts want to continue using [the tests] for Chapter 1 because it's clean and neat, and they know no other way," she said. The state has agreed to pay for districts to continue standardized testing for Chapter 1, at least this year.

M. Manuela Fonseca, an early-education consultant for the Vermont Department of Education, also contends that standardized testing conflicts with Vermont's pioneering effort to assess students through the use of portfolios and other observational methods, as well as its shift to "whole language" reading over phonics.

"There is a real inconsistency between what we're saying is good practice" and how it is measured under Chapter 1, she noted.

The mandate for norm-referenced standardized tests starting in 2nd grade "flies in the face of everything we are trying to do," added Maurice Sykes, director of early-childhood programs for the District of Columbia schools. The requirement, he said, is at odds with the "child centered" approach being accented under a five-year plan launched by the school district to reshape programs for 3- to 8-year-olds.

Such experts also worry that the tests encourage teachers to focus on "isolated skills," which Ms. Bowman of the Erikson Institute referred to as "disembedding skills from context."

Observed Ms. Bolig: "The way we are asking for the data drives the way the material is taught, and that is very inappropriate for the way we know we should be teaching young children."

"As long as we are trying to deliver developmentally appropriate instruction, but still assessing it in a way that is inappropriate, we are still going to have that same dichotomy for teachers," said Sharon Meinhardt, coordinator of early-childhood education for the Georgia Department of Education.

Georgia gained national notoriety when it became the first state to mandate statewide standardized testing for kindergarten students, but later drew praise from early-childhood experts when it revised its assessment procedure.

Dangers of Labeling

Some experts also contend that standardized tests are being used inappropriately to identify young children for Chapter 1 services.

The law requires only that "educationally related objective criteria" be uniformly applied across schools, Ms. LeTendre of the U.S. Education Department noted, adding that the department encourages the use of multiple criteria, such as input from parents and teachers and developmental checklists, particularly for children under grade 2.

In its policy manual on Chapter 1 and at its technical-assistance centers, the department offers states and districts guidance on "appropriate ways to assess children for the purposes of selection," she said.

But Ms. LeTendre and others acknowledge that most districts use norm-referenced standardized tests in selecting Chapter 1 children.

"What districts tend to do is to use one testing procedure to meet several purposes," observed Tynette W. Hills, coordinator of early-childhood education for the New Jersey Department of Education. "In many cases, the test becomes in district practice the primary means of selecting children to have in the program the following year."

"Even though a lot of districts say they use [tests] as only one of the screening tools," Ms. Bolig of Delaware added, in many cases, "you could look at scores at the end of the year, and anyone who fell below this point is a candidate for Chapter 1."

Relying too heavily on such scores may have "long-term consequences," Ms. Katz of the eric Clearing House said, because "once a child is labeled, the chances of breaking out of that category are very small.''

Such labeling, she and others maintain, can also result from the "pullout" mode of instruction, in which children receive Chapter 1 services in special classrooms.

Early-childhood experts in recent years have increasingly promoted "integrated" classroom settings that can accommodate children of varying ability levels and foster teamwork.

Because federal rules barring the use of Chapter 1 funds to supplant existing services require that teachers paid with Chapter 1 funds work with Chapter 1 students, however, "it is very difficult in Chapter 1 classes to place children in heterogeneously mixed classes," Ms. Mast of North Carolina said. "We're making a big stab at establishing that kind of grouping in the state, and it is definitely creating a barrier."

"Many Chapter 1 children find themselves in homogeneous settings" that do not give them access to other role models, noted George Coleman, bureau chief of curriculum and instruction for the Connecticut Department of Education.

"You can't teach little kids enough in concentrated doses to make pullout therapy useful, except in rare cases," Ms. Bowman of the Erikson Institute argued.

Mixing and Measuring

Early-childhood experts say the pullout model is used much less frequently in Chapter 1 preschool programs, which tend to operate as regular, integrated classrooms, especially when the whole school is considered Chapter 1-eligible.

"There is much more flexibility with preschool than with school-age children," Ms. Mast noted.

While that flexibility offers "a much more appropriate way of dealing with remediation," Ms. Bolig said, there are still some logistical problems, because Chapter 1 aides are limited to working with Chapter 1 children.

And because many are accustomed to working independently with small groups, a major shift from pullout to in-class services "would require a good deal of investment in staff development for Chapter 1 teachers so that they'd feel more comfortable in a collegial setting," said Ms. Egertson of the Nebraska Department of Education.

Ms. Egertson also said Chapter 1 aid is difficult to integrate with funds for other preschool programs that allow for a wider mix of children.

For example, she said, "What we are trying to do with our state money [for pilot pre-K programs] is to make it an amoeba that can flow in and around other funding sources, so we can include children from families who are more affluent with low-income families."

Despite calls from national experts and organizations for more coordination among early-childhood services, some districts have run into trouble tapping Chapter 1 funds for "early-childhood units that would serve kids funded out of a number of differing funding streams," Ms. Bowman said.

"Because so much money is involved in Chapter 1," Ms. Meinhardt of Georgia added, states "feel obligated to get Chapter 1 programs set and then work other state programs around it."

Some educators also worry that investments in early-childhood education may be inadvertently discouraged by a new process established in 1988 to gauge student progress and to trigger state intervention if districts fall short.

Because the "program improvement" guidelines measure student gains beginning in the 2nd grade, "you are rewarded for waiting for the kids to fail first," said Robert E. Slavin, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University and the director of the elementary-school program at the Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students.

"You may totally miss effective elementary programs by only starting to look" beyond the 1st grade, added his colleague, Ms. Karweit.

Because the test scores of students who have been in the same grade for two years are averaged in with the rest of the class--and because they are likely to do better the second time--Mr. Slavin and Ms. Karweit have also argued that the accountability system may unwittingly reward retention.

Shift in Thinking

Ms. LeTendre is quick to point out that Chapter 1 programs include many "exciting" approaches to early-childhood education; she recounts observing a wide array of activities to nurture children's language, social, intellectual, and physical development using creative play, storytelling, acting, sand, puppets, and other media.

Concerns that Chapter 1 might conflict with early-education reforms, she said, reflect a shift in thinking "in the way educators as a whole have looked at teaching disadvantaged kids."

"We can be just as concerned about [an overemphasis on] drill and practice of isolated skills in other grades," Ms. LeTendre noted.

While pullouts still make up "the vast majority" of Chapter 1 programs, she said, "we certainly see a trend and an interest in moving away from that."

The Education Department is seeking input from some states on alternative approaches, she added, noting that there are "ways to get around the pullout issue" by offering Chapter 1 instruction via extended-day programs, home tutoring, or take-home computers.

Ms. LeTendre said she is "dismayed" by concerns that the use of tests to gauge program improvement discourages strong early-childhood programs or spurs retention.

Conscientious administrators and teachers, she argued, are unlikely to promote undesirable practices simply for the sake of inflating student-achievement gains.

She also cited numerous efforts by the department to underscore the limitations of standardized tests and isolated-skill drills.

One purpose of the regional meetings launched by the department is to clear up confusion about such practices, said Ms. LeTendre, who noted that early-childhood experts on the agenda at those meetings are offering guidelines on appropriate curriculum and testing practices for young children.

The department is also planning to prepare a position paper on school-readiness issues, she said, adding that it will discuss appropriate approaches to assessment and curriculum and highlight ways of "looking at the whole child comprehensively" by linking services and agencies.

The agency is also forming an advisory panel to study the use of standardized tests to measure student gains in Chapter 1, though it will focus chiefly on school-age children.

'Limited by History'

Other early-childhood educators and Chapter 1 coordinators support the view that the program is flexible enough to foster a wide range of practices, and should not limit effective early-childhood programs.

What discourages nonstandard approaches is not so much Chapter 1 regulation, but a "repertoire limited by history," Ms. Kagan of the Yale Bush Center said.

"We have not been inventive or courageous enough to make changes," she said, adding that the first step is to ferret out "what is required and what is tacitly implied" or "some sort of mythical legacy that's been passed on."

"There needs to be some real encouragement by the U.S. Education Department and by state departments of education," she added, to promote innovative early-childhood units, nongraded approaches, and "inventive ways to use staff."

California, for example, launched a major effort several years ago to revamp early schooling. Since then, early-childhood personnel have worked closely with Chapter 1 staff members to ensure that all programs "are integrated and consistent with developmentally appropriate instructional practice," said Robert A. Cervantes, assistant superintendent for child development for the state education department.

That kind of communication can help educators to seek alternatives to current practice within the framework of current regulation, rather than to "immediately try to change the law," Mr. Cervantes asserted.

"What should drive all of this is meeting the needs of the child," he said. "If we are child-centered, rather than program-centered, then our objectives will be better met."

A campaign to raise awareness among those responsible for early-childhood and primary instruction in Connecticut has also helped steer districts there toward more appropriate early-childhood practices and testing approaches, Mr. Coleman of the state education department said.

As part of an early-childhood policy that encompasses Chapter 1, he added, the state has "provided guidance to districts that has testified to our satisfaction the downside of testing young children."

Jim M. Sheffer, chief of the federal-programs division in the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said a task force of early-childhood experts involved with federal, state, and community programs has helped the state in developing alternative indicators for preschool, kindergarten, and 1st-grade children.

"The federal regulations appear to me to be open or liberal enough regarding preschool, K, 1, and 2 programs to support alternative forms of assessment," said Douglas E. Kammerer, director of compensatory-education programs for the Marion, Ohio, city schools. He added that Chapter 1 has helped support such innovative approaches as the "Reading Recovery" program adopted by the district, which "would not have been as widespread in Ohio" without Chapter 1.

Merwin L. Smith, Chapter 1 administrator for the Nebraska Department of Education, said that since the law was reauthorized in 1988, the U.S. Education Department has fostered greater coordination between Chapter 1 and regular education and encouraged alternative forms of assessment for selecting and evaluating children below grade 2.

Robert M. McNamara, chief of compensatory education and of curriculum and instruction for the Vermont Department of Education, added that even beyond that level, the norm-referenced-test requirement need not drive the curriculum.

As long as flexible teaching approaches are encouraged and the tests are played down, he said, "You can still have a developmental philosophy and do this."

Mr. McNamara also cited examples of districts seeking alternatives to pullout programs by offering extended-day programs for Chapter 1 children or, in small schools, funding one teacher certified to teach Chapter 1, special education, and regular education.

"If you take a very narrow view of Chapter 1," he conceded, "you wouldn't be able to get the benefits of mixed grouping."

Interim Steps Urged

Where developmentally inappropriate practices exist, Mr. McNamara and others argue, it is often a function of misinterpretation or longstanding practice for children in the older grades.

"In most cases," he said, "it tends to be a misinterpretation of what the law says, rather than the law getting in the way."

"I don't think there's anything in our law or regulation which promotes not having good practices," Ms. LeTendre said. "It may be force of habit and the way things have been done for years."

But educators on all sides of the debate acknowledge a need to offer districts clear guidance on alternative approaches.

"Somewhere along the way people are not getting the message, or they're not hearing it," Ms. Meinhardt of Georgia said.

Ms. Egertson of Nebraska pointed out that the reauthorization of Chapter 1 in 1993 "holds a lot of promise" for addressing early-childhood educators' concerns.

"But in the meantime," she said, "the local school districts really need some assistance to bridge this."

Cynthia G. Brown, director of the resource center on educational equity for the Council of Chief State School Officers, said the ccsso has formed a commission to study Chapter 1, including the issues of assessment and pullouts.

She said she is optimistic that the federal government can play a key role in reforms.

"As we try to move to more developmentally appropriate programs and really seriously question the role of standardized tests with young children," she said, "I would hope the department would take some leadership."

Ms. Brown warned, however, that policymakers must act swiftly to capitalize on the prominence of early-childhood issues and on Chapter 1's potential to serve as a "vehicle for driving higher-quality education."

"We can't spend the next five years redesigning the system," she said. "We have to come up with some interim measures."

Vol. 10, Issue 35, Page C14-17

Published in Print: May 22, 1991, as Chapter 1: New Approaches to Funding, Testing, and Teaching Advocated
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