One of the founding principles of the TSLP is using data (information) to inform action. In the Assessment component of the TSLP, the Action Steps focus on creating a system for collecting accurate information about the development and learning of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. This way, instruction staff can plan and deliver meaningful instruction that is tailored to meet the strengths and needs of each child.
McAfee, Leong, and Bodrova (2004) define assessment in early childhood as "the basic process of finding out what the children in our classroom, individually and as a group, can do in relation to their optimum development and to the goals of the program" (p. 3). As leaders and instructional staff begin to collect information about what children can do, experts stress the importance of two key ideas: validity and reliability. As you and your team begin to establish or refine the assessment system for your early childhood site, you will want to ensure that the tools, methods, and approaches you use are valid and reliable.
First, it is important that you use tools to collect valid information about children. A tool is valid when it assesses what it is supposed to assess and not something else. In other words, you may ask, "Does the information I have from this tool give a true picture of a child's knowledge or ability in the area it is supposed to test?" For example, you may use a developmental checklist that includes an item related to a child's ability to sort objects into groups. The data would be valid if you asked the child to show how to sort the objects, but it would not be valid if you asked the child to verbally explain how to sort the objects. The child might not have the language ability to describe or explain the process, even when he or she actually has the skill you are trying to assess. Therefore, to get a valid picture of the child's ability to sort objects, the tool cannot rely on another skill, such as language ability, that may get in the way of the child's demonstrating his or her knowledge (Helm, 2008).
Second, the tools you use to collect information must be reliable. A tool is reliable when the information or scores are similar "regardless of when the tool is administered, where it is administered, and who is administering it" (Halle, Zaslow, Wessel, Moodie, & Darling-Churchill, 2011). A perfect example of a reliable tool is a weight scale. No matter in which room of the house you place the scale, or no matter who is observing the person standing on the scale, the information that the scale gives you is consistent and accurate (with a few degrees of natural variation). The tools used to measure early child development may not be as simple and easy to read as a weight scale, though. For example, if you are administering a literacy screener to preschoolers, instructional staff must be trained on the procedures for administering it and follow the same procedures each time for scoring the assessment. This ensures that no matter who gives the assessment, or when, the information is consistent.
As Lessons 1 and 2 of this module guide you in identifying and selecting assessment tools for your system, you will need to consider the validity and reliability of each type of assessment you choose. One way to do this is to review all information possible about each assessment tool you use (e.g., administration manuals, research on the assessment) to learn about the tool's validity and reliability. Also, you may carefully review the resources in the To Learn More section at the end of each lesson, as those resources provide guidance and information regarding specific measures you might use.
There are other key ideas to keep in mind when determining whether your assessment system is valid and reliable. For infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, ensuring reliability and validity requires a commitment to collecting information about children from multiple assessment types on an ongoing basis. There are many factors that can affect how young children "perform" their knowledge and skills (e.g., they are hungry, tired, fearful), and children may approach tasks differently at different developmental levels. Therefore, to get an accurate and valid picture of each child's learning, it is important that you do not rely on one assessment. When deciding what is best for any child, multiple sources of information should be reviewed, including input from families, instructional staff, and other specialists, along with different types of assessment information. Keep in mind that assessment is not a one-time event. You can think of assessment as a continuous cycle of problem solving that helps you and your instructional staff continuously plan, adapt, and modify instruction to optimize learning for all children.
Finally, the goals of your assessment system should be well aligned with the goals for the learning and development of your childcare center or preschool. To establish that alignment, there are many important decisions to make. You and your team will need to decide which area(s) of children's learning and development you will assess, when to assess them, how to gather the most accurate information about what children know and can do, and how to use the information you collect (McAfee, Leong, & Bodrova, 2004). The Action Steps and Indicators in the Assessment component are organized around these important decisions you and your team will make.
As you may have noticed, the first two Action Steps in the Assessment component are parallel. Action Steps A1 and A2 ask the site/campus-based leadership team to create and maintain an assessment system to document the development of children, including language and pre-literacy development. These two Action Steps are presented separately to ensure that your assessment system is developmentally appropriate for the ages of the children you serve, whether infants and toddlers or children age 3–5. In Parts 2 and 3 of this lesson, you will learn about key ideas in early childhood assessment that will help you design an assessment plan that is developmentally appropriate for different age groups.