In its 2006 appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services, Congress directed the Office of Head Start to sponsor a study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review and provide guidance on appropriate outcomes and assessment for young children. Assessment of children’s progress is a key feature of Head Start classrooms, since ensuring that children are ready for school requires systematic, comprehensive, and ongoing evaluation. The challenges of assessing young children are numerous, and in Head Start these challenges are compounded by the comprehensive nature of the Head Start program as well as by the fact that children come from low income backgrounds and often come from cultural and linguistic minority groups.
In September 2006, DHHS awarded a contract to the NAS to conduct the study. The study was conducted with collaboration between the National Research Council Board on Children, Youth, and Families and the National Research Council Board on Testing and Assessment.
The NAS convened a committee of experts to focus on two key topics in conducting the study and preparing its report: (1) the identification of key outcomes associated with early stages of child development for children 0-5, and (2) the quality and purpose of different state-of-the-art techniques and instruments for developmental assessments. The committee released its report in the summer of 2008. Other dissemination efforts included a research brief summarizing the key points in the report, and in-person briefings for agency officials, congressional representatives, practitioners, and policy-makers.