Working Towards More Equitable Early Childhood Assessments: A Conversation with Dr. Iheoma Iruka

Blog Post
June 22, 2022

For more than two years now, hundreds of thousands of young children have lived during a global pandemic, experiencing significant disruptions to their early learning. Children from racially and socioeconomically marginalized groups have been disproportionately affected. As a result, public pre-K programs have faced unprecedented challenges serving children with a wider range of academic and social-emotional skills than is typical.

Yet, the lack of systematic pre-K data collection undermines efforts to understand the long-term impacts of the pandemic on children and to strengthen fragile early learning systems. There is a pressing need to enhance the quality and relevance of information captured about young children’s experiences, learning, and development.

In April, New America partnered with the Alliance for Early Success, MDRC, and the Raising Child Care Fund to host a convening with a small group of early childhood leaders and advocates: Reimagining Assessment to Build Stronger, More Equitable Early Learning Programs. This virtual convening featured a discussion with Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D., Research Professor of Public Policy and the Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at FPG Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Dr. Iruka discussed why it is critical to improve child assessments to support equitable early learning. She explained, “We have to look at whether all of our child assessments are really grounded in the lenses, the strengths, the competencies, the capacities of our children-- especially our historically marginalized children. Is it really capturing the true and critical aspects of our children’s development?”

Speaking about children with disabilities and dual language learners, she urged participants to think about how assessments are conducted and whether they truly meet these students’ needs. “What I am arguing is that we have to attend to whether our assessments have been so narrow, and so white-normative, and so middle-class normative that we have basically white-washed it,” she said. By elevating white upper-class children as the ideal in assessments, the field may end up discounting the competencies of neurodiverse children and those from a wide range of different backgrounds.

She emphasized the important role that assessments can play, but explained her concerns with the “assessment enterprise.” She urged participants to think critically about who is in the room creating the assessments.

“We have to create the condition for every child to recognize their genius.”

Dr. Iruka presented four primary steps to move towards equity in assessment:

  1. We have to recognize and be explicit about the long reach and the impact of structural racism. We have to understand biases in the assessment enterprise, from the creation to the implementation.
  2. We cannot set White children as the ideal. We need to recognize that children are geniuses in themselves, and use assessments as a guide to honor children’s gifts.
  3. We must elevate the competencies of minoritized populations, especially competencies that help children succeed in life. Dr. Iruka gave the example of Black children’s gift for oral language storytelling and how this skill is not recognized in most assessment systems.
  4. We must create more expansive and inclusive ways to assess children’s skills.

A video clip showcasing Dr. Iruka’s inspiring remarks from the event is available below.

Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates on what’s new in Education Policy!

This convening was part of ongoing work from New America and MDRC that aims to bolster the quality and utility of equitable pre-K assessments at-scale.

Related Topics