Assessment in the early years reconsidered We began by thinking about the many aspects of assessment, which included: Thinking about what assessment is for; Different approaches to assessment; The relationship between educator beliefs about learning, teaching and assessment; and The role of assessment in meeting children’s developmental and learning needs
Thinking forward about assessment A pathways model of assessment has been proposed, which includes: a foundation of principles for effective assessment; identifies that children need to be assessed using a range of tools that are fit for purpose; and that teachers need to be able to identify when they need the support of families and agencies to help with children's learning. Principles of how to develop a portfolio of assessment strategies for assessing the ‘whole child’ are considered
Understanding learning and development through assessment A key notion underpinning assessment in ECE is that it should be appropriate for understanding the learning and development of the youngest members of our society. Learning is more like a roadmap than orderly and sequential and we need to be alert to children’s diverse learning pathways and journeys. It is helpful for teachers to know typical progressions, as this can help teachers identify when children need further support. The concept of ‘need’ is synonymous with ‘right’ in terms of assessment of the very young as children have the right to receive focused support. Assessment is one of the ways in which children can have their needs and their rights ascertained.
Assessment of young children Ensuring that assessment is fair and meaningful is a core aspect of effective assessment of young children. The assessment should benefit children and their learning, be appropriate to children’s age and cultural experiences, and value parental contribution. Children are active and contributing agents in their social contexts and learning and therefore also in their assessment. When teachers know what children can do, understand children’s interests, and are aware of areas where children may require additional support, they can plan teaching experiences and curriculum that support further learning.
Contemporary assessment in ECE Contemporary approaches to assessment in early childhood education include the following criteria: Consider the whole child – reflecting the holistic way children learn Include groups of children – acknowledging the collaborative nature of learning Are accessible to families and children as well as to staff with a range of qualifications Provide insights into children’s interests, dispositions and learning process Include the voices of children and families
Changing theories of learning and development Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory (1978) has informed research in the area of assessment because it has shifted the focus of assessment from the individual child to understanding what and how children are learning through their social interactions within a given context. Recent thinking about assessment has been informed by post- developmental theories (Nolan & Kilderry 2010; Lim & Genishi 2010) which emphasise that there are many ways of thinking about children and childhood. Rather than thinking about there being one ‘true’ way to understand how children learn and develop, educators can draw on multiple ideas and representations of how children might learn and what learning can be like.
Ongoing assessment Ongoing assessment processes provide validation of the different pathways that children take to reach learning outcomes In order for this to occur, culturally and linguistically inclusive assessment, teaching, and curriculum practices must prevail Teachers need to identify what each child brings to the learning context and make curriculum and pedagogical decisions aimed at fostering further learning and development
Assessment of, for and as learning Assessment of learning examines what children know or can do – it is usually retrospective and looks at what learning has occurred previously and what skills or competencies have been achieved Assessment for learning is described as the process of gathering and analysing information as evidence about what children know, can do and understand Assessment as learning is an active process of cognitive restructuring that occurs when children interact with new ideas and critically assess their own progress; most likely to be seen when children are involved in the assessment process
Our key principles for assessment Assessment should: Gather information about ‘the whole child’ across developmental domains Have purpose and involve key stakeholders, including the child Be part of long, medium and short term curriculum planning Be authentic and reflect learning and development in the child’s social and cultural contexts Be inclusive of children with special learning needs Be ongoing and responsive to new developments in technology Occur at major points of transition for the child
Using the right tools Needs to address multiple perspectives Needs to incorporate the mantra of Reflect, Respect and Relate Recognise that curriculum planning, assessment and evaluation are inseparable There should be constructive alignment between teachers’ beliefs and views about learning, teaching, learning strategies and assessment practices Strength-based assessment should be multidisciplinary, multidimensional, multimethod, multisource, multicontext, multicultural, proactive and involve ongoing information exchange
Assessment of exceptional learners Teachers and other professionals need to gather appropriate and relevant data about the range of skills and competencies children have Such tools may need to move beyond the learning story and include standardised tests with appropriate ceilings and limits, formal behavioural observations and scales There is a common rhetoric that the modern teacher works with all children ‘where they are at’, yet tools are seldom used that truly allow teachers to ascertain where the ‘at’ is; using the rights tools is crucial
Fit for purpose assessment The principles of fit for purpose assessment are the following: It is used for making decisions about children and future teaching and learning It involves the use of multiple assessment strategies It is integrally related to teaching, learning and curriculum planning It is used to support learning and to identify barriers to learning It is aligned to theoretical world views but based on sound empirical research evidence It acknowledges children’s strengths but involves multiple measures It involves an appropriate range of tools for exceptional learners
Working with families and agencies Curriculum documents in both New Zealand and Australia specify that teachers must work with families to assess children’s progress and to identify when children need further support. We have argued that responsibility for children’s learning is a partnership between teachers, families and special education personnel. Bagnato’s (2007, pp. 4-6) eight criteria of utility, acceptability, authenticity, collaboration, convergence, equity, sensitivity and congruence are all of importance to developing an assessment plan that meets the needs of children, their families, their teachers and the specialised personnel from various agencies who may become involved in their learning and development. Assessment must present a full picture of what the child is capable of at home and at school and for this reason, the involvement of all parties is not only desirable, but required. As the African proverb so rightfully says, ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’.
The unique issues of assessment of young children Because children’s development is so rapid, assessment needs to be frequent, ongoing and encompass a ‘feedback loop’ that takes into account development, teaching strategies and intervention Assessment of young children needs to be dynamic and ongoing Assessment of young children is best when it is formative and ipsative Ethical issues associated with digital forms of assessment need to be considered
Summary and conclusions Assessment is always a contentious topic, probably because of its importance in child’s learning and development and it is one that teachers often agree to disagree on We hope we have provided you with food for thought on the assessment of the very young, as well as some practical strategies and new ideas to try out in your centre or school We hope that you have enjoyed the opportunity to reflect upon contemporary understandings of learning and development and their implications for the assessment of our youngest children