Why I Will Encourage Parents to Opt Out  of IELS


In April, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel about the OECD’s new International Early Learning and Child Well Being Study (IELS) at Hunter College in New York City. This new international assessment has been categorized as baby PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) because it seeks to bring standardized computer-based assessment to kindergartens. We do not know much about the new test, except that it is currently being field-tested in the U.S. by Westat and only three countries are participating: Estonia, England, and the United States.  Karen Tourangeau, the IELS Project Director at Westat was also on the panel, but her remarks did not make me feel any better about a new international standardized test for five-year-olds. Below are four reasons why I will encourage parents, teachers, and children to opt out of IELS.

1. Using tablets to assess five-year-old children presents many developmentally inappropriate issues.
As the NAEYC position statement on technology and young children states, “Appropriate use of technology and media depends on the age, developmental level, needs, interests, linguistic background, and abilities of each child”. Given the large differences between five-year-old children across the country, it is likely that this assessment, (no matter how play-based you think it is) will likely not be appropriate for all children.  It will not accurately capture the wide range of abilities, skills, and experiences young children bring to the kindergarten classroom.

Assessing fives-year-olds with a tablet, normalizes the use of technology-based assessment on young children. Allowing this international assessment will encourage reformers to push personalized learning and replace annual testing, with embedded technology-based assessments given to children all the time.  Assessment done on children should be used to guide instruction. This assessment will have no beneficial impact on the children subjected to it, thus parents should reject it as developmentally inappropriate.

2. This data is not needed.
When you assess a five-year-old child in October or November, the information collected reflects their parent’s social class and what early childhood experiences they had before kindergarten. Two or three months of kindergarten is not likely to impact the skills the test purports to measure. Instead, all the results will tell us is which children have access to high-quality early learning experiences and which ones do not. If we want to know what a five-year-old knows and can do, we can observe them, and ask their teachers and parents. We do not need to subject them to a two-days of testing on a tablet.

3. This assessment can be used to further marginalize and disenfranchise low-income children of color.
The results of this assessment will once again, show us that poverty matters.  But instead of focusing on how wealthy families have an advantage in preparing their children to be successful, this study will reinforce the racist idea of an achievement gap between low-income children of color and wealthy white children. What a five-year-old knows is determined by what experiences they had in their first five years of life. The more experiences they have the more they know. This assessment does not give them more knowledge, it measures the experiences they had before they came to kindergarten.

4. We need international data on early childhood but not like this.
We need to understand how investments in early childhood education impact outcomes for all students. Given that we lack universal preschool in this country, we have no mechanism to ensure all young children receive a high-quality early learning experience. A study like this will only remind us that we have an unequal model of early childhood that ties quality to what parents can afford to pay and that this system produces unequal outcomes. This time and money can be better spent assessing the relationship between country, state, and local government investments in early childhood education and outcomes for all children.