As part of your site's implementation of Action Steps A1 and A2, you and your team will engage in the important task of reviewing and selecting assessment tools. These Indicators speak to this task:
Review and select appropriate, user-friendly observation tool(s) to document the progress of children age 0–2. (A1)
Identify tools to measure language and pre-literacy skills that predict later reading and writing success, such as phonological awareness, alphabet writing, and print knowledge. Ensure all tools are reliable and age appropriate. (A2)
To address these Indicators, you and your team will likely need to review the tools currently in use, select additional tools for your assessment system, and/or refine your assessment system so that it is valid, reliable, and developmentally appropriate. Part 1 of this lesson will guide you in completing these steps.
What tools may be considered for your assessment system?
An assessment system best serves infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children when it is ongoing and uses a variety of types of assessment tools. When assessment is ongoing, instructional staff can continuously respond to children's evolving needs and provide meaningful, differentiated instruction to each child. Differentiated instruction is tailored to the strengths and needs of an individual child. When multiple types of assessment are used, stakeholders (e.g., instructional staff, families, specialists) can get the most valid and accurate picture of children's abilities and needs. This section describes the types of assessment tools you may consider as part of your assessment system.
Tools for collecting and sharing information between site instructional staff and families
As described in Lesson 1, a strong collaboration between instructional staff and families is important because it helps instructional staff understand the learning and development of the infants, toddlers, and preschoolers they serve. The knowledge that instructional staff develop from meaningful relationships with families can guide teaching and learning in powerful ways. As part of your assessment system, you may want to consider tools that can aid in the sharing of information between site instructional staff and families.
To begin, family questionnaires are tools that can help instructional staff learn about the child's temperament, language at home, preferences, fears, family events, and developmental skills. Having this background information can help instructional staff know more about individual children and give meaningful and differentiated support. To collect this background family information, you can use a form like this sample family questionnaire or enter "Child Assessment Form 7293" in the search field of the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services website to access a downloadable form.
Another valuable tool is a thoughtfully designed daily communication log that parents and families complete each morning. This log might request information from families, such as whether the child slept well the night before, the child's general mood that day (e.g., fearful, playful), or the child's general health. In turn, your instructional staff will want to provide similar information to parents and families on a daily basis. If you are in a licensed center in the state of Texas, one requirement for the infants' rooms is a daily report prepared for and presented to parents and families. This report includes information about the child's day and is a Minimum Licensing Standard (746.2431, Subchapter H – basic care requirements for infants). The form should have basic observational information that can be completed quickly and sent home daily to support regular communication between instructional staff and families. Here is a sample form for a daily report.
Finally, family conferences can be a valuable format for communicating and collaborating with families about children's learning and development. When scheduling these conferences, you and your instructional staff will need to offer flexible options because working parents and families often have busy schedules. During these meetings, instructional staff can share information about children's growth and learning. They can also gather meaningful information about the family's goals and expectations, as well as the child's home and community experiences, language and cultural background, and interests. This information can be used with other data collected about children's learning to create a holistic picture of the child and how he or she is developing over time.
Planning ongoing opportunities for teachers to build strong parent and family partnerships will encourage open and productive conversations. The tools described in this section will provide the structure for these ongoing opportunities and can provide valuable data to instructional staff as they get to know each individual child and plan care and learning opportunities.
Tools and techniques for observing and documenting children's learning and development
As part of your observation system, you may incorporate a variety of tools that enhance the type and quality of information teachers collect on each child. You and your team will need to decide which of the critical domains of learning and development will be systematically observed. You will need to provide your teachers with opportunities to gain deep understanding of these areas. You will also need to give teachers a consistent way of documenting what they observe. For example, instructional staff may use an observation template that is organized by child's name and date, with space for recording the child's activities in the various domains.
You may also include a space for "setting goals" for each child, based on his or her current stage of development, and plan accordingly for next steps in learning, like in this sample blank template and this completed template. You and your instructional staff can create an observation checklist by compiling developmental milestones into a checklist format. Various milestones can be found in the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines, the Center for Disease Control website, the ZERO TO THREE website, and other sites targeting child development.
In addition, you and your instructional staff may use other forms of documentation to help different stakeholders (e.g., instructional staff, administrators, families) understand how and what children are learning. Some documentation tools include photographs of children at work on a task, portfolios of children's work or activities, and instructional staff journals about a class event, experience, or skill development. When learning is well documented, this information provides valuable insights into children's development and can "drive curriculum and collaboration in the early childhood classroom setting" (Seitz, 2008, p. 88). More details about these types of tools are described in the articles in the To Learn More section at the end of Part 2.
Formal assessment tools
As you and your team review the current formal assessment tools used at your site, or as you consider integrating new formal assessment tools into your system, it is important to keep in mind the foundational elements of assessment. First, you and your team will want to review all formal assessments used and address any issues about validity and reliability relevant to each tool. Second, it is important to consider whether each assessment is developmentally appropriate, as well as if the tool is appropriate for children who speak languages other than English. (See Lesson 1—A1 and A2: Observation and assessment for more information about these elements).
Two types of formal assessment tools are developmental scales/checklists and screeners. Developmental scales and checklists can be used to monitor children's progress in different areas of learning and can help instructional staff "collaborate with families, celebrate new milestones, and plan appropriate and challenging learning experiences for individual children" (Eliker & McMullen, 2013, p. 22). Formal scales are usually criterion referenced. This means they measure children's development against a fixed set of expectations of what they are supposed to be able to do at different ages and stages.
Screening assessments are formal, standardized tools designed to "identify at an early point which children may have learning problems or disabilities that could keep them from realizing their potential" (Meisels & Atkins-Burnett, 2005, p. 1). Your site may use screeners for many purposes. Health, hearing, and vision screening may be provided at your site to identify specific medical issues. Also, there are screeners for language, motor development, and social-emotional development. For further guidance in evaluating and selecting appropriate screeners for pre-literacy skills, see Sharon Ringwalt's "Developmental Screening and Assessment Instruments" and "Screening for Reading Problems in Preschool and Kindergarten: An Overview of Select Measures," available on the RTI (Response to Intervention) Action Network site. Lesson 4—A4: Special learning needs provides information and guidance on sharing information with families and specialists to support the identification of delays and special learning needs.
When selecting formal assessments, you and your team should always consider what is developmentally appropriate for the children in your care. Resources that can guide you in selecting valid assessment instruments designed for use with children under the age of 3 include Kisker and colleagues' Resources for Measuring Services and Outcomes in Head Start Programs Serving Infants and Toddlers and the Infant/Toddler Development, Screening, and Assessment module provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Child Care Administration for Families (available at the link listed in the To Learn More section below). Before you select and use structured assessment for infants and toddlers, you want to ensure that the skills measured match the goals and mission of your early childhood center.
Formal assessment tools are more common in the assessment of children age 3–5 as they begin to develop more language and pre-literacy skills. These tools can be helpful in identifying, at an early stage, children who are showing learning delays or may be in need of specialized support. There are formal assessment tools available for prekindergarten. One example is the CIRCLE Progress Monitoring System (formerly known as C-PALLS+). This assessment has been widely used to help prekindergarten instructional staff determine the early literacy knowledge of a child, including letter knowledge, vocabulary, and phonological awareness skills. These three pre-literacy skills are important foundational skills to support the child's later literacy skills. They should be assessed over the school year so that instructional staff can continuously evaluate how successful they are in helping all the prekindergarten children prepare for kindergarten. The CIRCLE Progress Monitoring System is given three times a year, and the resulting data can indicate weak and strong areas of development for the children. Keep in mind that there are other formal assessment tools you may use for children age 3–5. The resources provided in this section, as well as those in the To Learn More section, can provide guidance in selecting tools.
Choosing the right tools is not always an easy or straightforward process. As site leaders, you will need to have a strong understanding of which tools are currently being used in your program, which new ones could be added, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. In Part 2 of this lesson, you will learn about some steps you can take to implement your assessment plan once you and your team have finalized decisions about the tools you will use.