As the first Indicator of Action Step A3 states, you and your team will need to support and develop instructional staff's knowledge of how to use data "to set goals, document progress, and match instruction to children's interests and needs." Since you need to use a variety of assessments as part of your system (such as observations, family questionnaires, developmental checklists, and pre-literacy screeners), you will want to set expectations for how the different types of information collected by these tools are used to inform care and instruction. Putting some systems in place can support instructional staff in effectively using data to guide instruction on an ongoing basis.
Setting aside time for data review meetings
Staff meetings where data is reviewed and discussed will be an important part of your assessment system. It is best to set aside time for these meetings shortly after assessments so instructional staff can review the information collected as soon as possible. At the meetings, instructional staff can discuss what the data is telling them about the children in their classes, specifically the instructional needs of the children and the learning goals that are appropriate to target for each child.
In addition to identifying children's needs, instructional staff can share expertise with one another during data-review meetings and possibly identify topics on which they may need more professional development. For example, after reviewing data collected from pre-literacy screeners, an instructional staff member learned that some children had scored "needs more assistance" in the area of print knowledge and concepts. This teacher had little training in activities that promote this skill. After talking with other instructional staff to ask about possible strategies, the teacher discovered that they all could benefit from additional training in print knowledge and concepts. In this case, leaders decided to include more professional development on the topic.
Supporting instructional staff by making data accessible and instructional resources available
When children's instructional needs are accurately identified, instructional staff can plan meaningful, differentiated instruction that meets those needs. (Differentiated instruction is tailored to the strengths and needs of each child.) In order to accomplish this, you and your leadership team will want to have systems in place so that instructional staff can easily access and understand assessment data. In fact, making scores and key information available and understandable to staff is the first step in using data to guide instruction.
Your system for making data accessible may be different for the different types of assessment tools used. For assessments that are administered at key points during the year—e.g., beginning of the year (BOY), middle of the year (MOY), end of the year (EOY)—you may print or create a summary template that instructional staff members fill out. Completed templates will show the range of development in a skill for all the children in each class based on the information collected as part of your assessment system. For data that is formally collected at key points in time, it can be helpful to review student needs across classrooms. This way, as leaders, you can identify major areas of growth and need and plan site-wide support for instructional staff as needed.
You will want to collaborate with instructional staff on the most efficient ways to organize and retrieve informal data that is collected on an ongoing basis. Teachers will need a system in place so that they can plan instruction and communicate with parents and families. You and your team should support instructional staff in reviewing and using data continuously. Explain that both formal and informal assessment data are important in planning instruction and measuring students' progress over time. For more information about pre-literacy assessment, you may review Scanlon, Anderson, and Sweeney's Early Intervention for Reading Difficulties, listed in the References section, for guidance and suggested forms of documenting student learning.
As instructional staff members plan instruction, they may need help identifying and using curriculum resources for setting objectives and promoting the skills that are important for each age group. The Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines and the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015) can guide providers in implementing and adapting strategies to support learning and development. "Texas' Early Learning Pathways," aligned to both of these documents, provides recommendations for caregiver behaviors and instructional activities that support learning and development from age 0–5. You and your team can also review the lessons in the Effective Instructional Framework module. There, you will find more information and resources on differentiating instruction to meet children's needs based on the data collected through your observation and assessment system.
The following scenario shows how one teacher used assessment information and the guidelines to modify her care of two-year-olds.
Scenario: The instructional staff at ABC Childcare attended a meeting in which they reviewed Beginning of the Year (BOY) data from the site's developmental checklist tool. During the meeting, site leaders guided instructional staff in reviewing the data and identifying trends in students' development. They also supported the staff as they began to plan instruction.
Ms. Lara, a teacher in the two-year-old classroom at ABC Childcare, saw that about half of the children in her classroom were not using three- to four-word sentences at BOY. She organized the data on this skill and began planning support to address this instructional need. Here is her class data and initial support plan. Then Ms. Lara consulted the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines. She reviewed the caregiver strategies that help promote children using more words in a sentence. She began planning for small-group instruction for all children, selecting the following strategies as her focus until the next assessment period:
Introduce new words, sounds, signs, and body language during everyday activities by explaining what older infants are seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting.
Speak in complete sentences with toddlers: "Yes, that is a banana. Let’s peel the skin off the banana together."
Notice and support toddlers when they begin to put two or more words together to form sentences by repeating the words and adding more: "Yes, Mommy went bye-bye. She will come back very soon."
Ms. Lara also decided to make sure that she routinely asks the children in her classroom to repeat new words, not just hear those words. Ms. Lara shared these strategies with the other instructional staff and aides who work in the two-year-old classroom, making sure that they were focused on increasing the number of words children use in sentences. Ms. Lara used the informal data (e.g., class observations, documentation of class activities and learning) to determine how the children were responding to the support she was providing.
Ms. Lara continued to use the formal assessment data to inform instruction throughout the year. You can see an example of her class data from the end of the year, showing how she listed types of support based on what the data showed about the children's progress.
A summary sheet like the one used by Ms. Lara can be helpful in organizing data for different purposes and planning instruction. You can use or adapt this summary sheet template.
Establishing a system of ongoing staff support
You and your team will want to help staff frequently review information about the children in their care and plan instruction. You may identify instructional staff or coaches at your site who can regularly discuss data with individual staff members and encourage them to use information about individual children to help create lesson plans and set goals. Staff members may need help in using identified goals and assessment information to plan lessons, including how to personalize learning for different needs or stages of growth.
Observation of classroom practice is also important to staff development. Observation should always include reflective follow-up meetings. Although it is important for leadership to observe formal lessons (particularly with toddlers and preschoolers), observations may also include other daily activities in which instructional staff teach and reinforce skills (such as transition times, outdoor activities, lunch activities). In any case, follow-up meetings should allow instructional staff members to share how an activity went, identify their own strengths and areas of growth, and discuss ways to improve based on feedback from the observer.
By visiting classrooms to assess and observe how your instructional staff are using data to inform instruction, you will be able to gauge what level of assistance each instructional staff member needs. A first step might be to observe instructional staff as they conduct various assessment activities (informal observations, evaluating developmental milestones, reviewing family questionnaires) and as they work with children in large and small groups. In your follow-up meetings, you can ask instructional staff to describe ways they used assessment to plan instruction, and you can collaboratively discuss successes and challenges they encountered.
You and your team might also review lesson plans with instructional staff and focus on how data is used to guide instruction. Then during classroom observations, you and your team might look for activities that target the individual skills and growth needed, such as writing activities or small-group lessons focused on a specific pre-literacy objective. During classroom observations, you and your team can evaluate how the instructional staff used the data to plan daily activities, implement the curriculum, set objectives, conduct lessons, and document children's growth. These visits will provide topics of discussion for your reflective follow-up meetings. They will also help you and the instructional staff set collaborative goals related to improved learning opportunities and lessons. Ensure that instructional staff can explain how the activity they have chosen is connected to their goals and why they chose it for that specific skill.
Finally, throughout this process, you will want to consider ways to build the skills and knowledge of your instructional staff. During classroom observations and follow-up meetings, you may learn that some members of your instructional staff are very effective in assessing children and planning targeted instruction. Others may need specific step-by-step support, more frequent visits, additional professional development, or time to ask questions and have more extended conversations with coaches or other experts. It might be helpful to have a reflection tool to document how well your instructional staff implement your observation and assessment system. Tracking this information will help you identify effective teachers who might take on greater leadership roles at your site by providing support to other instructional staff, as well as helping you set site-wide goals for your professional development plan.
TO LEARN MORE: For more information about assessment and guiding instruction for young children, you will find examples and ideas about various tools in the following resources:
Eliker and McMullen's "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.
The article "Assessment in Early Childhood" by Gillis, West, and Coleman 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.
The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Young Children's Learning by Ann S. Epstein describes ways to use data to plan strategies for young children. You may consider this resource for an in-depth book study. Each chapter has an area titled "For Further Consideration" at the end. During such a book study, instructional staff and leaders can reflect on how to improve instruction that will meet individual children's needs.
The Learning from Assessment Toolkit, available on the Head Start website, provides a collection of presentations, handouts, and guided practice exercises to help instructional staff in administering and analyzing child assessment. In the presentation for teachers, there is a video where they can observe and document children's behaviors. You can download various parts of the Toolkit by clicking on the different tabs at the top of the page.
NAEYC’s "Position Statements on Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation" is available at the National Association for the Education of Young Children website. You can download PDF versions of various position statements on assessment, including assessment of young English learners.
"The Power of Documentation in the Early Childhood Classroom," by Hilary Seitz, describes how to use documentation of children's learning and development effectively. This article is available for download on the NAEYC site on the Past Issues page. See under June/July 2009, Vol. 2 No. 5.
The webinar Engaging Families in the Assessment Process and Use of Data: An Early Childhood Example examines strategies for promoting the effective use of early childhood assessment data at multiple levels, with a focus on families.