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Assessing Young Children

Why Do We Need Child Assessment Data?

· Assessment

With all the high-stakes tests in K-12 schooling, there are some negative stigmas associated with assessment. And many people object to the thought of subjecting younger and younger children to “tests”.

However, appropriate assessment for young children is completely different than the type of mandated tests children take in K-12. Rather than performance tasks in artificial environments, effective assessment in early childhood includes observing children during their authentic play in order to scaffold learning appropriately.

How can stakeholders use child assessment data?

Child assessment data informs better instruction

In order to teach effectively, teachers ask:

  1. Is each child growing and developing?
  2. What are each child’s specific strengths and areas for growth?
  3. What skills should each child develop next?
  4. Where should families focus their efforts to extend learning at home?

Teachers need child assessment data to answer these questions accurately. Studying qualitative data -- anecdotal notes, photos, and videos -- can help teachers understand how children are progressing. Teachers can share these observations with families to help families know how to reinforce skills at home.

When teachers score these qualitative observations along a developmental continuum, teachers have guidance about what skills children should develop next. For example, if a child demonstrates that they can rote count, the teacher can look at the next skill on that progression, for example, using one-to-one correspondence to count objects, and plan activities to help the child progress in this skill.

Analyzing both the qualitative and quantitative data helps teachers individualize instruction to support each child's development.

Child assessment data improves program quality

In order to lead their programs, directors ask:

  1. Are all children progressing?
  2. Are any children or groups of children in my program not meeting expectations?
  3. What are my program’s strengths and areas for growth?
  4. Where should we focus professional development and coaching for teachers?

Directors and administrators rely on teachers to capture high-quality data to answer these questions. In addition to understanding how children are progressing, administrators use child assessment data to understand how they can support their teachers.

For example, a program leader might identify that their children do not score as highly in emergent literacy skills as they do in early math skills. With this information, a program director might decide to hire a literacy specialist, purchase additional literacy resources for teachers, or focus professional development and coaching on literacy. Child assessment data can help leaders make program improvement decisions.

Child assessment data informs effective state and national policies

In order to understand the impact of policies, policymakers ask:

  1. Are early childhood programs effectively preparing children for Kindergarten?
  2. Are there differences in achievement by child demographic characteristics?
  3. Which interventions are most effective?
  4. How can we allocate state and federal funds to improve child outcomes?

Aggregated and disaggregated data helps policymakers answer these questions. Policymakers look at disaggregated data to analyze how different subgroups of children are performing. For example, policymakers can look at growth, performance, or school-readiness data for children who have IEPS or for children from low-income families to better understand if policies and programs are equitable.

Policymakers also use child outcome data to understand which interventions are most effective so they can allocate funds towards those interventions.

Through these lenses, authentic child assessment data is critical to ensure that all children receive a high quality early education.

About the Author

Anna Marrs is a former early literacy curriculum developer and a former certified 1st grade teacher in North Carolina. She holds a Master's in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and now works on the School Partnerships team at Kaymbu.

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