ERIC Identifier: ED281607
Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Author: Hills, Tynette Wilson
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Screening for School Entry.
Screening programs for children entering school are widespread, and
their use is increasing. Screening is used to predict which pupils are likely to
have problems in regular classrooms and to identify those who may be eligible
for particular programs, such as special education.
Screening practices vary greatly from state to state, according to a national
survey (Gracey and others, 1984). There are differences in what child behaviors
are sampled and in how, when, and from whom the information is obtained. There
is also confusion about the purpose of screening and appropriate use of the
information screening yields.
This digest summarizes current practices and issues in screening young
children and lists recommendations for screening procedures used with children
THE PURPOSE OF SCREENING
The terms "screening" and "assessment" are not interchangeable. Screening is
a preliminary process for identifying, from all the children, those who may be
at risk of future difficulty in school (e.g., inability to meet academic
expectations) and those who may have special needs in learning (e.g.,
extraordinary abilities and talents or handicapping conditions). In both cases,
the identified children must be assessed more carefully to evaluate whether they
do indeed require adaptations of the regular instructional program, or qualify
for specialized educational placement.
Because screening is intended for all the children, the measures should be
inexpensive, brief, simple to administer, and easy to interpret. Screening tools
require lower predictive power than diagnostic measures. Thus, screening alone
is not sufficient for decisions about a child's placement or kind of
instruction. Further assessment is necessary for those decisions (Meisels and
ELIGIBILITY FOR SCHOOL ENTRY
Schools in many localities now screen age-eligible children to distinguish
between those who are ready for school and those who are not. One reason for
this trend is that escalating standards in the early grades have altered
curriculum, causing more entering children to be at risk of failure. Screening
for entry is an uncertain undertaking, however, since educators disagree about
what determines a child's chances of success in school.
School entry is usually based upon birth date. When chronological age is the
criterion, the 12-month age range, and individual differences in development and
experience almost always result in a heterogeneous group. Schools have tried
several measures to cope with that variation (Uphoff and Gilmore, 1985), for
--recommending that the youngest children delay entry --forming slower-paced
classes for immature children --placing some children in transitional classes
Screening is often used to find those children who, after further assessment,
seem to be good candidates for one of these options.
Keeping children in the regular program whenever possible may be more
beneficial in the long run and can further equal educational opportunity (Laosa,
1977; May and Welch, 1986). Controlled studies of held-back children and those
who went ahead do not show significant advantages for holding back (Shepard and
Smith, 1985). Screening and assessment can be used to identify children who may
need more individual help or smaller classes to remain with their peers.
ISSUES IN SCREENING
The underlying question about screening at school entry is whether young
children's behavior should be measured. Is screening harmful? Is it valid?
Goodwin and Driscoll (1980) claim that charges of harm are not substantiated.
Instead, the issues are what, how, when, and why.
What should screening measure or observe? Two basic kinds of tests are
associated with screening and assessment of children entering school: school
readiness tests and developmental screening tests (Meisels, l986). Readiness
tests yield information about the extent to which a child has acquired the
knowledge and skills considered to be important entry criteria for a particular
program. Developmental screening tests, by contrast, provide information about a
child's performance in broad areas of normal development and his or her
potential to acquire further knowledge and skill. Both kinds of information can
be important to early childhood educators, but one kind of measure cannot be
substituted for the other. (For a discussion of criteria for readiness and
developmental screening tests, and for specific examples of each, see Meisels,
How should children's abilities be measured? It is difficult to distinguish
among the separate domains of functioning in young children. Tapping broad
developmental areas -- language, intellectual and perceptual functioning, and
gross and fine motor coordination -- will help to assure validity. Screening
should include the social-emotional domain, since children with early behavioral
problems often have problems later in school (Gracey and others, 1984).
Screening procedures should sample broadly what children know and can do in
situations in which they are comfortable. Young children's behavior is affected
by unfamiliar situations. If they have difficulty with the way they are to
respond (e.g., using pencils to write or mark on forms), they may not be able to
demonstrate their actual abilities. Information from multiple sources --
parents, teachers, and others, using informal tools to augment any tests and
checklists -- will present a more adequate picture of a child's current
Educators who select screening instruments should insist upon accepted
standards (Meisels and others, 1984):
--Were norm-referenced measures developed on a population including children
like the ones to be screened? --Are the measures valid and reliable? --Are they
sensitive, correctly identifying children possibly at risk? --Are they specific,
correctly excluding others from further assessment?
When should children be screened? Young children change rapidly, especially
in social-emotional development (Gallerani and others, 1982). Factors of
individual growth may cause problems to appear later, although they were not
evident initially. Or early problems may be overcome with further development
and learning. For these reasons, further screening should be done periodically.
How should screening information be used? Children identified by screening as
problematic should be assessed diagnostically. Assessment results should guide
decisions about the educational programs children need. Otherwise, children may
--unfairly excluded from needed services or placed inappropriately --kept in
a program that no longer meets their needs --subjected to lowered teacher
expectations, diluted curriculum or narrow homogeneous groupings, all of which
constrict their opportunities to learn (Gredler, 1984).
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The use of screening to identify children who may be prone to academic
problems and children who may be eligible for specialized educational services
is now prevalent at school entry and is likely to continue. To insure that all
such children are correctly identified, subsequently assessed, and ultimately
offered appropriate education, educators should:
--clarify the purpose of screening for teacher, parents, administrators, and
any others involved
--keep informed about research concerning screening tools, their adequacy,
and their usefulness with particular groups of children
--adopt procedures that screen for current levels of functioning in a broad
range of domains
--rescreen periodically and assess diagnostically to confirm children's needs
--keep standards for curricula and instruction appropriate for the vast
majority of eligible children, customizing learning activities for individuals.
Screening programs should be used to identify those children who may need
special kinds of help to function well in school, not to exclude them from
programs for which they are legally eligible. Sound, ethical practice is to
accept children in all their variety, identify any special needs they have, and
offer them the best possible opportunity to grow and learn.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Gallerani, David, Myra O'Regan, and Helen Reinherz. "Prekindergarten
Screening: How Well Does It Predict Readiness for First Grade?" PSYCHOLOGY IN
THE SCHOOLS 19(1982):175-182.
Goodwin, William L., and Laura A. Driscoll. HANDBOOK FOR MEASUREMENT AND
EVALUATION IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers,
Gracey, Cheryl A., Carey V. Azzara, and Helen Reinherz. "Screening Revisited:
A Survey of U. S. Requirements." THE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION
Gredler, Gilbert R. "Transition Classes: A Viable Alternative for the At-Risk
Child?" PSYCHOLOGY IN THE SCHOOLS 21(1984):463-470.
Laosa, Luis M. "Nonbiased Assessment of Children's Abilities: Historical
Antecedents and Current Issues." In PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EDUCATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF
MINORITY CHILDREN, ed. Thomas Oakland. New York: Brunner/Mazel Publishers, 1977.
May, Deborah C., and Edward L. Welch. "Screening for School Readiness: The
Influence of Birthdate and Sex." PSYCHOLOGY IN THE SCHOOLS 23(1986):100-105.
Meisels, Samuel J. "Testing Four- and Five-Year-Olds: Response to Salzer and
to Shepard and Smith." EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 44(l986):90-92.
Meisels, Samuel J., Martha S. Wiske, and Terrence Tivnan. "Predicting School
Performance with the Early Screening Inventory." PSYCHOLOGY IN THE SCHOOLS
Shepard, Lorrie A., and Mary L. Smith. BOULDER VALLEY KINDERGARTEN STUDY:
RETENTION PRACTICES AND RETENTION EFFECTS. Boulder, CO: Boulder Valley Public
Uphoff, James K., and June Gilmore. "Pupil Age at School Entrance -- How Many
Are Ready for Success?" EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 43(1985):86-90.