Taking Stock: Assessing and Improving Early Childhood Learning and Program Quality

  • October 31, 2007

Unprecedented attention to young children has ushered in a new era for early childhood education. Parents are more concerned than ever before about their children's learning, development, and readiness for school. Early childhood teachers are taking on the challenges of serving all children equitably and well. And policymakers are looking carefully at the outcomes reported for children participating in publicly funded early education programs. Motivated by these concerns and by the growing emphasis on accountability, parents, teachers and policymakers all want more information as they make decisions on how to foster children's early learning and development.

These demands for information come at a time when early childhood educators are uneasy about the effect that increased performance demands may have on young children's development and early childhood practice. At the same time, early educators are aware of the potential of well-designed assessment and evaluation efforts to enhance the credibility of early childhood programs, and support investments in program improvement and expansion. But accountability requires great care. Poorly conceived accountability initiatives can generate misleading feedback, impose onerous burdens, and lead to misguided decisions. And accountability should not stand alone. Linking accountability efforts to program improvement efforts and resources is essential to warrant the effort needed to gather assessment data. Clearly, issues surrounding early childhood accountability and improvement are important, challenging and controversial.