In his book School Readiness: Assessment and Educational Issues, Gredler (1992) associates the rationale for educational screening of young children with that of medical screening. Just as in the latter, educational screening may detect indications of problems that can be ameliorated with early intervention. In this case, there may be present indications of learning or behavioral problems that can develop later in school, enabling school personnel to design strategies that may prevent or mitigate more pervasive future difficulties.
Meisels (1987) distinguishes between developmental screening measures and "readiness" or pre-academic skills tests. The former are designed to identify those children who may be at risk in the future of significant learning or behavioral problems--disabilities that require individualized alterations of the typical program or a special program. Children so identified are candidates for diagnostic evaluation. Readiness or pre-academic achievement tests, on the other hand, are designed to assess the extent to which a child's understanding and skills mesh with what the program expects of children entering the kindergarten or first grade. In this case, the results of the test can help the teacher plan classroom instruction.
Gredler (1992) identifies some important limitations of early screening:
Faced with these difficulties, Meisels (1989) recommends:
"An alternative to the present dilemma is to view readiness tests as a first step in the diagnostic prescriptive process. From this perspective, the purpose of assessing a child's readiness is to understand better what the child does or does not know and can or cannot do, in order to design an instructional program that can increase and enhance the child's knowledge and skills. Using this low-stakes model, one assesses readiness to enhance the benefits of instruction, not to prohibit a child from participating in a program." (p. 21)