Poster Paper: Using Standardized Assessments to Inform the Development of Place-Based Initiatives

Saturday, November 5, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Laura Scharphorn and Tomoko Wakabayashi, HighScope Center for Early Education Evaluation

Children growing up in low-income homes are much less likely to have the skills and resources needed to begin school ready to learn. Specifically, low-income children have lower early literacy (Hart & Risley, 1995), math (Duncan & Magnuson, 2011), and self-regulation skills (Wanless, McClelland, Tominey, & Acock, 2011) than their more economically-advantaged peers, which sets them on a trajectory for school failure before even beginning school. Thus, academic and social interventions to give children the skills they need to succeed are essential in promoting equality for all students. In this study, we examined an initiative aimed at supporting high-quality childcare to promote school readiness for children aged zero to five years old in a high-poverty, African American neighborhood in Detroit.

The initiative to improve the quality of instruction provided by childcare providers was developed by a local community organization and included monthly meetings, coaching, trainings, and business assistance. Our aim was to estimate the impact of these teacher activities on children’s school readiness skills, while also informing the development of this place-based initiative. At the beginning of the school year, we assessed 152 children’s early math (Woodcock Johnson Applied Problems), vocabulary (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test), and self-regulation skills (Head Toes Knees Shoulders task). These measures are standardized and/or used extensively in early childhood research, allowing us to compare children’s skills with national norms. Assessments revealed that children’s self-regulation skills were well below the national average, a discovery we would not have made had we used non-standardized measures. Concern that children’s lack of impulse control and planning ahead might be a product of and a contributor to this highly-impoverished, high crime neighborhood, we changed the course of the initiative. We began trainings with childcare providers that targeted improving children’s self-regulation abilities and planned for the next grant year to have structured, long-term focus on supporting children’s development of this skill. Because the purpose of our use of standardized assessments was to inform the best ways to prepare children for school, and not accountability, we were able to discover the greatest needs of children by comparing their skills to those outside the community, as opposed to comparing scores within the group. Added with ongoing informal interviews with program staff, our mixed methods, place-based approach garnered both test scores and notes from the field to inform the development of this teacher quality and school readiness initiative.

This poster will demonstrate the use of standardized assessments in informing the development and improvement of place-based initiatives. While many place-based evaluations create their own measures or use program-specific or locally-mandated measures, we explain how standardized assessments may allow developers to better inform their program by having the ability to compare outcomes to national norms. We also discuss changing focus mid-way through an initiative to accommodate findings, and how we are using findings to create a targeted initiative on self-regulation that will incorporate teacher training and coaching.