Direct Child Assessments

The ECLS-K assessed children’s cognitive, social/emotional, and physical development through direct and indirect methods. The direct child assessments are cognitive and social/emotional assessment batteries developed specifically for use in the ECLS-K and administered directly to the children. Physical development also was measured directly. The indirect child assessments are parent and teacher ratings of children’s cognitive and social/emotional development.

For more information on the direct child assessments, please view the Kindergarten and First Grade Psychometric Report, the Third Grade Psychometric Report, the Fifth Grade Psychometric Report, and the Eighth Grade Psychometric Report. To learn more about accessing the ECLS-K assessment batteries, please see Guidelines for Obtaining Access to and Using ECLS-K Copyrighted Measures, Application for the Use of ECLS-K Test Instruments and Items, and Conditions of Use and NonDisclosure Agreement.

Direct Cognitive Assessments:

The direct cognitive assessments were designed to measure children’s knowledge at given time points, as well as track their academic growth in different subject areas. The assessments for reading (language and literacy) and mathematics measure growth from fall-kindergarten through the eighth grade. The assessment for general knowledge (knowledge of the social, biological, and physical worlds) measures growth from fall-kindergarten through spring first grade. Science assessments measure knowledge of the sciences in the third, fifth, and eighth grades.

The ECLS-K assessed skills that are typically taught and developmentally important. The assessment frameworks were derived from national and state standards, including those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Science, and from the scope and sequence documents from state assessments. The ECLS-K assessments included items that were specifically created for the study, items adapted from commercial assessments with copyright permission, and items from other NCES studies including items from NAEP (disclosed items), NELS:88, and ELS:2002.

The ECLS-K direct cognitive assessments were two-stage adaptive tests; all children began a subject area test with a routing test, which was then followed by a second-stage form. The two-stage, adaptive assessment format helped ensure that children were tested with a set of items most appropriate for their level of achievement and minimized the potential for floor and ceiling effects.

The routing test comprised quickly administered items spread over a broad range of difficulty. The routing test score determined the difficulty level of the second-stage test form administered to the child. The second-stage forms included some items that overlapped (e.g., some items in the middle-level form also were included in the high-level form). The common routing test and the item overlap between second-stage forms helped to ensure that there was a sufficient number of items to precisely measure the child’s skills.

The direct cognitive assessment scores include broad-based measures that report children’s knowledge and skills in each subject area as a whole, as well as targeted scores reflecting knowledge of selected content or mastery within a set of hierarchical skill levels. The different types of scores include number-right scores, Item Response Theory (IRT) scale scores, standardized scores (T-scores), item cluster scores, and proficiency level scores.

The kindergarten through fifth-grade assessments were computer-assisted and individually administered by a trained assessor. The eighth grade assessments were self-administered paper and pencil tests.


The reading assessment was designed to measure basic skills such as print familiarity, letter recognition, beginning and ending sounds, recognition of common words (sight vocabulary), and decoding multisyllabic words; vocabulary knowledge such as receptive vocabulary and vocabulary-in-context; and passage comprehension. Across the full set of grade-level assessments, the passages represented a variety of literary genres such as poetry, letters, fiction, and nonfiction. The kindergarten-first grade assessment began with relatively more emphasis on basic reading skills, while greater emphasis was placed on comprehension in the third, fifth, and eighth grades.


The mathematics assessment was designed to measure conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and problem solving within specific content strands. Across the full set of grade-level assessments, the content strands included number sense, properties, and operations; measurement; geometry and spatial sense; data analysis, statistics, and probability; and patterns, algebra, and functions. Of these, the number sense, properties, and operations strand was the largest of all the content strands at all grade levels.

General Knowledge and Science:

The kindergarten and first-grade assessment measured general knowledge. It comprised items measuring knowledge and skills in the natural sciences and social studies. In the third, fifth, and eighth grades, assessments focused completely on science knowledge and skills. Equal emphasis was placed on earth and space science, physical science, and life science. Unlike the reading and mathematics assessments, no proficiency levels were developed for the kindergarten and first-grade general knowledge assessment, or for the third-, fifth-, and eighth-grade science assessments. Since the general knowledge and science assessments measured different content, scores from the kindergarten and first-grade general knowledge assessment are not on the same scale as scores from the third-, fifth-, and eighth-grade science assessments. Several item cluster scores based on small subsets of items linked to particular content areas are reported for the science assessments.

Social/Emotional Scales:

The ECLS-K social and emotional development assessments focused on aspects of social competence, including social skills (e.g., cooperation, assertion, responsibility, and self-control) and problem behaviors (e.g., impulsivity and aggression). Parents and teachers were the primary sources of information on children’s social competence and skills in kindergarten and first grade.

In the third, fifth, and eighth grades, children rated their perceptions of competence and interest in reading, mathematics, and "all school subjects" by completing the Self-Description Questionnaire (SDQ). They also rated their perceived competence and popularity with peers and indicated behaviors that might interfere with their academic and social competence. The third- and fifth-grade SDQ item-level data and questionnaire items are available publicly at The students' self-reported data from the eighth-grade data collection is available on the Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade Full Sample Public-Use Data File.

Physical Measures:

Children’s height and weight were measured at each round of data collection. Additionally, in the fall of kindergarten, children demonstrated their fine and gross motor skills through such activities as building structures with blocks, copying shapes, drawing figures, balancing, hopping, skipping, and walking backwards.