1.5 Why this chapter?

We believe that there cannot be one instrument for measuring child development that is suitable for all situations. In general, the tool needs tailoring to the setting. For example, to find a delayed child, we need an instrument that is precise for that individual child, and that is sensitive to different domains of delay. In contrast, if we want to estimate the proportion of children that is developmentally on track in a region, we need one culturally unbiased, relatively imprecise low-cost measurement made on many children across many ages. The optimal instrument will look quite different in both cases.

We also believe that there can be one scale for measuring child development and that this scale is useful for many applications. Such a scale is similar to well-known measures for body height, body weight or body temperature. These measurements have a clearly defined unit (i.e., centimetre, kilogram, degree Celsius), which moreover is assumed to be constant across all scale locations. We express measurements as the number of scale units (e.g. 92 cm). Note that there may be multiple instruments for measuring a child height (e.g. ruler, laser distance meter, echolocation, ability to reach the door handle, and so on). Still, their result translates into scale units (cm here). The opposite is also true, and perhaps more familiar. We may have one instrument and express the result in multiple units (e.g. cm, inches, light-years).

Instruments and scales are different things. Currently, instruments for measuring child development define their own scales, which renders the measurements made by distinct tools incomparable. No measurement unit for child development yet exists. It would undoubtedly be an advance if we could tailor the measurement instrument to the setting while retaining the advantage of a scale with a clearly defined unit across different tools. We can then compare the data collected by distinct devices. This chapter explores the theory and practice for making that happen.