The purpose of assessment Assessment can be defined as the gathering of information in order to make informed instructional decisions (Snow & van Hemel, 2008, p. 27). Snow and van Hemel (2008, p. 18) state that: Assessment of young children is crucial in meeting a variety of purposes. It provides information with which caregivers and teachers can better understand individual children’s developmental progress and status and how well they are learning, and it can inform caregiving, instruction and needed services. It helps early childhood program staff determine how well they are meeting their objectives for the children they serve and it informs program design and implementation. It provides some of the information needed for program accountability and contributes to advancing knowledge of child development.
Criteria for assessment Snow and Van Hemel (2008, p. 3) propose assessment of young children should be: evidentially based proven to be psychometrically sound be appropriate to different ages and ethnic groups of children cover a range of domains of children’s learning. Bagnato (2007) further states that assessment is critical for families in understanding their children’s progress and that assessment is crucial for programme planning, monitoring and programme evaluation
Definitions of issues related to assessment Purpose: Should be explicit, involve a manageable strategy and the options should be carefully weighed. Domains and measures: Should go beyond traditional areas to include social and emotional functioning and creative expression, be inclusive of children with special needs and cultural differences and use reliable and valid instruments. Implementation: These factors concern the quality assurance systems associated with selecting, using and interpreting assessment data. Systems: This domain concerns the infrastructure for assessment. Any system needs to have a well-developed plan for alignment of programme quality and standards, multiple approaches to assessment, maintenance of a database for results that is accessible to potential users, and include professional development, further opportunities to learn, be inclusive, have sufficient financial resources and include a system for on-going evaluation.
Making decisions about children: the reason for assessment Assessments in educational settings are conducted to gather information which can be used to make appropriate decisions about children that will promote their educational and psychological development. Should be systematic, multidisciplinary and based on things that children do on a regular basis. Scope of assessments needs to be comprehensive and include information across the developmental areas of motor skills, temperament, language, cognition and social-emotional development. There are a variety of purposes of assessment which include eligibility for special programmes for disabled children, placement in educationally competitive environments, screening, and evaluation of community programmes.
Screening vs diagnosis Screening typically involves the evaluation of large groups of children with brief, low cost procedures to identify those children who may need further, diagnostic assessment to qualify for special programmes or early intervention services. Perhaps a good example in the New Zealand context is the B4 school check, which a Plunket (child health) Nurse administers and cross checks with a ‘strengths and difficulties’ screen with the child’s parents and early childhood teachers. (See school-check-information-ece-services-and-teachers). school-check-information-ece-services-and-teachers Diagnostic assessment is typically used when teachers have identified a child has a potential problem, identified either on a screen or through observation of the child. Usually involves multiple methods of assessment, both formal and informal, obtained from multiple sources. Typically, diagnostic assessment is conducted by special education services or agencies and involves the use of norm- based standardised instruments across multiple behavioural domains.
Components of assessment Gallavan (2009, p. 11) suggests there are six crucial components to assessment: Each learner’s individuality and background; Each learner’s prior knowledge and experiences as part of the group of learners with constructed knowledge and shared experiences; The teacher’s expertise and expectations; The teachers’ organisation and readiness; The curricular content and academic standards; and The learning community context.
Dynamic assessment Brassard and Boehm (2007, p. 2) state that assessment of young children needs to be dynamic and on-going with the following features: It is multi-faceted (i.e. it uses a variety of measures and approaches) Focuses not only on the individual child, but also on his or her learning environments of home, school and community Is used to discover children’s learning strengths, emerging areas of development, problem solving strategies and personal styles, as well as their weaknesses and needs Informs the development of appropriate instructional and behavioural strategies and interventions Is tied to teaching goals, which in turn need to be evaluated over time Is carried out with the expectation that children will change, and that the earlier an intervention occurs, the greater its prospects for producing beneficial outcomes Respects the diversity of children’s backgrounds and experiences
Principles for assessment Must have a purpose Observation of children participating in play helps to build up an accurate picture of what children know, understand, feel, are interested in and can do Observation can be planned or spontaneous but important moments should also be captured Judgment of children’s learning should be based on skills, knowledge, understanding and behaviour that they demonstrate consistently and independently Takes into account all aspects of a child’s learning Takes into account contributions from a range of perspectives Parents and primary care givers should be actively involved Children should be fully involved in their own assessment
Criteria for evaluating assessment Validity – Does the assessment measure what it is supposed to measure? Is the assessment appropriate for the age of the child, their cultural and linguistic background and the learning context? Reliability – Can the assessment be relied upon to give accurate information? Does it give a consistent result over time and with a similar sample? Manageability – Does the assessment need to be one to one, or can groups do it at the same time? Is a quiet space needed? Does the teacher need classroom release time? Trustworthiness – Is the assessment trustworthy according to the following categories Credibility – is it based on prolonged assessment in the centre, dialogues or observation? Transferability – is the context of assessment specified? Can others also judge the likelihood of the skill transferring across contexts? Dependability – are the processes and the judgments made open to scrutiny? Have other teachers and families also come to the same conclusions? Authenticity – To what extent have the perspectives of people involved with the child been adequately addressed? Have children and their families had the opportunity to be involved in the assessment?
Formative vs Summative assessment Formative assessment is an ongoing process children and teachers engage in when they focus on learning goals, consider where children’s learning is in relation to learning goals, and take action to move children’s learning closer to the established goals. Summative assessment is less commonly used with very young children, because it focuses on what children have learned at the end of an instructional unit. In early childhood summative assessment is conducted when teachers reflect on their observations and other assessments with children and analyse retrospectively what learning has occurred.
Assessment for learning vs of learning
Best practice: critical qualities in assessment (Bagnato, 2007) Utility – assessment must accomplish the multiple and interrelated purposes of early childhood education and early intervention. Acceptability – must be mutually agreed on by families and professionals and should be considered worthwhile and acceptable. This is part of a wider construct of social validity. Authenticity – measures used must show what the child can do in natural settings. Observation is the preferred method, but Bagnato suggests that rating scales, direct observation, curriculum based checklists and caregiver interview inventories can also be useful for teachers and professionals to appraise children’s strengths. Collaboration – methods used should promote teamwork between families and professionals, because parents are central partners in children’s learning. Convergence – data collection by several people is needed to gather functional, reliable, valid information on the status and progress of children. Pooling of perspectives provides a better information base.
Best practice: critical qualities in assessment (Bagnato, 2007) Equity – assessment must accommodate individual differences and materials must be chosen with recognition of children’s individual abilities and difficulties (such as low vision). Measures developed for typically developing children are not suitable for all children. Sensitivity – assessments should be used to gather evidence of progressively more complex skill development, so that even small changes can be detected and celebrated, especially for children with severe delays or impairments. Many conventional assessment tools are not used often enough or include enough items to enable a sensitive measurement of progress. Congruence – materials need to be field validated with infants, toddlers and young children, including those of typical development and those with mild to severe disabilities. Assessments developed must be able to detect the emerging abilities of children at play in various home and early childhood settings.
Assessment of the whole child Needs to consider children’s growth and development across different domains Development in the early childhood period across different domains may be discontinuous and unstable, display diverse rates of maturation, and there are often spurts in development Because children’s learning and development is so rapid, assessment needs to be frequent, on-going and encompass a ‘feedback loop’ that takes into account development, instruction and intervention Should use naturalistic vs ‘strange situations’
‘What next?’ in assessment Three commonly understood components of assessment: Collecting information about learning; Recording assessment findings so judgements can be made about what has been learned and what needs to happen next; and Reporting judgements to others. Fleer (2010) calls this ‘potentive assessment’, arguing that teachers are always looking for the potential in children’s learning It is particularly important to be thinking of ‘what next?’ for exceptional learners
Involving children in assessment Puckett and Black (2008) argue that when children are involved in assessment it supports both children’s perceptions of themselves as learners, but also their perception of their teacher as a collaborator in their learning and development. As they state: Collaboration in assessment and planning can shift the emphasis in instructional practices from the teacher as authority and primary source of ideas and information to the student as idea-generator, choice-maker, co-planner, initiator and contributor to the learning process (2008, p. 9) Such collaboration can be conceptualised as an apprenticeship, in which children learn alongside the teacher, become a member of a learning community, have their ideas supported and integrated into curriculum, have their emotional, social and cultural differences recognised and validated and receive support as needed
Key terms Formative assessment – focuses on what and how children are learning and moving them onto the next level of thinking and learning. Screening – involves the evaluation of large groups of children with brief, low cost procedures to identify those children who may need further, diagnostic assessment to qualify for special programmes or early intervention services Validity – does the assessment measure what it is supposed to measure? Manageability – does the assessment need to be one to one, or can groups do it at the same time? Authenticity – to what extent have relevant stakeholders’ constructs been fairly and adequately covered? Summative assessment – focuses on what children have learned at the end of an instructional unit. Diagnostic assessment – is used when a child has been identified with a potential problem. Typically, diagnostic assessment is conducted by special education services or agencies and involves the use of multiple norm-based standardised instruments across multiple behavioural domains Reliability – can the assessment be relied upon to give accurate information? Trustworthiness – can the assessment be trusted? Is there credible, transferable and dependable evidence to support teacher judgements?