Skip Navigation
archived information
Skip Navigation

Back to Ask A REL Archived Responses

REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Early Childhood

May 2018


What does the research say about developmental screening tools for identifying preschool students with potential delays?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and reviews on developmental screening tools for preschoolers. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Ackerman, D. J., & Coley, R. J. (2012). State Pre-K assessment policies: Issues and status. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Preschool education is increasingly being recognized as an integral part of efforts to ensure that all children enter school ready to learn and as a way to help close the achievement gaps that exist at the time children enter kindergarten. Such efforts are growing across the country. According to the most recent data, 54 different preschool initiatives in 40 states serve over one million children, almost double the number served eight years earlier. As these programs and efforts to monitor them have grown, a common focus is on documenting children’s learning outcomes. Assessing young children, however, presents particular challenges. This report identifies and describes state-funded Pre-K assessment policies and programs operating in 2012 and discusses the special challenges related to assessing young children. A table for specific child outcome measures that must or may be used as per Pre-K Policy is appended.”

Brown, G., Scott-Little, C., Amwake, L., & Wynn, L. (2007). A review of methods and instruments used in state and local school readiness evaluations (Issues & Answers, REL 2007-No. 004). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The report provides detailed information about the methods and instruments used to evaluate school readiness initiatives, discusses important considerations in selecting instruments, and provides resources and recommendations that may be helpful to those who are designing and implementing school readiness evaluations. Study results indicate that state and local evaluators have used a variety of instruments to collect child outcome data, some that are well known and others that are not. In general, many of the better-known instruments demonstrate adequate psychometric properties (reliability and validity, which ensure that the instruments consistently measure what they were intended to measure), but a number of issues, such as the appropriateness of the measure to the study’s purpose and sample, appear to present substantial challenges in evaluations of state- and locally-funded school readiness programs. Recommendations based on the data collected from this sample are provided to help school readiness programs and evaluators as they select instruments for assessing programs and implementing the evaluations include: (1) Careful selection of outcomes for assessment that match the goals of the program and address the components of children’s learning and development that are linked with later success in school; (2) Clear definition of the purpose for which assessment data will be collected, and selection of instruments designed and validated for that purpose; (3) Selection of instruments that have a proven track record; (4) Selection of instruments that are culturally and linguistically appropriate; (5) Consideration of data collection (internal/external); (6) Assessment administration, including training and reliability studies; and (7) Data collection in context. Report findings highlight the challenges that evaluators face in ensuring that data are collected in a manner that yields credible, trustworthy, and meaningful information about child outcomes. The report cites a number of resources that can assist evaluators in making decisions about child assessments: resources to guide decisions about how to assess child outcomes, reviews of measures, and web sites with technical information related to measures used in large federal studies.”

Darling-Churchill, K., Chien, N., Halle, T., Lippmann, L., Zaslow, M., Daneri, P., et al. (2015). Characteristics of existing measures of social and emotional development in early childhood: Applications for federal reporting and data collection. Bethesda, MD: Child Trends. Retrieved from

From the description: “This Report discusses the length of promising and strong measures (focusing on those that are short and thus most useful to federal agencies) and offers recommended measures by subgroups, ages 0—3 and 4—5, thus easily identifying measures appropriate for use in assessing school readiness. It serves to aid federal stakeholders in their efforts to address key concerns related to time and respondent burden when administering surveys; cost of developing, testing, and administering short measures; and potential policy implications of measurement efforts.”

Halle, T., Zaslow, M., Wessel, J., Moodie, S., & Darling-Churchill, K. (2011). Understanding and choosing assessments and developmental screeners for young children Ages 3-5: Profiles of selected measures (OPRE Report# 2011-23). Washington, DC: Administration for Children & Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The 2007 reauthorization of Head Start requires Head Start programs to use child assessments and developmental screeners that are developmentally, linguistically, and culturally appropriate, as well as valid and reliable in the language in which they are used. This can be a challenge, since very few child assessment tools are developed or tested with linguistically and culturally diverse samples or with samples of children with disabilities. This compendium has been created to address this need and to promote the use of reliable and valid assessment data, wherever possible, in Head Start and other early childhood programs. This document has three purposes. First, the compendium aims to help Head Start managers and other early childhood education administrators review information regarding the reliability and validity of commonly used assessment and developmental screening tools in order to help them better select appropriate tools for the populations they serve. Second, the compendium aims more generally to increase awareness about reliability and validity and how to evaluate whether an instrument is reliable and valid for the population and purpose for which it will be used. Finally, the compendium aims to highlight areas in which the early childhood field is lacking information on reliability and validity of early childhood assessments and developmental screeners. While originally developed in response to Head Start’s reauthorization, the compendium is designed to be useful to managers and staff who work in different types of early childhood education programs and who are responsible for selecting and evaluating assessment or screening instruments. This compendium is meant to aid by doing the following: (1) Summarize information from the assessment and developmental screening instruments most commonly used by Head Start programs for 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds; (2) Share reliability and validity data as it relates to key populations of children, including dual language learners and children with disabilities, as well as the children served in American Indian/Alaska Native and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs; and (3) Translate information on reliability and validity in a way that is quicker and easier for Head Start managers and others to understand and use. The compendium also has a broader goal: to increase understanding of reliability and validity more generally among Head Start and early childhood managers.”

Halle, T., Tout, K., Daily, S., Albertson-Junkans, L., & Moodie, S. (2013). The research base for a birth through age eight state policy framework. Washington, DC: Alliance for Early Success and Child Trends. Retrieved from

From the description: “The Alliance for Early Success developed the Birth Through Age Eight State Policy Framework as a tool, or roadmap, that can inform decision-making and guide policy choices. It focuses attention on what is critical within and across different aspects of early childhood development to address the physical, social, and cognitive needs of young children within various contexts. The framework is the collective work of more than 150 experts, including leaders in the fields of early childhood and K-12 education, advocates, researchers, policymakers, and foundation officers. Building on decades of research and theory identifying the essential supports for children’s development, the framework emphasizes health, family support, and learning as critical policy areas, and standards, assessment practices, and accountability systems as critical foundations to implement the policies.”

Halle, T. G., & Darling-Churchill, K. E. (2016). Review of measures of social and emotional development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 45, 8–18. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This paper provides a critical review of measures of social and emotional development in early childhood for use within large-scale national surveys of child well-being and evaluations of early childhood interventions and initiatives. Key literature on social and emotional development was reviewed and organized around four commonly used subdomains: social competence, emotional competence, behavior problems, and self-regulation. Six measures, out of 75 which met criteria for more systematic review, were identified as good candidates for broader use with children birth to age five, based on their having a majority of 10 key features of strong assessments. The review also examines whether executive function is captured by measures of social and emotional development. Implications for enhancing the usefulness and effectiveness of social and emotional measures in the field and implications for future measures development are considered.”

Moodie, S., Daneri, P., Goldhagen, S., Halle, T., Green, K., & LaMonte, L. (2014). Early childhood developmental screening: A compendium of measures for children ages birth to five (OPRE Report 2014-11). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “For children age birth to five, physical, cognitive, linguistic, and social-emotional growth and development occur at a rapid pace. While all children in this age range may not reach developmental milestones (e.g., smiling, saying first words, taking first steps) at the same time, development that does not happen within an expected timeframe can raise concerns about developmental disorders, health conditions, or other factors that may negatively impact the child's development. Early, frequent screening of young children for healthy growth and development is recommended to help identify potential problems or areas needing further evaluation. For developmental screening to be effective, it should begin early in a child’s life-be repeated throughout early childhood; and use reliable, valid screening tools appropriate to the age, culture, and language of the child. This compendium has been created to help practitioners better understand this information and make informed choices about the developmental screening tools they use with children birth to age five. It aims to: (1) discuss the purpose of developmental screening and how it differs from child assessment; (2) ‘translate’ technical psychometric information about the reliability and validity of commonly-used developmental screening tools into language that is easily understood by early childhood practitioners; and (3) highlight areas in which the early childhood field is lacking information on reliability and validity of available developmental screening tools.”

National Research Council. (2008). Early childhood assessment: Why, what, and how. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The assessment of young children’s development and learning has recently taken on new importance. Private and government organizations are developing programs to enhance the school readiness of all young children, especially children from economically disadvantaged homes and communities and children with special needs. Well-planned and effective assessment can inform teaching and program improvement, and contribute to better outcomes for children. This book affirms that assessments can make crucial contributions to the improvement of children’s well-being, but only if they are well designed, implemented effectively, developed in the context of systematic planning, and are interpreted and used appropriately. Otherwise, assessment of children and programs can have negative consequences for both. The value of assessments therefore requires fundamental attention to their purpose and the design of the larger systems in which they are used. ‘Early Childhood Assessment’ addresses these issues by identifying the important outcomes for children from birth to age 5 and the quality and purposes of different techniques and instruments for developmental assessments.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes –

From the website: “One of 22 Comprehensive Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) will strengthen the capacity of State Education Agencies (SEAs) to lead sustained improvements in early learning opportunities and outcomes. CEELO will work in partnership with SEAs, state and local early childhood leaders, and other federal and national technical assistance (TA) providers to promote innovation and accountability. ”

Assessment resources –

From the website: “States are working to build comprehensive early childhood assessment systems to answer key questions about young children’s learning and development and the effectiveness of early childhood programs. Research and best practice will help states as they make decisions and provide leadership in developing, adopting and providing guidance on assessment of children, programs, and educators; providing professional development on how to administer and use the results of assessments; and supporting timely, useful reporting of assessment data to early childhood programs, teachers, families, school districts and state policymakers.”

Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance –

From the website: “The objectives of the Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance are to (a) support Illinois in its multiagency early childhood education (ECE) work, and (b) examine the characteristics of ECE programming and participation in Illinois as well as the relationship between programming and school readiness at kindergarten entry and student outcomes in early grades.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • descriptor:“early childhood education” descriptor:“test reliability”

  • Preschool screening

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.