Action Step and Orientation

E1. Implement a system for using data to inform instruction and set goals for all children.

In this lesson, you and your site/campus-based leadership team will learn about selecting and using assessment tools, screeners, and checklists. You will also learn about the various data you can use to help children meet age-appropriate goals.

In Part 1, you will learn about the steps for making an informed decision about your assessment tools and plan.

In Part 2, you will learn more about implementing your program’s assessment tools and plans.

In Part 3, you will read a scenario about a preschool program that is effectively using an assessment plan and the data from the assessment tool. In this section, you will also see an alignment model between response to intervention (RTI) and a preschool approach to intervention.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step 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—Consideration of Your Assessment Plan

One of the challenges of early childhood programs is determining which assessment tools will best meet children’s needs and program goals. There are several helpful steps to take as you begin creating a plan for collecting and using data to inform instruction. This lesson will take you through some key steps, and for more detailed information, you can review the Assessment component of the TSLP, which focuses specifically on creating a solid assessment system.

One of the first things to consider is which assessment tools you will use. These tools could include standardized assessments, observational instruments, standardized screening instruments, or developmental checklists. They can be informal or formal assessments.

As you research assessment tools, your team will need to consider the ages and stages of the children you are assessing. For infants and toddlers, many evidence-based screeners and developmental checklists can supply helpful information for planning care and instruction. For preschool children, an array of evidence-based assessment tools, screeners, and observational checklists can provide data to help meet the needs of all children. You will find useful links regarding some of these tools in the To Learn More section.

Another source of information for zero-to-school-age children may be parent/family questionnaires or surveys. These documents can provide your teaching staff with valuable information about the developmental stages, interests, and needs of young children. Staff can also complete a developmental milestone checklist that will help them gather current information about the children in their care.

After your team learns what assessment tools are available and which ones may work for your assessment plan, you will need to evaluate the tools further to determine which ones best fit your program’s vision and needs. You may decide to order one set of each tool that is under consideration to learn more about each specific instrument. Your team might then review the instruments in pairs. When they finish reviewing the possibilities, each pair might report their findings to the whole group. This strategy may allow your team to make an informed decision and determine which tools best meet your program’s goals.

Here is a sample comparison chart that might help you evaluate various assessment tools.

Keep in mind that successful programs include their stakeholders in discussions about program plans, assessment tools, and goals for children. As you choose assessment tools, you may need to plan regularly scheduled meetings with stakeholders who are a part of the educational decision-making team. This step will provide opportunities for you to have a conversation and reflect on your plans with stakeholders. When stakeholders understand your educational plans, they are more likely to provide the support and materials you need. In strong teams in which there is ongoing communication, everyone achieves more.

After you have taken these collaborative steps, you will be ready to decide which tools your program will use for infants, toddlers, and preschool children. This decision will be based on thoughtful reflection, research, and collaboration with your team and stakeholders. You will need several tools in order to fit the needs of each age group. Your next step will be to make your final selection and plan to purchase the selected tools.

An important next step will be to discuss and plan the professional development for staff regarding how to administer the selected screeners or assessment tools. Additionally, you will need to provide professional development to staff on how to use the assessment data to plan instruction to meet children’s needs and goals. Your leadership team might do the following:

  • Consider available training dates on your school calendar and decide on specific training times.
  • Locate a qualified trainer and find an appropriate training location.
  • Plan details for the training and order materials.
  • Send an announcement about the training to all staff who need to attend the professional development.
  • Create any handouts for the professional development.

As you take these steps to move your plans forward, this quotation will remind you of why assessment is so important:

“Developmental assessment is a process designed to deepen understanding of a child’s competencies and resources, and of the caregiving and learning environments most likely to help a child make fullest use of his or her developmental potential” (Greenspan & Meisels, 1996, p. 11.i9).

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TO LEARN MORE: For more information about developmental screening and assessment tools, the following resources may be helpful:

In the Publications section of the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center website, you can scroll down the page to download the guide “Developmental Screening and Assessment Instruments with an Emphasis on Social and Emotional Development for Young Children Ages Birth through Five.”

Get Ready to Read contains screening tools and resources for early childhood and prekindergarten-age children.

First Signs: Recommended Screening Tools contains reviews of current developmental and behavioral screeners for working with children aged 0–36 months.

First Steps of North Central Indiana: Developmental Checklist contains more information on developmental milestones

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on your site/campus-based leadership team’s progress in selecting assessment tools and establishing your assessment plan, you may want to plan a meeting to

  • review your assessment tools and plans;
  • brainstorm how and when you will provide the necessary professional development to staff who will be using the tools;
  • consider details such as timelines and locations for the professional development;
  • discuss possible assessment windows;
  • investigate both formal and informal assessment tools and checklists your program might consider using; and
  • consider ways to share information with families and stakeholders.

Part 2—Implementation of Your Assessment Plan

As your team creates your assessment plan, key steps can be taken to implement the plan effectively. For more detailed information, review the Assessment component of the TSLP.

First, you will want to ensure that staff understand the assessment plan and collaborate to implement it. You will need to have leadership meetings on an ongoing basis. At one of the first meetings, you should plan to announce the selected assessment tools to all shareholders. It may also be a good time to share your plans for the assessment windows and the delivery of the professional development.

Your team can divide assessment responsibilities, which may include

  • ordering the assessment tools;
  • creating an inventory of the assessment materials;
  • finalizing the professional development plans;
  • sending the professional development schedule to leadership and teaching staff;
  • printing handouts that are needed for the professional development;
  • preparing to distribute the assessment tools at the professional development, along with a copy of the inventory;
  • planning and providing time for staff to practice using the assessment tools and clarifying questions about the administration of the assessments; and
  • discussing follow-up steps for the data generated from the assessment tools.

Once these steps are completed, your team will have successfully planned and delivered the professional development and will have received the necessary tools and training to administer the assessments.

Next, your site/campus-based leadership team needs to discuss assessment windows and establish timelines for administering various screeners or assessments and follow-up meetings to review the results. These timelines should then be communicated to site or campus staff and placed on their calendars. The staff’s calendar should also contain dates when the teaching staff and site leadership will meet after each assessment window. At these meetings, the staff and leadership team will analyze the data and create a plan for instruction for each classroom and child in order to reach targeted goals. The team may also decide how to share information with families about the screeners/assessments at this time.

Once the initial assessments have been completed and follow-up meetings have occurred, leaders must consider how teachers will use the information in the classrooms. This means ensuring all teachers understand how to modify classroom instruction so young children have opportunities to improve existing skills or solidify new ones. It also means ensuring all teaching staff know how to look at the assessment data and set goals for all children based on that information. Leaders can make visits to the classrooms to help verify teachers are taking these steps.

Leaders must also evaluate teachers’ ability to plan and deliver needed intervention. Teachers may need specific professional development on planning and delivering small-group instruction. Many teachers need help understanding how to appropriately plan for small-group instruction, as well as clarification on what is important to teach during small-group instruction (the focus of Lesson E3—Additional Instruction). They can benefit from working with experienced staff members who understand the importance of using small-group time to build early literacy skills. Some early childhood staff tend to use small-group time to do activities such as art, scissor activities, working puzzles, and other activities that children can do independently. For these staff, having an experienced teacher or coach explain the value of small-group instruction and model small-group literacy-focused lessons will be very helpful. Making experienced staff available to help create lesson plans with intentionally planned daily small-group lessons will also build understanding and teacher capacity. It is important to be clear that small-group lessons are necessary to help children improve skills in early literacy and to set the expectation that the data derived from observations and assessments will determine who is placed in each small group and what type of intervention is used.

The following scenario shows how one program, Miss Jan’s Early Learning Center, considered and implemented an observation and assessment plan for the infants and toddlers attending the center.

Scenario: The leadership team at Miss Jan’s Early Learning Center meets with Miss Jan and reviews three screeners that they are considering for use in the infant and toddler classrooms. The team also reviews a developmental milestones checklist that is used to observe infants and toddlers over time. After reviewing and discussing the proposed screeners, the team selects one and approves it. The team also approves the use of the developmental milestone checklist for ongoing observation.

Miss Jan orders three sets of the screener for the three classrooms, and she takes an online webinar to learn how to administer it reliably. She also makes copies of the checklist. After she feels confident in her knowledge of the assessments and her ability to administer them, she sets a time and date to meet with the other three infant and toddler teachers to provide professional development on the administration. She arranges for substitute teachers during the scheduled professional development time.

Miss Jan prepares for the professional development training by familiarizing herself with the inventories that are part of the screening tool, and she creates a small inventory list for each classroom. During the professional development, Miss Jan trains the three teachers on the tool and how to use it appropriately. She also trains them on the checklist, explaining how to use it and what her expectations are for completing it. At the end, she gives the teachers documentation to show they completed the training.

After the professional development, Miss Jan distributes a calendar that includes the screening schedule, as well as the completion dates for the checklists throughout the year. The teachers administer the screening during the designated window of time and use the checklist throughout the year. Meanwhile, Miss Jan regularly observes and supports teachers as they use the tool.

Once the data is collected from the screeners, Miss Jan meets with the teachers and helps them use the data to set goals for each child in their classroom. She helps teachers as they incorporate activities for individualized instruction into their lesson plans. She visits the classrooms for two weeks after the training to provide further support in meeting each child’s targeted goals. She also reviews the written entries on the development milestones checklist and gives each teacher feedback. Throughout her observation and support, Miss Jan encourages the staff and validates their successes in administering the assessments and making objective observations.


The teachers share the goals and successes of children with their families during planned family meetings. Teachers also suggest ideas for further partnerships between the school and families to support each child’s growth at home. Teachers give families materials for supporting literacy whenever possible.

Throughout the year, teachers continue to make daily observations and write frequent anecdotal notes. They update the goals for each child as they complete the checklist.

If early childhood providers are able to identify delays in very young children and provide the appropriate interventions, many children will not be at risk when they enter elementary school. It is critical, therefore, to use observation and assessment tools for even the very youngest children to quickly identify areas of concern and find the best intervention and resources to help the child and family. The following information is good to remember:

“Assessment is the process of gathering information about children from several forms of evidence, then organizing and interpreting that information . . . the basic process of finding out what the children in our classroom, individually and as a group, know and can do in relation to their optimum development and to the goals of the program. With that knowledge of those children, we can plan appropriate curriculum and effective instructional strategies to help them develop and learn, monitoring their progress along the way” (McAfee, Leong, & Bodrova, 2004, p. 3).

Part 3—An Example of an Assessment Plan in Action

To successfully implement an assessment plan, teachers must be able to use the data collected.

In the next scenario, you will see how a program that solidified its assessment plan moved into a strong and thoughtful implementation using assessment data to guide instruction.

Scenario: At the end of the first month of school, the prekindergarten teacher administers an approved assessment for each of her children. During that first month, she also makes written observations, collects data with anecdotal notes, and reads parent/family surveys for each child.

After completing the first assessments and observations, she studies the data results for each child and discusses the data with her coach. They look at the data and plan small-group instruction for all children. They notice that four of her children have very low vocabulary scores. She works with the coach in setting up vocabulary goals for these four children. They also discuss a plan of action to give the four children the intervention they need to improve their skills and achieve the targeted goals.

The first step the teacher takes is to identify time in her schedule for small-group lessons. She decides she will conduct small-group time during centers, and then she begins to plan. In her lesson planning, she documents the specific small-group vocabulary instruction and includes the following instructional practices in her small-group lessons:

  • Focus the lesson on the current unit of study and use concrete objects, pictures, props, and thematic books to make connections that will increase the children’s vocabulary.
  • Reread pages from a book that were introduced during circle time and review specific vocabulary to ensure children know the definition and pronunciation of the targeted words.
  • Provide the four children with multiple opportunities to practice using specific vocabulary words during the lessons and throughout the day.
  • For all the children in the class, send home vocabulary activities that support words learned in these small-group lessons and during the other school activities to increase and build partnerships with parents and families.

The teacher is consistent in documenting the four children’s vocabulary progress through ongoing and frequent informal observations and checklists, as well as through planned conversations with each child. Based on children’s progress, she modifies her lesson to meet the predetermined goals for each child.

With the help of her documentation, she notices that two of the four children are making good progress in using new vocabulary words during circle time, center time, and other times during the day. These two children actively engage in conversations with other children and staff. She continues working with the four children but gives additional individualized instruction to the other two children who need more intensive intervention.

At the middle of the year, the teacher administers the approved assessments for each of her children again. She reviews the data results with her coach. The four children who were in the small-group intervention lessons all had improved vocabulary scores. The two children she had documented as becoming more talkative had significantly higher scores and reached the targeted goal. She modifies her instructional goals and plans for all children in the classroom according to her middle-of-the-year (MOY) data results.

The above prekindergarten scenario mirrors a typical example of an elementary school’s approach using response to intervention. In prekindergarten, this approach is sometimes referred to as “recognition and response.”

The chart below shows a comparison between the two approaches.

The RTI Approach The Recognition and Response Approach
All children can learn. We can teach all children. Children come to school with diverse cultural, linguistic, or learning characteristics.
We need to intervene as early as possible. We need to intervene as early as possible.
Use a multi-tiered model of service delivery. Use intervention strategies.
Use a problem-solving method to make decisions within a multi-tiered model. Use a systematic, collaborative approach in partnership with parents and specialists to address concerns about individual children.
Use evidence-based interventions and instructional strategies. Use evidence-based best practices in early care and instruction.
Monitor student progress to inform instruction. Use progress monitoring and informal observations to continuously inform instruction.
Use data to make informed decisions. Use information from screenings, assessments, and observations to make educational plans and decisions about the care of children.
Use assessment findings to identify children who are not progressing at expected rates, to determine what children can and cannot do in academic and behavioral domains, and to monitor progress to determine intervention effectiveness. Gather information about children using multiple methods and sources (including parents) over time. Evaluate this information to plan instruction and target needed adjustments.

(Coleman, Roth, & West, 2009)

Building a comprehensive assessment and intervention system during the prekindergarten year will help children entering kindergarten be more prepared to learn and be successful. Considering this approach may guide you as you try to align your prekindergarten program with your local public elementary school.


E1. Implement a system for using data to inform instruction and set goals for children.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step E1 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings 0-SE

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

  • Refer to Part 1 for suggestions about taking initial steps to make informed decisions about your assessment tools and plans.
  • Refer to Part 2 for suggestions that will help you successfully begin to implement your assessment plan.
  • Refer to Part 3 to review a scenario that shows one way of using assessment data to plan and provide instruction. This part also shows a comparison of the response to intervention (RTI) approach used in elementary schools with the recognition and response approach often used in prekindergarten classrooms.

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

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.


Batsche, G., Elliott, J., Graden, J. L., Grimes, J., Kovaleski, J. F., Prasse, D., & Tilly III, W. D. (2005). Response to intervention. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Inc.

Coleman, M. R., Roth, F. P., & West, T. (2009). Roadmap to pre-k RTI: Applying response to intervention in preschool settings. Retrieved from

Greenspan, S. I., and Meisels, S. J. (1996). New visions for the developmental assessment of infants and young children. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.

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