Early Childhood Assessment: Why, What, and How? (Prepublication Final Report)

Published: August 4, 2008
Head Start
National Academy of Sciences: Study of Early Childhood Assessment, 2006-2008 | Learn more about this project

The assessment of young children’s development and learning has recently taken on new importance. Private and government organizations are developing programs to enhance the school readiness of all young children, especially children from economically disadvantaged homes and communities and children with special needs. These programs are designed to enhance social, language, and academic skills through responsive early care and education. In addition, they constitute a site where children with developmental problems can be identified and receive appropriate interventions.

Societal and government initiatives have also promoted accountability for these educational programs, especially those that are publicly funded. These initiatives focus on promoting standards of learning and monitoring children’s progress in meeting those standards. In this atmosphere, Congress has enacted such laws as the Government Performance and Results Act and the No Child Left Behind Act. School systems and government agencies are asked to set goals, track progress, analyze strengths and weaknesses in programs, and report on their achievements, with consequences for unmet goals. Likewise, early childhood education and intervention programs are increasingly being asked to prove their worth.

In 2006, Congress requested that the National Research Council conduct a study of developmental outcomes and appropriate assessment of young children. With funding from the Office of Head Start in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the specific charge to this committee was the identification of important outcomes for children from birth to age 5 and the quality and purposes of different techniques and instruments for developmental assessments.

Last Reviewed: April 29, 2019