Developmental Outcomes and Assessments for Young Children

Type: Consensus Study
Topics: Children, Youth and Families, Select Populations and Health Disparities
Board: Board on Children, Youth, and Families

Activity Description

The committee responded to a Congressional mandate for a National Research Council panel to "review and provide guidance on appropriate outcomes and assessments for young children." The committee focused on two key topics: (1) the identification of key outcomes associated with early stages of child development for children ages 0-5, and (2) the quality and purpose of different state-of-the art techniques and instruments for developmental assessments.

In the first area, the committee reviewed the research base associated with developmental outcomes for children ages 0-5 in different domains, including physical, cognitive, social, psychobiological, and emotional. This review included consideration of the range of variation associated with developmental outcomes in different child populations according to gender, SES status, race/ethnicity, and age. Special attention was given to outcomes that are specified as the focus of early childhood programming, such as Head Start, as well as outcomes that allow states to monitor the developmental capacities of young children and to support programs that make positive contributions to these outcomes.

In the second area, the committee examined the available range of techniques and instruments for assessing these outcomes, paying particular attention to the empirical evidence available about the reliability, validity, fairness and other considerations related to the quality and use of the developmental assessments. The review considered issues related to the use of assessments in screening the developmental status of special populations of children (such as children with developmental disabilities, children from minority cultures, and children whose home language is not English).

The committee also examined the criteria that should guide the selection of assessment techniques for different purposes, such as guiding curriculum and instructional decisions for individual children, or program evaluation and program accountability, and the ability to link early childhood interventions such as Head Start with wider community goals for young children. Special consideration was given to the training requirements that are necessary for the use of assessments in different program settings and with different child populations. The committee, to the extent possible, identified opportunities to link measurement improvement strategies within diverse settings (such as educational, developmental, and pediatric programs for young children) to avoid duplication and to maximize collaboration and efficiencies.

The committee provided recommendations to practitioners and policymakers about criteria for the selection of appropriate assessment tools for different purposes, as well as how to collect and use contextual information to interpret assessment results appropriately for young children. The committee also developed a research agenda to improve the quality and suitability of developmental assessment tools that can be used in a variety of early childhood program and service environments.

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