A new survey released Wednesday by the National Center for Education Statistics found that at least three-quarters of all public school districts in the United States are testing students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
But the survey also revealed that there is a wide gap in how early learning is defined and funded.
Nearly half of districts surveyed have some form of early learning assessment in place.
“The bottom line is that many districts are spending more money on early learning and less money on testing,” said John Dickey, director of the Center for the Study of Early Childhood Education at the University of Minnesota.
It’s a big shift from the last administration, he said, when federal and state spending on early childhood education was slashed.
The question is: Will that continue?
“This is a huge issue, and we’ve got to get this right,” Dickey said.
Early childhood educators, advocates, and the Trump administration say that early learning programs are needed to help kids develop their academic and social skills and to give them the tools they need to get ahead in life.
Many parents and advocates say early childhood programs can help children with special needs, particularly those with intellectual disabilities and disabilities that are complicated by special education issues.
At the same time, the survey found that many states do not have early learning assessments or other programs in place that help students meet federal testing requirements.
Some states are testing kids in kindergarten, for example, while others have not.
The survey found, for instance, that only 37 percent of states have testing programs for students in fifth grade or younger.
Another 33 percent said they do not test students in grades six through 12.
Only 16 percent of the states surveyed had early learning requirements in place for kindergarten through ninth grade.
That leaves schools with more than half the nation’s kindergarten students in some form.
About 80 percent of kindergarten students are in school in some sort of early education program.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the United Kingdom has the highest percentage of students enrolled in early learning, with more children in school at school ages 3 and 4 than in any other age group.
In California, the number of students in preschool and kindergarten is at the lowest levels in decades.
In addition, the share of all students in schools that have been in early education programs is at its lowest point since the 1960s.
So what’s the takeaway?
“We need to ensure that all students receive the opportunities that they deserve,” said Dickey.
For the first time in decades, we’ve seen an increase in the number and quality of assessments being conducted, but we’re not seeing the funding for testing as a primary driver, he added.
And it’s not just schools spending money on assessments.
The number of assessments that are being conducted is dropping.
In some cases, the schools that are using the most testing are those with low percentages of students who are enrolled in a learning program.
But Dickey believes that this data also suggests that more money is needed.
“We can do better,” he said.