Author and Work Group Leader:
Lirio Martínez Miranda
Lucy Torrech San Inocencio
Iris García Ortiz
Marta M. Costas Toro
Amarilis Serrano de Gilley
Before starting the module, it is important that every educator answers the following questions about the educational and constructive process that is early childhood assessment:
- How do you define and apply assessment in your work as an early childhood educator?
- Do you know how to design an assessment system appropriate to the children’s developmental stage and pursuant to the program’s philosophy and theoretical framework?
- Do you construct instruments and use a variety of assessment strategies with children, in accordance with the educational activities of the curriculum under development?
- Do you create portfolios of the children’s schoolwork?
- Do you design an assessment and educational environment intervention plan for each child?
- Do you share the acquired information, interpretations, and recommendations related to educational and holistic development with the children’s parents and guardians?
- Do you know how to write a referral for a child who needs further evaluation by a health professional?
This module on assessment will provide educators with the means to observe and document, in an authentic manner, childhood actions and expressions in an environment based on appropriate practices.
Comprehensive appraisement, or assessment, of the individual development and learning of each child is essential to planning an appropriate curriculum. The two aspects are integrated in developmentally appropriate programs, considering the ongoing observations and evaluations made by the teacher in order to strengthen teaching-learning processes (NAEYC, 1997).
Any program in service to early childhood has to carry out assessment procedures as an integral part of the program’s components. This responds to the fact that assessment supports development and learning by using a variety of strategies to gather information, such as observations, checklists, rate scales, rubrics, individual screening and other formal tests, depending on what each child needs (NAEYC, 2005; Copple & Bredekamp, 2006). This means that you should have a plan or system that includes the purposes, processes, and intervention measures in accordance with the information that is collected and analyzed to draw up an appropriate intervention plan (Copple & Bredekamp, 2006; NAEYC, 2005; Wortham, 2005).
By reading and completing this module, it is expected that every educator will have the opportunity to:
Define a comprehensive assessment system to help guide you in the processes of documenting and authentic and integral evidence collection, using as a starting point early childhood expressions and actions performed in an educational environment and in the community.
Design assessment strategies and the instruments you will use as an educator interested in gathering authentic information about holistic development and childhood learning.
Recognize what to do with the documentation and authentic evidence collected on developing children using the continuous assessment processes that appear in the established plan or system.
Definition of “Assessment”
“Assessment” refers to the complex and multifaceted process of systematically observing, collecting, recording, documenting, interpreting, and evaluating children’s expressions, manifestations, and work as a basis for making educational decisions that affect the students. Authentic evaluation provides continuous qualitative and quantitative information that can be used as an individual guide that to facilitate the determinations of educational processes according to each child’s characteristics (Wortham, 2005; Koralek, 2004; Mindes, 2003).
Morrison (2001) defines “authentic assessment” as evaluation, based on action, which is performed through many activities that require the children to demonstrate what they know and what they are capable of doing. He emphasizes that authentic assessment has the following traits: it evaluates children on the basis of their work; it is a continuous and collaborative process that involves children, educators, and parents; it is integrated to the program, and it is comprehensive and individual, since it is part of the learning process. Some characteristics of authentic assessment are:
- It emphasizes the holistic and transformative development of children.
- It focuses on the individuality, uniqueness, and strengths of every child.
- It is based on the principles of the natural and holistic development of each child.
- It evolves from a curriculum that is authentic, relevant, logical, significant, and appropriate for children.
- It is based on the actions and performances of each child.
- It recognizes and supports the different types of intelligence and styles of learning.
- It is a process of analysis and reflection.
- It is a continuous process, occurring in a variety of contexts.
- It is a collaboration among children, parents, teachers, and specialized professionals, as needed (Wortham, 2005; Mindes, 2003; Puckett & Black, 2000).
In light of the definitions given above, how would you define “assessment,” in your own words and in terms of your educational practices as an early childhood educator?
Wortham (2005) defines the assessment system as a comprehensive plan that provides information about all the areas of childhood holistic development: motor (physical), socioemotional, linguistic, and cognitive. An assessment plan for children in a developmentally appropriate program describes the objectives, processes, and use of assessment results as recommended by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in its Accreditation Framework (NAEYC, 2005).
The NAEYC (2005) states, in its Accreditation Standards and Criteria, that an assessment plan should include, the following:
- conditions under which children will be assessed;
- timelines associated with assessments that occur throughout the year;
- procedures to keep individual child records confidential;
- ways to involve families in planning and implementing assessments;
- methods to effectively communicate assessment information to families.
The NAEYC Accreditation program’s written assessment plan (2005) recommends multiple purposes and uses of assessment including:
- arranging for developmental screening and referral for diagnostic assessment when indicated,
- identifying children’s interests and needs,
- describing the developmental progress and learning of children,
- improving curriculum and adapting teaching practices and the environment, planning program improvement, and
- communicating with families.
Wortham (2005) introduces the components of an assessment system. These are: standardized tests, informal assessment strategies (including observation techniques and tools designed by the educator, such as checklists, anecdotal records, graphic and/or numerical scales, and rubrics), portfolios, and an effective system for maintaining constant communication with the family.
The comprehensive assessment system requires establishing and firmly maintaining processes to facilitate determining what, how, and when to teach, and who should be encouraged. Mindes (2003) presents several factors to consider when planning a comprehensive assessment system.
Factors to Consider in a Comprehensive Assessment System
- The child is an individual who is a member of a group.
- Parents, teachers, administrators, other childhood health and wellness professionals, and members of community public policy committees are key people in the process.
- Follow the program’s philosophy, theoretical framework, curriculum, and assessment and intervention strategies.
- Keep in mind the objectives of evaluating, measuring, and documenting childhood progress.
- Use of available methods: validity, usefulness, and significance of the results.
- Assessment techniques must correspond to and be effective in accordance with the established objectives for children.
- It is necessary to separate what is observed from value judgments made of the situation (Mindes, 2003).
Early Childhood Assessment Principles
- Assessment should bring about benefits for children.
- Assessment should be tailored to a specific purpose and should be reliable, valid, and fair for that purpose.
- Assessment policies should be designed recognizing that reliability and validity of assessments increase with the children’s age.
- Assessment should be age appropriate in both content and the methods for data collection.
- Assessment should be linguistically appropriate, recognizing that to some extent all assessments are measures of language.
- Parents should be a valued source of assessment information, as well as an audience for assessment results (Wortham, 2005).
General Objectives of Early Childhood Assessment
- Support individual educational progress of children.
- Facilitate the development of individual or group educational planning and of the curriculum in general.
- Recognize the level of childhood holistic development.
- Determine the suitable placement for each child.
- Identify children with developmental needs and singularities.
- Provide guidance in referrals to specialists.
- Inform parents about their children’s performance and progress in their educational and holistic development.
- Evaluate if the program’s components correspond to the nature and particularities of the population (Koralek, 2004).
Taking into consideration these factors, principles, objectives, and components of an assessment system, design the general structure of a possible early childhood assessment system for the educational program in which you currently work.
The Observation Process and Authentic Assessment
Observation is part of daily life. Observing with clearly defined objectives entails looking closely and listening with a prepared mind, being aware of what you perceive. Educators believe they know about development, but that perception changes when they attentively observe children during their daily routines in the educational program.
Observation processes are an essential part of the duties performed by educators. Interacting with children is not the same as observing them with a specific objective in mind. Observing involves taking a closer and more in-depth look; it is much more than just an ordinary glance. Therefore, it requires time and concentration to become a skilled observer. Each educator trains himself or herself, refines skills and acquires experience, becoming a competent observer by continually putting into practice the process of observation.
Accurate observation requires presenting a correct sequence of events. This must be objective; there is no place for opinions or value judgments (though this may be done in the future). The information is interpreted at the end of the process in order to ensure the validity of the observation.
The number of observations to be made before reaching a conclusion varies according to the purpose of the exercise. Repeated observations allow the educator to recognize changes and progress in children. These observations should be made during different periods of daily routines. Determining in advance the objective and available time for observation makes it easier for the educator to define the process and the instruments to be designed and used.
The information, after being collected and analyzed, is shared individually with the parents or guardians of children, and it is used to support the children in their holistic development. Observations and authentic evaluation processes, thus, have to be completely confidential (Hendrick, 2003).
Objectives and Importance of Observation
- Define ways to promote learning using the strengths, interests, and talents of the children.
- Recognize that observation is part of the screening process and initial evaluation of childhood development.
- Design and develop an individual intervention plan based on the needs and strengths of each child.
- Conduct a continuous observation process of the child’s progressive development.
- Work with each child’s specific situation.
- Plan short- and long-term curricular activities based on the children’s developmental stage.
- Identify cultural factors of the children and their families that will facilitate integrating them into the daily educational program.
- Objectively observe children in the educational environment.
- Adapt educator’s abilities, styles, and strategies to the needs of children.
- Get to know the group in general while, at the same time, aiming at equal treatment for all members.
- Recognize that some children will stand out from the group, due perhaps to their talent, their behavior, or a singularity in their development.
Types and Processes of Observation
- Scientific observation: Data collection plan in which the researcher uses a more or less structured code to record the development of phenomena that are considered of interest. The situation in which this takes place may be natural or artificial.
- Direct observation: Plan in which the observer collects data directly, without the intervention of third parties. The observer records the children’s manifestations and expressions.
- Structured observation: Data collection plan by means of an observation carried out in the natural context in which the phenomenon to be observed occurs and in which the researcher tries to establish some type of control over the situation.
- Indirect observation: Plan in which the observer does not collect information directly. The researcher often uses information provided by third parties. Prominent among the principal instruments used in indirect observation are interviews and rating scales.
- Natural observation: Data collection plan by means of observations made in the natural context in which the phenomenon under observation occurs and in which the researcher does not interfere in any way.
- Non-participant observation: Data collection plan in which the observer does not intervene in the situation under study.
- Participant observation: Plan in which information is collected by the researcher’s participation in the very situation that he or she is observing.
- Select or identify the object of study.
- Determine the particular strategy and instrument to be used.
- Determine where the observation will take place.
- Determine when the observation will take place.
- Observe and gather the information. It is important to write only what is being observed, refrain from interpreting the information while taking notes, write the events in the order in which they occur, and use language that objectively describes what is being observed.
- Analyze and interpret. This involves identifying all the elements or variables that describe the actions of developing children. Seek to describe and explain the observed actions and to establish relationships of cause and effect or correlation among the variables.
- Evaluate comprehensively. Make pertinent decisions objectively and realistically, taking into consideration the children’s best interests. Remember that the evaluation functions as a guide in educational processes.
Observation and the Development of Educational Processes
After discovering the value of anecdotes, a system to gather information in an educational environment should be established. Writing frees educators from having to rely on memory to compose, in retrospect, a detailed account of situations that they want to share and discuss. Even so, it is important to remember that it is impossible to write an observation and include every detail while interacting with children.
Ways to Gather Information during an Observation
- Index cards for brief notes – The educator jots down key words on cards or in notebooks and later writes in detail what he or she observed.
- Video recorders – Making a video recording might be complicated, but it has the advantage of capturing every detail and the sequence of events.
- Audio recorders – This tool is used to compile everything the child says, word for word, without omitting or adding to the discourse. Transcribing audio recordings takes time.
- Photographs – Photographs of the children are taken during work processes. These pictures are later arranged in sequence to describe the events they represent.
Writing Observation Reports
At the end of the daily routine, after dismissing the children, the educator takes some time to review the day’s most relevant events, noted using index cards, video recorders, audio recorders, and photographs. The educator then writes a detailed observation report using the selected instruments.
Generally, most observation reports begin with the date, the period within the day’s routine, and the name of the child being observed. In the middle, brief and specific information about the child’s behavior is included. Finally, to conclude the observation report, the event’s outcome is described.
Analysis of the Observation
In the analysis process, two or more adults dialogue about the observed situation, in order to discover what opportunities for the children’s development are present and also to find ways to support and act upon them. When the educator observes, but there is no process of analysis, the observation becomes just one more document to be filed. Teachers, by regularly analyzing their observations of the children, can answer questions such as:
- What are the program’s strong points?
- Are we addressing all areas of childhood development?
- Are there support materials for all the areas of development?
- What materials or experiences can we add?
- Are the routines appropriate for the children?
After this reflection, educators determine the actions to be carried out, including designing support strategies for creating plans or making changes in routines and the educational environment.
Observations allow educators to give continuity to the curriculum by planning activities that focus on children. Thus, they can discover what is meaningful and important to them. With which objects and materials do they like to play? What kind of roles do they play? What type of ideas, experiences, or events do they most frequently talk about? For planning to make sense, it must be relevant to the children’s interests and previous experiences.
Below we present a vignette that illustrates how an observation enables the elaboration of a plan that addresses the interests of the children:
One day, a team of six technicians came to repair some telephone cables connected to the building. The children were fascinated observing them while they climbed up posts using a truck with a cherry picker. They were also interested in the technician’s special equipment and clothes–their spiked boots, helmets, and tool bags. During the rest of the day, the children recreated the scene in a variety of ways: they pretended to be technicians, wore hats, made tool belts, and climbed on chairs as if they were the telephone wires, just like the technicians.
The teachers noticed the children’s interest in this experience and elaborated plans to use, for the rest of the week, the topic of telephone-repair technicians. That is, the adults used the little ones’ ideas and interests as inspiration, both to individually interact with them and to create daily plans for small group activities or for the entire group.
A. Observe and gather (in writing) information about the dynamics of a group of children’s open and spontaneous play in an outdoor environment or the educational program’s playground. Then, analyze the information gathered and make specific recommendations to promote social interactions among the children.
B. Observe and gather (in writing) information about a group of children during the development of the educational processes of an activity planned by the educator. Then, analyze the information gathered and make specific recommendations to plan other educational activities for developing children.
Issues to Consider in Conducting Early Childhood Assessment
Authentic assessment processes and strategies require differentiating between the characteristics of infants and nursery-level children and those of preschoolers and kindergarteners. Below we present issues we have to consider when conducting an authentic assessment in each one of these populations.
Infants and Nursery-level Children
In developing assessment strategies, the educator of infants and nursery-level children must focus the process and evolution of their development. Carefully observing and listening to the child facilitates discovering how they interact with the environment, initiate relationships with adults and other children, and construct knowledge. Recording what you see and hear makes it easier to establish the process and evolution of the children’s development and also to determine their interests (Gandini & Goldhaber, 2001). The compiled information must come from different sources and the observations must be conducted at different times and contexts of the daily routine (Copple & Bredekamp, 2006). It must also include the participation of the parents, since they can provide valuable information about their children’s development (Wortham, 2005).
Assessment strategies for preschool children must provide evidence of their development and learning as well as reflect what they do in their daily routine and reveal what they are capable of doing and understanding (Copple & Bredekamp, 2006). The information gathered from multiple sources must be used for the benefit of the children and to promote their learning. Data provided by parents is still important although, unlike infants and nursery-level children, preschool children are capable of understanding the evolution of their own development and learning (Wortham, 2005).
Assessment strategies for children in kindergarten must accurately reflect the knowledge they have constructed. Educators must use multiples sources of information because they have to provide evidence that children are learning in a variety of ways and on different occasions. Information provided by parents continues to be relevant during this stage (Wortham, 2005).
Authentic Childhood Assessment Strategies and Techniques
There are numerous strategies and techniques that can help the teacher compile, in an objective, systematic, planned, and structured manner, the information about their observations of children in their educational environment. Such information may be recorded using instruments constructed and filled out by the educator, either by hand or on a computer. The teacher can also use notebooks to record narratives and then reflect about them in accordance with the observations made in an educational environment.
This type of observation helps to confirm hypotheses and questions about previously noted elements or significant issues of childhood development. To select a particular observation technique, it is important to clearly understand the purpose and know what information is needed. Daily observations provide knowledge about the growth and development of children. These can be combined with other structured procedures that provide substantial data to help fully understand and provide for each child according to their needs and characteristics.
This is a written description of the actions, manifestations, expressions, and behavior of the child. The most significant events and incidents that demonstrate the how, when, and where said moments have occurred are recorded here. Additional comments about the event’s context, which facilitate understanding what happened, are included in detail. Interpretations or comments are presented separately from the incident. The comments have inferences and conclusions based on the event.
These record everything that happens: what children say and do, their gestures, the feelings they exteriorize, and what they appear to be thinking, judging from their actions. These are very valuable, but difficult to compile. The observer listens, observes, and takes notes about the event or the child. The result of narrative observations is a comprehensive and dynamic report.
Consecutive (Running) Record
This is a technique of observation in one area of the educational environment (indoor/outdoor) to gather specific information about who is there and what they do. This is a very detailed process because it includes a sequence of events about everything the child says and does during a set period of time, instead of listing a selection of incidents as in the anecdotal record.
Sample records are similar to the consecutive ones, though they are more detailed and specific. They are more commonly used by researchers who do not actively participate in the educational environment. This record focuses on a particular type of sample, which can be related to the use of an area of the environment, the events of a particular time of the day, or a child’s behavior.
The purpose of a time sample is to record the frequency of a given behavior in a set time period. The behaviors to be observed are previously defined. The evaluator observes the behavior that occurs during equal time periods (other behaviors are ignored). After the evaluator studies the time samples, he or she can determine what to do to promote behavior modification.
Design two instruments for narrative observation that you can use to gather descriptive data on young children in an educational scenario. You may consult the examples presented in Examples of Rubrics.
A list of elements or criteria that is organized by categories. The educator observes and determines whether the child exhibits a behavior or skill included in the list of criteria. Checklists vary in their content, depending on the function and purpose.
The elements or criteria in a list may include skills, abilities, knowledge, concepts, attitudes, dispositions, preferences, interests, behaviors, movement patterns, use of equipment and materials, and interest areas or centers that the child enters or joins.
When designing a checklist remember to:
- identify criteria, reagents, patterns, and skills;
- divide behaviors into separate lists;
- organize information in a logical and appropriate order;
- use the table and columns outline to facilitate checking items off and making comments and observations;
- highlight the key with its symbols and provide definitions when necessary.
Design a checklist with defined objectives, in accordance with the description above. You may consult the examples presented in Examples of Rubrics.
Graphic and Numerical Scales
Scales are similar to checklists, though they have some key differences. In checklists, we try to indicate whether or not the behavior is present. On the other hand, in graphic and numerical scales, descriptive and qualitative comments are made to justify each behavior or action that is observed and judged. These scales present a hierarchical sequence of elements placed in categories that, in turn, are organized by the levels of holistic development. Each element is present in an operational manner. Some scales have qualitative indicators.
Numerical scales, specifically, facilitate an evaluation based on numbers and averages, for example:
Unsatisfactory – 1
Below average – 2
Average – 3
Above average – 4
Outstanding – 5
Graphic scales, for their part, facilitate continuous evaluation processes. These present concepts that favor a qualitative and descriptive evaluation. For example, a scale such as this might be used:
A – Always – All the time
AA – Almost Always – More than half the time
P – Progress – Half the time
S – Sometimes – Less than half the time
B – Beginning – In the initial stage
NA – Not applicable – Not observed
Design a graphic or numerical scale with defined objectives in accordance with the description above. You may consult the examples presented in Examples of Rubrics.
Rubrics are a list of criteria that are hierarchically scored, highlighting execution and outcomes. Descriptors criteria define how to evaluate each level according to performance. They may have indicators with examples or signs to observe as part of the task. Rubrics are oriented to the levels of performance and possible related actions to be observed.
Like scales, rubrics are qualitative instruments that can be utilized to evaluate a child’s progress based on the score obtained and the outcomes of the work. What distinguishes rubrics is that their purpose is to obtain results based on the score assigned to each criterion. This is very different from scales or checklists. The criteria are organized hierarchically in accordance with the dimensions that define the levels of execution, for which a numerical value is assigned (a criterion is selected for the action at each level). Although frequently used with children in kindergarten or the elementary grades, rubrics may also be used with preschoolers.
There are three types of rubrics:
- Holistic: These include a number of indicators that describe the quality of the work or performance at each level.
- Analytical: These describe and assign a score for each attribute, task, or performance according to the level. They are more specific than holistic rubrics and can be used for diagnoses.
- Developmental: These are designed to highlight the levels of growth and development that should be seen at each stage. They are useful for evaluating children’s progress as they grow and develop.
Other Assessment Strategies
- Individual formal and informal interviews with children, with predefined purposes;
- Contracts to promote compliance with commitments established between the children and the educator;
- Dialogues and conversations in small groups or individually;
- Cooperative, sensory, and other types of games;
- Notebooks with a variety of purposes;
- Individual, group, and family special projects;
- Reflective journals;
- Records of children’s individual development. Development records must be requested from parents before the child begins the educational program, thus providing the necessary information for educators.
Name another type of assessment strategy you currently use or could start using to provide evidence of the holistic development and learning progress of young children in an educational scenario.
Portfolios are a collection made by the child together with the educator of his or her classwork, projects, and observations. These data, which must be representative of the educational processes—considering all the authentic evidence of each child in development—are gathered using a variety of instruments (Billman & Sherman, 2003; Mindes, 2003; Wortham, 2005).
Why do we use portfolios?
The main reason for using portfolios with early age child populations is that they promote the integration of children, parents, and teachers in the process. Many benefits of the use of portfolios have been identified, such as:
- It is an interactive process that reflects the individual characteristics of the holistic development of young children.
- The collected information is analyzed and guides the continuity of the processes of an appropriate, child-centered curriculum.
- The portfolio facilitates children’s progress in language and decision making, since it is an interactive process between the child and the educator. The two dialogue, exchange ideas, and determine what will be included and how it will be presented to the parents.
- By means of this process, children can recognize their own abilities, experiences, creations, projects, and all their strengths and areas of opportunity. It is an effective tool for communication among children, their parents, and educators.
- The relationship between children’s constructive actions and the dynamics of the educational process guided by the educator are emphasized, according to the level and the corresponding educational context.
Specific Benefits of the Continuous Use of Portfolios
For the child or student:
- Exposes the child to self-evaluation processes.
- Helps the child develop abilities or organization skills and to take responsibility for their classwork or projects.
- Provides a sense of pride and ownership of their work.
- Allows the child to make decisions and choices.
- Strengthens the child’s self-esteem.
- Enables observation of the child’s progress over time.
For the educator or teacher:
- Provides the teacher with evidence and information for curricular continuity and redirection of educational processes.
- Facilitates integrating the processes of observation, planning, development, evaluation, and reflection within the active curriculum.
- It is a good resource for demonstrating and sharing with parents and other educators the progress and performance of the children’s development.
- Offers a holistic view of each child’s unique characteristics.
For parents or guardians:
- Presents to them evidence of the growth and gradual progress of their child’s holistic development.
- Encourages and invites them to participate in their child’s educational processes.
For the community:
- Promotes a positive and meaningful attitude toward educational work.
- Prepares children to become self-sufficient and self-guided students.
- Provides evidence for the development of other related works.
- Provides children with an opportunity to show their talents and abilities for optimal holistic development.
Types of Portfolios
This is used to compile the child’s classwork in its entirety to be evaluated later. It should also include annotations about the progress of the classwork. Each document must be dated. The classwork will later be evaluated and placed in another type of portfolio. Either the child or the educator may add documents to the portfolio. It must be placed somewhere accessible to both of them.
This allows the educator to evaluate the children’s progress while striving to recognize the progress, strengths, and needs of each one. It helps the educator plan future activities and educational activities that favor each child in their holistic development. This type of portfolio is shared with parents, administrators, educators, and other professionals—if necessary—to show each child’s classwork. It also facilitates the planning and curricular continuity of the educational program.
Work Sample Portfolio
This is used to display the children’s classwork (art, crafts, and three-dimensional projects) and share it with their parents. It is also used to display educational-constructive work. The child actively participates in the selection and organization.
This portfolio is made up of the files or records of each child’s official (confidential) documents. It provides information for the child’s future educators. Parental consent is requested in order to share the information therein. This type of portfolio or file must be kept under lock and key, since it is private and confidential.
Children may decorate their own portfolios as they wish and place them somewhere accessible. The purpose of each portfolio and the type of material that will be included influences which type of storage to choose:
- Expandable folders with dividers,
- Large folders or envelopes (such as those used for X-rays),
- Accordion folders,
- Cardboard suitcases,
- Cardboard file boxes,
- Large manila folders,
- Heavy poster boards to construct a large folder,
- Pizza, shoe, plastic, and other type of boxes,
Steps to follow when organizing portfolios
- Involve the children in the process. Share with them the steps to follow: creating their portfolios, deciding where the portfolios will be located, taking on the responsibility of filing their work with the date and in the portfolio corresponding to the type of work. Encourage children to formulate questions and present suggestions.
- Decide on the storage container according to the type of portfolio that will be used.
- Determine the appropriate place for each type of portfolio.
- Discuss the responsibility of putting the date on their work and sharing it with their teacher before placing it in the portfolio where it belongs.
What should be included in a portfolio?
- Every type of classwork done by the children as part of their educational experiences and activities including: drawings, collages, artistic creations, creative works, written compositions, and stories.
- Copies of the instruments for observations and descriptive information recorded and compiled by the educator every day.
- Reflective notes made by the educator using various instruments.
- Reflective notes made by the children regarding their work and experiences (may be drawings with reflective comments).
- Interviews of the child, carried out by the educator.
- Photographs, video and audio tapes, and other types of evidence.
- Charts of the children’s growth and development: social, physical, cognitive, creative, linguistic, etc.
- Individual or group projects.
- Contributions made by the child.
- All the authentic evidence that represents each child’s individual or group performance and classwork.
- The educator should define and organize the process ahead of time, and then adapt it according to the children’s suggestions.
- The children should actively participate in the process, particularly in making decisions regarding which work to present or eliminate.
- It is important to recognize that each work represents the child’s progress. After a time, the classwork considered by the child and the educator to be less significant can be removed.
- The educator should dialogue with each child and make periodic notations of evolving processes.
- It is important to share the portfolio with parents, children, and future educators.
Define what type of portfolio(s) you use or are thinking of using to organize and compile information and authentic documentation provided by the comprehensive early childhood assessment.
Communicating with Parents about Assessment Processes
Good communication is essential for building cooperative relationships with parents. When educators realize that parents are their children’s first teachers, they also acknowledge that homes and communities are their first educational environments.
It is important that educators strive to accept, value, and build a vision of childhood based on what children bring from their homes. The goal should be to make them feel comfortable in the educational environment and understand the relationship between their home, community, and education center.
Families are an invaluable source of information. Educators must help parents become interested in their children’s progress, become more skilled at recognizing indicators of development, and learn the appropriate strategies to support their children’s development.
It is important to remember that parents are such a marvelous source of information because they are experts on their families; educators, meanwhile, are specialists in education and child development.
Planning and Strategies to Dialogue and Inform Parents about Their Children’s Holistic Development
We will now present a number of strategies to use in communicating with parents:
- Daily or weekly bulletins;
- Phone calls;
- A website for the class;
- Home visits;
- Individual or group meetings;
- Formal interviews;
- Discussion of progress reports at least twice a year and on additional occasions, as needed.
When speaking to the families, it is important that educators remember to use language that they can understand. They must also take into consideration that some parents are non-readers and be tactful and supportive when talking to them. Teachers must also be mindful of the families’ availability when coordinating meetings and other activities for which parental participation and involvement is desired.
Meetings, Conferences, and Considerations for Establishing and Maintaining Effective Communication with Parents
If educators are better prepared for parent-teacher meetings, the experience will be more positive—for both educators and families—and will achieve greater results. Before the meeting it is necessary to:
- Review the portfolio and other assessment techniques used with the child, and the observations;
- Organize the techniques for a better management and better understanding on the part of the parents;
- Keep in mind the best interests of the families;
- Summarize the most important information for the child’s parents;
- Think about the areas of development, objectives, and strategies to talk over with the child’s family, and
- Decide how you will conduct the meeting to:
- Share work samples and provide positive feedback.
- Review what was written about the child’s development.
- Invite families to share their own observations and to identify goals that are important to them.
- Comment on specific objectives on which you want to focus.
- Provide families with a copy of the plan.
Intervention and Follow-up of Evaluation and Educational Processes in Support of the Future of Children and Their Families
Providing copies of the plan established between the educator and the child’s family is truly a useful tool for enhancing the development of children’s learning. After this step, it is necessary to:
- Meet periodically to review the plan and see the achievements attained.
- Review new evidence of the children’s progress.
- Sketch new objectives for childhood learning in different areas of development.
Design a practical plan of action regarding assessment to share with parents and family members about early childhood holistic development and educational progress in the educational scenario.
HighScope Curriculum’s Evaluation Instrument and Creative Curriculum for Preschoolers
The HighScope evaluation instrument, Child Observation Record (COR), is used in programs for children from two years and six months of age to six years, providing an alternative to test-based evaluation systems. It is an observation instrument designed to be used by educational teams of young children (teachers, assistants, administrators) during the program’s regular activities. COR is made up of the observations recorded while children use, build, explore, draw, dance, play pretend, plan, solve problems, talk, negotiate or make friends; that is, during the routine activities of nursery school and preschool programs. Unlike tests focused on criteria and specific skills, this instrument summarizes the observations recorded during a vast range of activities. This provides an accurate and comprehensive view of the children’s abilities.
This type of evaluation regards children development as divided into six major areas: initiative, social relations, creative representation, music and movement, language and literacy, and logic and mathematics. Thus, educators and children’s caregivers make daily anecdotal records regarding their progress in these areas. When it is time to complete the COR (two or three times a year), the team of educators reviews the notes, work samples, and other documents to assign a score to each element.
COR comprises six categories identified with roman numerals and thirty indicators marked with capital letters. Each indicator represents an important dimension of the child’s development, and is subdivided in five behavioral levels, which show a progressive sequence for each element. Teachers are instructed to select the level that best characterizes the child according to the recorded observations.
SOCIAL RELATIONS (category)
|Relationship with adults (indicator)||(Time)|
|1.||The child still does not interact with the adults in the program.||_||_||_|
|2.||The child is responsive when an interaction is initiated with familiar adults.||_||_||_|
|3.||The child initiates interactions with familiar adults.||_||_||_|
|4.||The child maintains interactions with familiar adults.||_||_||_|
|5.||The child works in complex projects with familiar adults.||_||_||_|
It is important to point out that the Child Observation Record of the HighScope Curriculum is in the computer system used by the teacher to enter the daily observations of the children and assign the corresponding scores. The advantage of this system is that it allows monitoring, on a daily basis, of the performance levels of the children at individual and group level, thus allowing for necessary adjustments in the plan, environment or routine.
Creative Curriculum for Preschoolers
The development continuum of three to five-year-old children guides educators when they are determining the developmental stage of the child and thus helps to monitor the progress of each one of them and to plan learning experiences. The Continuum of the Creative Curriculum presents the steps of development through each of its fifty objectives.
|Sense of self:
1. Demonstrates ability to adapt to new situations.
2. Demonstrates appropriate trust in adults.
3. Recognizes his or her own feelings and manages them appropriately.
4. Defends his or her rights.
Note: These are part of the goals and objectives.
|Gross motor ability:
14. Demonstrates basic motor abilities (run, jump, skip).
15. Maintains balance while moving.
|Learning and problem solving:
22. Observes objects with curiosity.
23. Flexible when handling problems.
|Listening and speaking:
38. Listens and differentiates sounds in language.
39. Expresses himself or herself using words and complete sentences.
Taken from Creative Curriculum by Diane Trister Dodge (2004).
How to Use the Development Continuum:
- As a guide to systemize the observation process and the collection of information about children in the different areas of holistic development.
- As a tool to design plans for educational activities.
- To assess children’s learning.
- To define curriculum content areas to emphasize and how to do so properly.
Formal Evaluation of Developing Children
Purposes of Formal Evaluation
Formal evaluation is defined as the evaluation process that employs standardized instruments. This assumes the establishment, by scientific procedures, of a performance-specific standard, or criterion, based on results obtained by using the test on subjects who are representative of the population. Not only are the performance parameters standardized, but also administration, grading, statistic analysis, and interpretation of the instrument are as well. There are standardized tests to evaluate practically every area of development or those more specific aspects whose performance or action can be measured, according to what has been projected and planned as an integral part of the comprehensive evaluation processes (Copple & Bredekamp, 2006; NAEYC, 2005; Wortham, 2005).
What is included in a Formal Evaluation?
- The administration of a battery of standardized tests.
- An interdisciplinary approach to formal evaluation.
- It serves a particular purpose or a solution to a problem.
When is it done or when should it be done?
- When differences are observed.
- When those differences persist in time and space.
- When it is determined that these differences are significant.
- When differences have been perceived by other staff members.
- When serious measures have been taken to correct the problem in the educational environment or classroom.
- When these serious measures have failed.
- When the problem transcends the needs of the context.
How do we proceed?
When the teacher is not qualified to administer a standardized or formal tests, they should:
- Do a formal screening;
- Meet with the program’s staff and reach a consensus;
- Meet with the parents.
- It is necessary to proceed with conviction, sensitivity, and firmness.
- Avoid labels, be descriptive, do not diagnose, just report.
- Describe the child’s behavior and explain why it is worrisome.
- Point out that there is a sound base for your concern.
- Explain why the child will benefit from the process.
- Explain the importance of early intervention.
- Have alternatives regarding whom to refer the child to, references, and approximate cost.
- Have a written referral report.
- General guidelines when making a written referral.
- Write a descriptive report with a clearly stated purpose and the pertinent information for the child in question.
- The report must include basic facts, a brief history, and the reason for the referral.
- ¿Referred to whom? Depends on the problem; remember the interdisciplinary approach.
- Remember to maintain confidentiality at all times.
Remember that after receiving the formal evaluation report, the educator must discuss the interpretation of its content and recommendations with a specialist.
Referrals for Specialized Early Childhood Services
Through periodic observations, teachers determine which children need special services. These can be speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical or play therapy, as well as other special services, for both the child and their family. In these situations, the observations made and gathered by the teacher are the database that will be used as a starting point in the referral processes. They are also used for continued evaluation of the effectiveness of interventions that are planned and carried out with children and their families (Wortham, 2005; Koralek, 2004; Mindes, 2003).
The basic components of a referral are:
- Personal information: name, age, sex, date of birth;
- Description of the child: appearance, general physical characteristics, personality and birth order among his or her family members;
- Questions, concerns, and problems he or she demonstrates;
- Family background: siblings, socioeconomic level of the family, obvious family problems; family concerns, family tragedies or crisis, parental attitudes, separation issues, home and neighborhood issues, and other situations that could distinguish or affect the nuclear family;
- Medical history: perinatal period (birth);
- Characteristics and patterns of the child’s development during early infancy and during the stages that have passed up until the moment of possible referral.
The child’s profile at the moment of referral could include:
- Self-help skills and daily routine;
- Control of body functions;
- Movement and use of the body (motor capacity, energy);
- Facial expressions;
- Speech and language;
- Emotional reactions (expression skills, control of emotions and feelings, imagination and fantasy, self-concept, self-control), how he or she reacts to other children and adults;
- School activities and games;
- Levels of thinking and reasoning;
- Problem solving;
- Holistic progress and development (physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and communicative or linguistic);
- Adaptation to school (moments of separation from family, adaptation to school routines);
- Following instructions, taking turns, reactions to the support he or she receives and to moments of individualization.
Parental Rights during Referral Processes
- The referral processes for a professional or specialist evaluation (psychologist, occupational therapist, speech and language therapist, social worker) of a child are recognized as a formal step in the lives of children and their families. The process is governed by Federal Law (PL 94-142) and state laws that ensure parents that these steps will be followed:
- Written communication regarding the need to refer the child to a specialist.
- Written parental consent, in case you intend to carry out any formal evaluation process.
- Sharing the results of the child’s formal evaluation process.
- Permission for the child to receive some type of specialized help as part of the educational processes.
- Parental participation in the development of the Individual Educational Plan (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).
- Right to appeal decisions and plans made by the school or educational institution.
- The “Individual with Disabilities Education Act” (1997) assures parents that teachers will regularly inform them of their children’s progress and if they need to seek a private resource to assess the child.
- All of the processes and requirements described above require confidentiality and professional ethics from the resources and staff involved.
- When preparing a written report, remember the following:
- Verify the accuracy and validity of every detail of the information.
- Present a correct sequence of events.
- Outline the information.
- Proofread the text (several times).
- Check for clarity of expression.
- Verify that the text includes descriptive and specific information.
- Remember to differentiate between facts and interpretations or implications.
- Add other issues, as required by the report being prepared.
The Role of Preschool Teachers
Every preschool teacher must support children and their families in these processes that are so important for their optimal holistic educational development. This can be done through observation processes, data collection, an authentic assessment system that facilitates the processes, educational strategies, and curricular changes that benefit each child who actively participates in the educational program.
Psychological Diagnosis before Beginning Formal Evaluation Processes
A diagnosis is always an appraisal at a particular moment. However, there are some characteristics that are more stable than others. In psychology, specialists will try to make a diagnosis when, through methods pertaining to their profession, they attempt to reach a conclusion about a child’s characteristics, a group of children, or a psychological fact in itself. The psychological diagnosis will also seek to establish, as objectively as possible, the psychological characteristics of a child or group of children, providing its conclusions with a relative value of possibility (because there is always a chance that something will vary).
To make a diagnosis, a behavior sample is taken at a given time and in a given situation, centering on the child’s or group’s responses to certain stimuli. Therefore, one must keep in mind that the sample might not reflect the child’s general behavior, but rather a distorted part.
There is no single standard procedure to make a diagnosis. By the same token, there is no single instrument that must be used. Depending on the objectives of the diagnosis, the instruments and methodology will vary.
If we make a good diagnosis, we may have a very accurate and detailed description of each child’s current situation. Nonetheless, this does not guarantee continuity as time passes. One must learn to differentiate between the structural features of a child’s personality and those features that could surely change if the situation in which the child is immersed at that moment is altered. The diagnoses done during a special situation that is dysfunctional will always have less predictive value.
Psychometric, psychological, and psychoeducational assessments are intended to help in the diagnostic process and explore patterns exhibited by children, in order to correct them in a timely manner or create educational programs that facilitate the teaching and learning process. Formal evaluations of intelligence seek to explore the general ability and intellectual capacity of each child in development.
Formal Evaluation Instruments
Examples of screening tests
AGS Early Screening Profiles: These examine the cognitive, language, social, autonomous, and motor skills of children two to seven years old; they include information provided by children’s parents, teachers, and caretakers.
Denver Developmental Screening Test (Denver II): This is appropriate for examining children from birth to six years in four areas of development: personal/social, language, fine motor, and gross motor. The child’s behavior can be recorded during the test.
Developmental Activities Screening Inventory (DASI II): This assesses children from one month to five years of age; it is a nonverbal test that is especially useful for children with hearing or language disorders; additionally, it offers accommodations for children with vision problems.
Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning-Revised (DIAL-R): This is designed to assess motor, conceptual, and language development in children two to five years old, for a period of nine months; it incorporates a list of socioemotional behaviors observed during testing. A Parent Information Form regarding the child’s health and school and home experiences is included.
First Steps: Screening Test for Evaluating Preschoolers: This can be used with children two to six years old (for periods of nine and two months, respectively) to assess their cognitive, communicative, and motor skills; it includes an “Adaptive Behavior Checklist” and a “Socio-Emotional Scale,” as well as a “Parent-Teacher Scale” related to the child’s behavior at school and at home.
Formal Evaluation Instruments
APGAR Scoring System: This is applied at one minute, again at five minutes after the child’s birth. APGAR assesses muscle tone, breathing, color, heartbeat, and reflexes, with a maximum score of 10. The information is used to determine whether the child needs special care.
Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS; also known as The Brazelton): This assesses behavioral responses in full-term infants born after nine months and older than twenty-eight days. The “Kansas Supplement” (NBAS-K) is an important modification of NBAS; it adds several essential parameters, besides assessing optimal behavior (the sole goal of the original NBAS).
Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC): This is used with children between two and a half and twelve years of age to examine their capacity for mental processing. The assessment tools are designed to minimize the effects of verbal, gender, and ethnic influences.
Learning Accomplishment Profile – Diagnostic Standardized Assessment (LAP-D): This assesses children between two and a half and twelve years of age in their fine motor skills (such as writing and manipulating), gross motor skills (such as movement of the body and of objects), logic and math (considered cognitive tasks), and language skills (comprehension and object naming).
Bayley Scales of Infant Development: These assess development, both motor and cognitive. The age range was extended to include children from one month to three-and-a-half years of age. “Mental Scales” and “Motor Scales” are independent tools.
Peabody Developmental Motor Scales: These evaluate children from birth to seven years of age in their fine motor development (grasping, hand-eye coordination, and manual dexterity) and gross motor development (reflexes, balance, locomotion, throwing, and catching).
Kaufman Survey of Early Academic and Language Skills: This assesses three-year-old children’s receptive and expressive language skills and concepts of numbers, letters, and words; it includes an articulation survey.
Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test – Revised: This can be used with children starting at three years of age; it is a test of receptive vocabulary with an adaptation for persons with mobility impairments; a Spanish version is also available.
Preschool Language Scale: This assesses children from the first year of life to the age of three in their development of auditory comprehension, articulation, grammatical structures, and basic language concepts.
Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS): This provides a complex assessment of the school environment: space, materials, activities, supervision, interactions among children and between children and adults. It is useful for environments with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (HOME): This is the best known and most widely used test for use in household settings. The scales are applied from early childhood to second infancy; each version assesses both the physical environment and the social, emotional, and cognitive support that the child receives.
Audiology, that is, the assessment of infants and children, requires a clinical test conducted by a trained physician. However, in order to help identify children who need the test, it is important that teachers and parents record and report their observations whenever they suspect the child cannot hear properly. The warning signs include:
- Pulling or hitting the ear;
- Leakage from the auditory canal;
- Unresponsiveness or puzzled looks when being spoken to;
- Frequently asking for repetitions of what has been said: “What?” “Huh?”
- Speaking too loudly or too softly;
- Poor articulation or discrimination of sounds.
Snellen E or Illiterate E test is an instrument that is frequently used to assess younger children’s visual acuity (it is not necessary to know the alphabet). As in the case of hearing, the information and informal indications provided by parents and teachers is very important for assessing children’s visual problems. Some signs to look out for are:
- Frequently rubs eyes, or closes or covers one eye;
- Constantly trips or bumps into things;
- Complains about frequent headaches;
- Blinks excessively when reading or looking at books;
- Rubs eyes as if trying to remove blurriness.
Choose a child and observe him throughout his daily routine at the education center. Use various instruments and times to collect the necessary information to be analyzed and interpreted in order to make recommendations regarding educational and psychological intervention for the developing child. Then, write a referral for a psycho-educational evaluation.
After reading and finishing the exercises of this assessment module, it is important that every educator answers the following questions about the educational and constructive process of early childhood assessment:
- How do you define assessment processes? After studying this module, how will you apply assessment processes in your duties as an early childhood educator?
- Can you design an assessment system appropriate to the children’s developmental stage and in keeping with the philosophy and theoretical framework of the educational program in which you work?
- Which assessment strategies are you thinking of using or refining with the children, according to the educational activities of the curriculum you are organizing as a preschool educator?
- How will you organize or improve the use of portfolios for collecting classwork and documenting authentic evidence of early aged children’s development and learning?
- Can you design an assessment and intervention plan for the children at the educational program in which you work?
- How will you share with parents or guardians the information you collected and interpreted and your recommendations related to educational and holistic development?
- Do you know how to write a referral to health professionals who need to evaluate a specific child?
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