Hundreds of thousands of young children have spent almost two years in a global pandemic experiencing significant disruptions in early learning, with children from racially and socioeconomically marginalized groups disproportionately affected. As a result, pre-K programs are facing unprecedented challenges serving children who are coming to school with a very wide range of academic and social-emotional skills and in need of individualized supports. Yet, the lack of systematic pre-K data being collected on a wide scale undermines efforts to understand the long-term impacts of the pandemic and to strengthen fragile early learning systems.

As Congress considers historic investments to expand universal, high-quality pre-K, there is a pressing need to enhance the quality and relevance of information captured about young children’s classroom experiences, learning, and development. Here we summarize the reasons why this should be a priority and highlight examples of how researchers, districts, and states are taking steps to make assessments more equitable, useful, and actionable.

  • Assessments should be free from racial bias. Although there are a number of widely used measures of classroom quality and children’s early skills, few were explicitly designed with racial equity in mind.
  • Assessments should predict child outcomes. At the same time, many existing student and classroom assessments do not consistently predict children’s outcomes in the short or long term. A number of recent studies have found no association between widely used assessments of classroom quality and gains in children’s development.
  • Teachers, schools, and parents should be able to use information from assessments in real-time to support children’s learning. Achieving this goal can seem challenging when existing assessments take a substantial amount of time to complete and have high administration and training costs. There are recent examples of programs, districts, and states investing in innovative approaches to collect student data so that it can be useful to educators and parents.

Read the full article about high-quality pre-k by JoAnn Hsueh and Meghan McCormick at MDRC.