Position Statement on Early Childhood Assessment
The National Association of School Psychologists believes that early identification of developmental and learning problems in infants and young children (ages birth through five years) is essential because of young children’s broad and rapid development. Intervention services for these children’s psychological and developmental difficulties are essential, beneficial, and cost-effective (e. g., Barnett, 1993; Dawson & Osterling, 1997; Schweinhart, Barnes, Weikart, Barnett, & Epstein, 1993). Because the accurate and fair identification of the developmental needs of young children is critical to the design, implementation, and success of appropriate interventions, school psychologists must play a key role.
Evidence from research and practice in early childhood assessment indicates that issues of technical adequacy are more difficult to address with young children who have little test-taking experience,
short attention spans, and whose development is rapid and variable ( Greenwood, Luze & Carta, 2002). Therefore, standardized assessment procedures should be used with great caution in educational decision-making because such tools are inherently less accurate and less predictive when used with young children (Meisels & Atkins-Burnett, 2000).
Multidisciplinary team assessments must include multiple sources of information, multiple assessment approaches, and be conducted in multiple settings and across time in order to yield a comprehensive understanding of young children’s skills and needs ( Neisworth & Bagnato, 2000) . Alternative assessment methods and procedures, including transdisciplinary arena assessment, curriculum-based assessment and play-based assessment should be considered (Losardo & Notari-Syverson, 2001). Assessments should center on the child in the family system and home environment, both substantial influences on the development of young children. Similarly, families’ self-identified resources, priorities and concerns should drive the decision-making process concerning the identification of child and family services (Bailey, 1996).
Because categorical identification of infants, toddlers, and young children is ineffective in most cases for meeting the special needs of young children, assessment of infants and young children requires specialized training and skills beyond those required for the assessment of older children (Mowder, 1996). Longitudinal and functional assessment of behavior and functional developmental skills of infants, young children, and families in a variety of settings is needed to evaluate and document progress and response to intervention over time, and must guide early intervention strategies in meaningful ways (Bagnato, Neisworth, & Munson, 1997) .
Therefore, the National Association of School Psychologists will promote early childhood assessment practices that are:
Developmentally appropriate, flexible, ecological, whole-child focused, strength-based, skills-based, and family-centered (Bagnato et al., 1997; Bricker, 2002);
Conducted by a multi-disciplinary team (Nagle, 2000);
Linked to intervention strategies designed for young children (Meisels, 1996);
Based upon comprehensive, educational and/or behavioral concerns, rather than isolated deficits identified by individual assessments (Bagnato et al., 1997);
Nondiscriminatory in terms of gender, ethnicity, native language, family composition, and/or socio-economic status (Lynch & Hanson, 1996); and