Democrats Eye End to Head Start Tests
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A couple of stories on education now.
First, the question: can tests measure what preschoolers learn? Democrats in Congress want to stop testing children enrolled in Head Start. But the Bush administration says tests can show whether the $6 billion program is helping poor children do better in school.
NPR's Rachel Jones reports.
RACHEL JONES: Head Start is considered a jewel in the crown of America's war on poverty. But some researchers say its educational benefits wear off by the second grade. So, starting in 2003, Head Start itself faced a big test from the Bush administration. Wade Horn directs the Administration for Children and Families. He says the tests move beyond general assumptions about the program to make sure individual Head Start centers are doing a good job.
Mr. WADE HORN (Director, Administration for Children and Families): What's different about the national reporting system is it allows us to determine at the individual program level the kinds of progress the children are making in that program, something we can't tell simply by looking at national data.
JONES: In other words, programs would have to prove kids are making educational progress. So, twice a year, more than 400,000 four and five-year-old Head Start kids are asked to do things like identify their letters and numbers, or play Simon Says while a teacher notes their response. Congressional Democrats say the results aren't relevant.
Representative Mazie Hirono of Hawaii sits on two House education subcommittees. She says the testing not only doesn't determine what young children know, it also can't accurately gauge what Head Start does.
Representative MAZIE HIRONO (Democrat, Hawaii): Just testing for whatever narrow range of knowledge that these little kids have I think is not the way to assess the validity of this program.
JONES: House and Senate subcommittees have already voted to end the test. The full Senate will consider the legislation soon. But the best assessment of Head Start testing may come from within the classrooms.
Julie Schuckman directs Head Start for the Quincy, Illinois public school system. She says the testing flunks the basics of early literacy and something called phonological awareness.
Ms. JULIE SCHUCKMAN (Head Start Director, Quincy, Illinois): Which are big terms but many kids start by hearing things. And they notice a difference between the way a car sounds and a truck sounds. Then they start noticing the way words sound differently, cat and bat. They need to know that before they know C and B.
JONES: Nuances Schuckman says can't be measured by the test currently in use. Her Head Start kids have scored higher than the national average on the test, but Schuckman says those results don't really tell teachers anything they don't already know.
Rachel Jones, NPR News, Washington.