The purpose of assessment of young children is to collect information necessary to make important decisions about their developmental needs. Assessment must always serve in ways that enhance opportunities for optimal growth, development, and learning. Assessment should be a process of ongoing observation, recording, and documentation of children’s growth and behaviour. Information and data from assessment informs teachers as well as parents about children’s developmental needs and identifying both strengths and weaknesses of a child. Assessment is an efficient way of evaluating a preschool curriculum program and can be a good tool for teachers to reflect on their practices; review on their instructional activities and make necessary changes to their instructional activities.
Authenticity is an important feature to consider for early childhood assessments. Authentic assessment includes tasks or observations that occur in the context of regular play or activities, in settings typical to the child. Each assessment method, whether an observational tool or a test, may incorporate features of authenticity.
Current Assessment tool used: Checklist
Checklist is one of the assessment tool which is easy to use and especially helpful when many different items need to be observed. This tool covers a broad spectrum of content, but the majority used by educators can be considered to focus on developmental issues primarily. Skills are classified in different developmental domains, principally consisting of cognition, language, physical, socio-emotional, self-help, and general well-being. A checklist which is designed carefully tells a lot about one child or a group of children in the class.
The advantage of a using checklist is that they are easy and quick to use; little training required for teacher using it; they can be used in the presence of the child or recorded later; can be used for curriculum planning; activities can be planned to encourage certain behaviours that have not yet been observed; it is efficient and can be used in many situations. Information and data obtained from checklists can be used to condense information from running record or anecdotal records.
The disadvantages of using checklist will be the lack of comprehensive details of a child’s development as information about the context or sequence of events are not recorded; may miss important information not included on the checklist. Teachers may also not consider assessments with checklists as valid measures because Checklists only indicate if a child accomplish the listed objectives and not about the quality of the child’s performance. Only specific behaviours are noted because of such format. Other important aspects of behaviours may have been missed out, such as how a behaviour is performed and for how long. Teachers can be overwhelmed with the number of items listed in the checklist.
Teachers in my centre use observation checklists to observe, do recordings and document children’s learning and development. Checklist is a form of guide for teachers to plan learning activities based on the listed objectives on the checklists. Learning activities that are planned may and may not meet the learning goals for all the children under their care.
Teacher A has planned a large motor activity for her class. Target goal: throwing a ball underhanded. During this activity, child B refuses to participate and is throwing tantrums. Hence, teacher A is not able to record a valid observation for child B for this activity. There are many possible reasons why child B refuses to participate. Child B is perhaps not feeling well; is not ready to participate in this activity confidently or the time when the activity was being carried out.
It is challenging for teachers to do their observations in a scenario like this. It is important for teacher A to understand the needs of child B. She can always repeat this activity with her class throughout the week at different time of the day or do this activity with Child B alone. Another alternative is to redesign the activity. Instead of using the ball, teacher A could make the activity more interesting by using a variety of objects like bean bags; colourful balls; rolled newspapers; balloons and etc. Teacher A will then make observation of child B when he/ she is ready.
Using a variety of observation methods can help teachers in observing a child’s interest, skills, abilities, and needs. It provides a foundation for a child’s individual assessment and planning. Collecting a series of observations before interpreting and planning will provide a well-rounded and holistic picture of the child.
Research on various Assessment Tools
– Anecdotal Records
There are different types of assessment tools which are used in Early Childhood Industry. One of the assessment tool is Anecdotal Record.
An anecdotal record is a brief narrative account describing a specific behaviour or interaction occurs. Anecdotes describe what happened; how it happened; when; where; what was said and done. These are brief description of one incident. Anecdotal Records are cumulative and can be collected over the school year. They are often written after the incident.
The advantages of this assessment tool is that it is open-ended; meaning the teacher watches everything the child does rather than giving direction to the child doing a certain activity. An anecdotal record has rich details as it focuses on all behaviours. It does not require a great deal of training for teachers to use this method of observation. Using anecdotal records help teachers to understand not only what behaviours occurred but also the context in which the behaviour occurred. A well-written anecdotal record provides a detailed sample of a child’s behaviours, interests, development, activities, or interactions. They are useful for developmental assessments, sharing information with parents during Parent-Teacher Conference. Aids in planning learning activities for the child; and identifying the strengths of the child.
There are also disadvantages with using anecdotal records. Teacher using anecdotal records may have difficulties in remembering the details if she decides to write down the incident at the end of the day and important information may have been misses. A good anecdotal record relies on the memory of teachers. The incident observed could be based on the interest of the teacher, therefore not a complete picture is provided. Teachers may overlook crucial behaviour if they focus on specific behaviour.
– Learning Stories
The Learning Story is an assessment tool used to observe and document children’s learning and development. It is documented in a narrative story format which usually includes photos of the children. The teacher watches and listens as children explore, jot down some notes, and create a story about what she has seen to share with children and their families.
Teachers are the story writers while reflecting on children’s actions and words. The story is always a positive one about children’s strength and dispositions for learning. As the story is written to the children, it’s both easy for teachers to write and easy for families to understand. A Learning story can be used to communicate with families during Parent-Teacher Conference.
The Learning Stories provide insight for teachers to reflect on their teaching practices and make instructional plans for the children under her care. As Learning Stories are written after the event has happened and during a teacher’s non-contact time with the children. Teachers need to have a good memory otherwise the risk increases of incorrect assumptions and meanings being ascribed to the child’s behaviour, language and learning.
The quality of the Learning Story depends on the teacher who is writing it. It also depends on her/his own views, values, feelings and her writing skills.
Writing Learning Story could take a longer time especially if teachers are not familiar with this method of assessment. The amount of development in Learning Stories depends on how often they are written and how long each observation is. As it takes time to write a story, Learning Stories are not written often enough to provide a proper record of a child’s development.
Analysis of Findings
A questionnaire instrument is used to conduct this research. The questions and rationale of the questions are listed in a table. (refer to appendix 1)
The findings aim to shed light on early childhood educators’ perspectives regarding assessment in the early years. These were gathered from the questionnaire answered by teachers. In the section outlined below, research is identified and examined by the educators’ perspectives.
The meaning of assessment appears to be consistent among the teachers. First and foremost, assessment is interpreted as an act of seeing and looking at children. They looked at children’s capabilities, needs, and interests, and using observation as the main tool for gathering these information:
“I suppose it’s to look at the child, to see where the child is at, to see what the child can do, and to see what they need assistance with or what they cannot manage or what they cannot do.”
Teachers also pointed out that assessment builds on and extends their understanding of children. Using this knowledge as a basis for their planning of instructional activities, decision- making and adapting practice to the information they have gathered.
“It will be kind of…to look at the children that you have. So, you could use that assessment to, it could provide the basis of your curriculum. It’s basically to see what the interests of the children are and using assessment will help you to make sure that the curriculum and activities are carefully planned and age-appropriate.”
The concern about children’s development is still an important priority for the teachers, especially with regards to issues such as significant lapses in achieving milestones or expected skills. While this is so, educators still strive to construct these competency concerns in a positive light rather than stressing their deficiencies:
“We use the assessment tools in a positive light. We don’t use it to pick out the negatives about children. Use it as a positive building strategy to help the children grow, help their learning grow, help their knowledge grow.”
In addition, assessment is also viewed as a screening tool to identify children who may need assistance, and allow settings to link with other professionals who are able to address their specific needs:
“if there’s any issues with their development. And if there is, spotting that and being able to know where to go with that… it’s our duty to get them the help they need like speech therapy, early intervention.”
Checklists, or tick lists, as termed by the teachers, are used in the centre. This tool covers a broad spectrum of content, skills are classified in different domains, principally consisting of cognition, language, physical, socio-emotional, self-help, and general well-being. Teachers plan instructional activities and tasks based on the listed items.
Another teacher uses a type of activity record, to track which of the planned materials and activities each child has completed. It is worth noting the views and opinions with regards to checklists. The items listed in the checklist is also mentioned as challenge.
“It’s like just say the child can do this, the child can do that. You observe and see the child has done it and then you just tick it. It’s nothing write loads of notes on it. There are so many items in the checklist to be completed. We really need just to finish ticking all.”
Teachers adopt a wary position in relying on checklists as an assessment tool, describing its weakness, giving an incomplete account of children’s development which may elicit feelings of anxiety with parents:
“I was just ticking. It didn’t really mean anything whenever it came to the parent- teacher meetings. I find it better trying to remember how I knew that the child achieved that. How did I know that the child achieved counting one to ten, when I only had a tick on yes or No? It will be good if to have a more detail evidence of documentation.”
The constraints of time and contextual factors are also challenges identified by teachers, the focus on doing assessment runs the risk of taking time away from other responsibilities such as planning and even actually engaging with the children. The number of documents they need to complete, teachers explained that procedures such as transferring information from the raw notes to the proper tool itself take up some time as well:
“I find it time consuming. And I would rather spend my time planning. I need some time to plan things, but I don’t want my whole day to be taken up assessing.
I don’t want my after-school time being taken up transferring information that I know onto a profile and things like that.
…and the argument is you cannot wait and do it at the end of the day. You won’t remember what the individual child was able to do or wasn’t able to do.”
Class dynamics such as frequent absences or disruptive behaviour were also mentioned as challenges that hindered assessment in settings.
“It is very difficult to assess a child who does not come to school regularly. Coupled with that, I find it unfair to assess a child who has ‘tell-tale’ sign of autism. This child is always not willing to participate; therefore, I am unable to assess this child.”
Teachers also shared that with the information obtained from assessment, they can refine and plan activities that are developmental appropriate for the children.
Reflection on findings
Challenges to assessment in the early years tended to revolve around two key issues – the constraints of time and contextual factors. Teacher’s focus on doing assessment runs the risk of taking time away from other responsibilities such as planning and even actually engaging with the children. Also related to this point is the volume of paperwork that educators are being asked to fill out. In addition to the number of documents they need to complete, teachers explained that procedures such as transferring information from the raw notes to the proper tool itself take up some time as well.
Another challenging factor will be the class dynamics such as frequent absences or disruptive behaviour were also mentioned as one of the factors that hinder assessment in early childhood settings.
With the use of checklist, it is a challenge for teachers to provide a comprehensive assessment documentation. Multiple methods should be used to create a comprehensive picture of strengths and the competencies of children. Multiple sources of information collected by using different types of assessment methods will help to provide both teachers and parents a complete and comprehensive information of children.
Through the findings from the research, recommendations for practice are identified. Guidance and mentoring may allow teachers to be more reflective on their assessment practice and approach a new process more confidently and meaningfully.
The checklist will be reviewed, and the number of items will be cut down after a curriculum meeting with the stakeholders and teachers. Anecdotal Records will be introduced to the teachers through a workshop in school. Teachers who are not familiar with this method of assessment will be paired with another teacher who has knowledge of this method.
Teachers will use anecdotal records to observe children at play and when they are engaged in small group activities. The anecdotal record will be used in conjunction with the current checklist so that a more completed and comprehensive documentation will be collected.
Learning Story will not be introduced to the teachers at this moment until they are more skilled with anecdotal records.
Early Childhood Assessment should be authentic, and it is therefore essential for teachers to decide what to observe, when to observe, and how often to observe. The chosen assessment tools used should have the consistency of the beliefs about curriculum and classroom practices.
Assessments must serve to optimize learning for young children and for teachers to reflect on their teaching practices and for planning instructional activities.