Stop the Head Start tests No Child Left Behind ratcheted up an already difficult debate: Should our education system be built upon standardized tests?

And while schools, parents and state legislators have been arguing about the federal law's dependence on elementary school testing, one more education test has slipped into the mix: one that subjects preschoolers to standardized tests.

Last fall, instructors administered the first National Reporting System test to 450,000 Head Start children, ages 4 and 5-against the advice of early childhood learning experts.

The panel of experts, convened by the federal government, never saw the test. Regardless, they say, you cannot test the math and reading skills of 4- and 5-year-olds and use the results as a gauge of Head Start. Despite that advice, the government is spending $16 million to give the test in the first year. It should stop.

In the world of education, this is "a high-stakes achievement test," according to Samuel J. Meisels, president of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute, a graduate school of child development.

That means a lot rests on these children's little shoulders. The results may determine not only the future of that child's education but the future of Head Start as well.

We believe is is a good thing when government asks whether money is being well spent. But testing math and reading skills of preschoolers is not the way to determine the worth of this holistic program.

Head Start helps low-income children and their parents by teaching them how to learn, listen and connect to other resources.

Meisels and Linda Espinosa of the University of Missouri were members of the panel convened by the agency that oversees Head Start. They say it takes years to develop an appropriate test for preschoolers and to train people to administer it to children this young, particularly low-income youngsters. The federal government did it in about six months.

"This test is gravely flawed," says Mark Ginsberg of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

We know Head Start works. Since 1965, Head Start has served more than 20 million low-income children at a cost of about $7,000 per child. In 2002, Illinois Head Start programs got $259 million in federal money to serve 39,619 children.

True, there may be some aspects that need work. But why not test the programs against proven models instead of testing the children?

Congress is debating the future of Head Start right now. President Bush has proposed a complete revamp of its funding structure to give states control of the money. We fear the real purpose of the test-no matter how flawed-is to justify this move.

We urge the government to take this slowly. As parents, we know you get only one chance to get it right when it comes to little children.

First, take the advice of your experts: Get rid of this test, take time to develop one that works and train instructors to administer it.

Then, and only then, should government look at sweeping changes in funding for Head Start.

Congratulations to us It's always nice to hear you are doing a good job. It's particularly nice to hear it from people who know the job inside and out.

That's why is was good news that Chicago Parent was a winner when the Parenting Publications of America looked at its own last month. We brought home 11 awards.

We look marvelous-we got gold for our overall use of color, photography and typography. The awards confirm what we already know-we have a talented design team in Jason Smith, Ashley Ernst and Cindy Michalowski. We also have two wonderful photographers, Frank Pinc and Josh Hawkins. And we are ever grateful to Phil Ritzenberg, our design consultant, who did a wonderful job redesigning the magazine in 2002.

The judges from the Columbia School of Journalism in Missouri also gave gold to illustrator Madeleine Avirov for her powerful and beautiful cover drawing for the July issue. The judges complimented Editor Susy Schultz on her columns and Associate Editor Cindy Richards for producing a strong Short Stuff section every month.

They said Bev Bennett, our Eating Well columnist, is not only a clever writer but a good reporter. And overall, Chicago Parent's stories, "have clever beginnings and a nice tone and narrative pace throughout."

We are particularly proud of Going Places, our guide to the Chicago metropolitan area. For three years, the work done by editor Mary Haley and her team has been gold.

Thanks to the association and to the Chicago Parent team-all of whom are gold in our eyes.

Kids Eat Chicago

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