Action Steps and Orientation

A1. Create and maintain an observation system to document the development of children age 0–2, including language and pre-literacy development.

A2. Create and maintain an observation and assessment system to document the development of children age 3–5, including language and pre-literacy development.

During this lesson, you and your team will start planning a systematic approach to observation and assessment with infants, toddlers, and preschool children. This lesson of the Assessment module will discuss Action Steps A1 and A2, which address the observation and assessment systems for children age 0–2 (A1) and 3–5 (A2). These Action Steps are parallel and emphasize the need for observation and assessment that is developmentally appropriate for children at different ages.

Part 1 of this lesson gives your site/campus-based leadership team an overview of the Assessment component of the Texas State Literacy Plan (TSLP) and highlights some key elements on the subject of assessment.

In Part 2, your site/campus-based leadership team will learn about the major ideas to consider when establishing an observation and assessment plan for infants and toddlers.

In Part 3, your site/campus-based leadership team will learn about the major ideas to consider when establishing an observation and assessment plan for children age 3–5.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Steps for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—The Assessment Component of the TSLP

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.

Part 2—Key Considerations in Creating and Maintaining an Observation System for Children Age 0–2

Assessment, even at the earliest stages of childhood development, is essential to quality care. Knowing where young children are in their development is key to planning effective care for all children. But what does "assessment" look like for infants and toddlers? What types of activities do administrators and instructional staff engage in to gather accurate information about children's learning and development?

In the case of very young children, information about learning and development will be gathered very differently than it is with older children. Infants and toddlers do not have the language skills to tell us what they know, and adults must draw conclusions about children's development through their nonverbal cues, vocalization, and body language. Children at this age are also very busy and have short attention spans. They are affected by contextual factors (being hot, cold, hungry, or tired), and depending on their developmental level, they approach tasks differently (Dichtelmiller & Ensler, 2004). Because of these challenges, it is important to have a realistic system in place for assessing young children that all instructional staff clearly understand and have the knowledge and resources to carry out.

First and foremost, a strong assessment plan includes collaboration between instructional staff and families. Families of infants and toddlers are key resources in gathering accurate information about children's development. Getting to know families during arrival and departure times is important, and in Lesson 2 of the Assessment module, you will learn about some tools you may use to develop strong relationships with families so that you are mutually engaged in children's learning.

In addition to developing strong partnerships with families, the classroom teacher plays a very important role in the assessment of infants and toddlers. Teachers are closely watching and interacting with the infants and toddlers to ensure that they are kept healthy and safe as they explore and discover the world around them. Each day, children are provided with many opportunities to demonstrate what they can do and what they are learning, and an effective teacher will be a keen observer of all children as they play and interact within their regular classroom environment. In fact, the basis of an assessment system for infants and toddlers will be a solid observation system.

What are the benefits of assessing through observation?

Observation is a type of assessment that involves systematically watching and listening to children and then recording the information gathered. Developing a trusting relationship with each child forms the foundation for learning. This relationship allows instructional staff to determine where each child is in his or her development and to plan meaningful, individualized support for each child. Systematic observation allows instructional staff to monitor each child's progress over time in each area of development at the appropriate stages. Finally, careful and systematic observation can provide key information to other instructional staff, specialists, and service providers about young children who may be at risk for developmental delays or disabilities.

What should instructional staff know in order to observe infants and toddlers effectively?

It can be quite a challenge to create a systematic approach to gathering information about individual children, and the class as a whole, that is both non-intrusive and easily managed by staff. You and your team will need to guide instructional staff in understanding effective observational techniques and protocols and provide professional development as needed.

First, you will want instructional staff to focus on relationships while observing children. You must encourage teachers to build strong relationships with children and respond to them in ways that help them thrive. As the relationships grow and the children develop trust, it will be easier for instructional staff to learn more about individual children and then determine how to best provide the help they need to develop and learn.

[Through continuous assessment] teachers are creating something like a biographical documentary, addressing the questions, "Who is this child, and who has she become over time?" (Elicker & McMullen, 2013)

Second, your instructional staff will need to have a strong understanding of the areas of development they will observe for children at different ages. As you start to create your system, a very helpful tool to consult is the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines. These guidelines list four critical domains that need to be observed: physical health and motor development, social and emotional development, language and communication development, and cognitive development. As your team reviews these guidelines or other resources to establish criteria for your observation system, you may discover that your instructional staff needs further learning about these domains of child development. As needs are identified, you will need to plan professional development to enhance the instructional staff's knowledge.

Once instructional staff members have a strong knowledge of the developmental indicators they will systematically observe, they will need to be sensitive, skillful, and consistent with their approach to observation. Children accomplish skills (cognitive, social-emotional, motor, etc.) in different ways. Observers must understand this and allow for multiple opportunities to observe the same child performing the same functions at different times. This is an important way to ensure validity and reliability. In other words, it ensures that the information collected is accurate and reflects the child's true capabilities.

Finally, you and your team will need to establish a standard framework or template that instructional staff will follow when collecting data on infants and toddlers. Instructional staff will need consistent guidelines on what domains to observe and what tools they will use to assess children's development in those domains. There are standardized developmental screeners, observational scales, and checklists that are appropriate for infants and toddlers, and they can aid in the process of addressing any possible delays or impairments early on. Lesson 2—A1 and A2: Appropriate assessment tools provides more specific guidance in identifying and selecting tools that are appropriate for children age 0–2.

Part 3—Key Considerations in Establishing an Observation System for Children Age 3–5

As young children grow, so do their developmental skills and knowledge. As the children in your care develop more complex abilities, particularly in the areas of language and pre-literacy, your system for assessing them may also become more complex. You will still use observation as a primary method for assessing children age 3–5, but you may also incorporate other formal assessment tools as part of your plan for collecting information about each child's learning needs.

The principles of observation that you learned about in Part 2 of this lesson should be carried out as part of your assessment plan for preschoolers. Instructional staff may need professional development on effective observation techniques, developing trusting relationships with preschoolers, and methods of recording information from observations. Just as with infants and toddlers, you and your team will need to decide appropriate areas of learning and development to assess through observation, using established guidelines as a resource for assessment planning. Guidelines for three-year-olds are included in the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines. You can also download the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015), which contain 10 domains of preschool learning and development, including skill areas for each of the domains. You and your team may also benefit from reviewing appropriate sections of the Standards-based Instruction module of the TSLP in identifying areas of learning and development to assess.

In addition to the observation of preschoolers during their everyday learning and interactions within the classroom, you and your team may include other types of formal assessments in your plan. Formal assessments are different from informal assessments in that these tools are administered and scored using specific steps that have been examined for validity and reliability. Formal assessments require that the person using the tool follow a standardized method so that it produces valid and reliable information. A developmental screener is one type of formal assessment tool. Meisels and Atkins-Burnett (2005) remind us that screeners are a very specific type of assessment. Unlike summative or achievement tests that measure the knowledge and skills that children learn over time, "developmental screening tests identify at an early point which children may have learning problems or disabilities that could keep them from realizing their potential" (p. 1).

These experts, along with many others, stress the importance of understanding the purpose of assessments and using them for their intended purposes. As you and your team identify, review, and select assessment tools for the preschool-age children in your program, it is very important that instructional staff understand the purpose of each assessment and determine if it aligns with your goals and curriculum. This is important for ensuring valid and reliable information. Lesson 2 provides more information about different assessment tools and how to select tools that are appropriate for your site and the children in your care. As you begin to plan your system and move through the Action Steps and Indicators of this component, you will want to keep in mind what you learned in this lesson about making your system developmentally appropriate, valid, and reliable. Keeping these basic ideas in mind will help ensure that you are putting the key elements in place for an assessment system that best serves the children in your care.

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TO LEARN MORE: For more information about observation and assessment for infants, toddlers, and three- to five-year-olds, you may want to review the following resources:

"Appropriate and Meaningful Assessment in Family-Centered Programs," found on the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website, includes information about different assessment tools educators can use for meaningful assessment. The article also describes the importance of reflecting on assessment information in collaboration with colleagues and families and the use of this information for setting goals and planning for individual children and groups.

"Assessment in Early Childhood" is available on the Get Ready to Read! website. The article provides educators with basic background information and a general overview of national standards for assessment, universal screening, progress monitoring, observation in naturalistic settings, and the use of teacher ratings to identify children at risk.

"Literacy Milestones: Birth to Age 3" is available on the Reading Rockets website. It includes a concise list of typical developmental literacy milestones from birth to age three for educators to review and use as a reference.

Position Statements on Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation is available at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website. You can download PDF versions of various position statements on assessment, including assessment of young English learners.

The Infant/Toddler Development, Screening, and Assessment module is provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Child Care. From the ZERO TO THREE home page, enter "Infant/Toddler Development, Screening, and Assessment" in the search box. You can then download the PDF version of the module by clicking on the title.

"The Power of Documentation in the Early Childhood Classroom" describes how to effectively use documentation of children's learning and development. This article is available for download on the Past Issues page of the NAEYC website. See under June/July 2009, Vol. 2, No. 5.

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on your progress in establishing your assessment plan, you may want to consider the following next steps:

  • Provide professional development to enhance the instructional staff's knowledge about assessment, particularly the purpose and goals of systematic observation.
  • Review the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines, the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015), and appropriate content from the Standards-based Instruction component to help you identify areas of learning and development to assess.
  • Choose the developmental indicators or skills that instructional staff will observe/assess and provide professional development to instructional staff.

Assignment

A1. Create and maintain an observation system to document the development of children age 0–2, including language and pre-literacy development.

A2. Create and maintain an observation and assessment system to document the development of children age 3–5, including language and pre-literacy development.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step A1 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings 0-SE

With your site/campus-based leadership team, respond to the three questions in the assignment. You will consider and reflect on these questions based on what you have learned in this lesson about making your assessment system developmentally appropriate for the infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children at your site.

In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson's content may be useful to you:

  • Part 1 of this lesson gives your site/campus-based leadership team an overview of the Assessment component of the TSLP and highlights some key elements on the subject of assessment.
  • Part 2 describes the major ideas to consider when establishing an observation and assessment plan for infants and toddlers.
  • Part 3 discusses the major ideas to consider when establishing an observation and assessment plan for children age 3–5.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your site or campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on these Action Steps.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for these Action Steps and follow the instructions.

References

Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.). (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8 (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Dichtelmiller, M. L., & Ensler, L. (2004, January). Infant/toddler assessment: One program's experience. Beyond the Journal: Young Children on the Web. Retrieved from https://www.nayec.org/yc/pastissues/2004/january

Elicker, J., & McMullen, M. B. (2013). Appropriate and meaningful assessment in family-centered programs. Young Children, 69(2), 22–27.

Halle, T., Zaslow, M., Wessel, J., Moodie, S., & Darling-Churchill, K. (2011). Understanding and choosing assessments and developmental screeners for young children: Profiles of selected measures. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/screeners_final.pdf

Helm, J. H. (2008). Best practices in assessment in early childhood education. Resources for Early Childhood. Retrieved from http://rec.ohiorc.org/ResearchReference/Brief.aspx

Jablon, J. R., Dombro, A. L., & Dichtelmiller, M. L. (2011). The power of observation: Birth to age 8 (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Koralek, D. (Ed.). (2004). Spotlight on young children and assessment. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. (Available in Spanish)

McAfee, O., Leong, D., & Bodrova, E. (2004). Basics of assessment: A primer for early childhood educators. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Meisels, S.J., & Atkins-Burnett, S. (2005). Developmental screening in early childhood: A guide (5th ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Moreno, A. J., & Klute, M. M. (2011). Infant-toddler teachers can successfully employ authentic assessment: The “learning through relating” system. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 26(4), 484–496.