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The MisMeasure of Young Children: The Authentic Assessment Alternative

Neisworth, John T. PhD; Bagnato, Stephen J. EdD


Measurement in early care and education, and early intervention, particularly, continues to be dominated by the use of conventional, norm-referenced testing practices to the detriment of young children. Conventional tests have been neither developed for nor field-validated on infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with developmental disabilities. Thus, contrary to professional wisdom in the fields, conventional tests have no evidence-base for use in early childhood intervention. Nevertheless, the accountability movement in education embodied in No Child Left Behind legislation continues to promote the use of conventional tests, which yield distorted results for young children with special needs. It is long overdue for our interdisciplinary fields to abandon decontextualized testing practices and to champion the use of measurement techniques that capture authentic portraits of the naturally occurring competencies of young exceptional children in everyday settings and routines—the natural developmental ecology for children. In this article, we present the “authentic assessment alternative” to the mismeasure of young children. We review the purposes for assessment in early childhood intervention; issues related to conventional testing; 8 standards for professional “best practices”; a rationale and examples of the process and methods for authentic assessment; and guidepoints for implementing authentic assessment in action.

Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa (Dr Neisworth); and the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, The UCLID Center at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pa (Dr Bagnato).

Corresponding author: John T. Neisworth, PhD, Pennsylvania State University, 227 A Cedar Bldg, University Park, PA 16802 (e-mail:

This article is a tribute to the writings of Stephen J. Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, New York, W.W. Norton and Company, 1981.

This article was supported in part by grant funds for faculty activities from US Department of Health and Human Services, Maternal and Child Health Bureau (5T73MC00036-06) Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities; US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs—TRACE Center; and The Vira and Howard Heinz Endowments, Pittsburgh, Pa.

©2004Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.