Readiness Tests

The main reason for testing and evaluating students must be to improve student learning. Each year, however, public school students in the U.S. must take millions of standardized tests which are more harmful than helpful and which do nothing to improve the equality of instruction or learning for students.

Among the tests which are especially damaging to young children are readiness tests. Schools frequently use the scores from readiness tests to judge whether children are ‘ready’ for kindergarten or are ‘ready’ for promotion to first grade.

There are more than 100 different readiness tests. The best known include:

Boehm Test of Basic Concepts (Psychological Corporation)
Brigance Inventory of Early Development (Curriculum Associates)
Gesell School Readiness Test (Gesell Institute)
Metropolitan Readiness Test (Psychological Corporation).

The Problem

There are several problems with using readiness tests to make important decisions about children’s lives.

Because young children grow and change very rapidly, and because the tests are very limited in what they can measure, researchers have found that readiness tests are wrong up to half the time. Thus, these tests may be no more accurate than flipping a coin.

As a result of reliance on faulty test scores, many children are not allowed to enter school; are inappropriately placed in special education, transitional groupings, or “ability groups” (also known as tracking); or are improperly held back. According to many experts, tracking and retention are not educationally sound for students of any age. With young children, these practices can lay the foundation for poor school performance, even dropping out of school in later years.

Children who score low often are labeled “not ready,” “failures,” or “slow learners,” labels that will stay with them throughout their educational careers. These labels may well become self-fulfilling prophecies, with negative consequences for individual children and our society.

Because the exams carry cultural and language biases, children from low-income families, minority children, and children from homes where English is not the first language often get lower scores. They therefore suffer most from readiness tests.

Most readiness tests are not based on current theories of child development. Using them leads to classrooms that are too academic and discourage the enthusiasm for learning that is common among young children.

The Solution

Children learn best when they build on prior experience, as happens when they are placed in developmentally appropriate classrooms.

“Developmentally appropriate” refers to teaching methods, materials, practices, structures, and environments which help children learn and develop in ways that are the most natural and suitable for their ages and levels of maturity. Some developmentally appropriate alternatives to readiness tests are:

  • using legal age as the only requirement for entering school;making educational decisions based on several factors, including, for example, portfolios of student work over time, notes on student behavior and progress, parental input, and input from specialists such as speech therapists or psychologists;
  • training teachers and administrators in early childhood development and educational methods appropriate for young children;
  • making parental involvement a part of the educational program;establishing multi-age classrooms of two or more grades.

Other Resources:

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1509 16th. St., NW, Washington, DC 20036, (202)232-8777.
  • National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). Implementing Performance Assessments: A Guide to Classroom, School and System Reform. (Cambridge, MA, 1995). Order It Here
  • National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). Standardized Tests and Our Children: A Guide to Testing Reform (Cambridge, MA 1991). Order It Here
  • National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) Annotated Bibliography: Testing and Evaluating Young Children (Cambridge, MA 1999).

A printable PDF version of this factsheet is available here.