assessment in early childhood education

Assessment in Early Childhood Education

            This paper aims to look at assessment in early childhood education, asking and answering a number of questions, such as why is it necessary, how is it done,  at what age should it be done, what can be achieved by doing it, what is the history behind it, etc.              Early childhood education assessment is necessary for a number of reasons. Based on the results of it, parents can decide whether their children are ready for school, what school they should go to, or whether other interventions such as occupational therapy may be required.  Even things like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other Learning Disabilities can be picked up in a child and treated accordingly.

            Learning disabilities are believed to be due to an information processing, or neurological dysfunction; ADHD, perhaps to a neurotransmitter imbalance with the brain mechanisms responsible for maintaining attention. The information processing dysfunction and chemical imbalance are presumed to be directly related to academic underachievement. Learning disabilities can co-occur. A person could have a reading and a math disability, for example. Learning Disabilities also often co-occur with ADHD.  (EPCS, 2006).  Educational assessments are necessary to pick these up.

            Studies consistently show that early inequalities in skills persist and increase with time. Children who encounter difficulty learning to read fall further and further behind their peers in their school careers. Early and ongoing assessment enables caregivers and teachers to deliver more effective instruction, which will certainly help close this gap. Research supported, ongoing assessments tied to standards will help ensure school readiness and school success. In addition, by using technology, teachers and administrators are more easily able to connect developmentally appropriate practices and performance assessments to accountability standards. (Costello and Zarrowin, 2006)

            One way of doing assessment in early childhood education is by consulting an educational psychologist to conduct a school readiness test.

            In early childhood, assessment is focused on determining individual needs and appropriate instructional strategies. The ongoing monitoring of a child’s performance empowers the teacher to use the information they acquire about a child’s skills and knowledge to plan and individualize instruction more precisely. As accountability standards move into the early years, it is important for programs to be able to continue to use this method of assessment. In addition, young children should not be compared to one another. Instead, their learning and progress should be compared to meaningful age-level performance indicators linked to research-based curricula and assessments. (Costello and Zarrowin, 2006)

            Of course, the ideal age that a school readiness test should be done would vary from country to country as the school going age of children varies.  But why is this procedure done, is it necessary and is a child who does not have it done disadvantaged in any way in future years?

According to Tynette Wilson Hills in an article entitled “Screening for School Entry” (1987), the underlying question about screening at school entry is whether young children’s behavior should be measured. Is screening harmful? Is it valid? Goodwin and Driscoll claim that charges of harm are not substantiated. Instead, the issues are what, how, when, and why.  (Wilson Hills, 1987)

What should screening measure or observe? Two basic kinds of tests are associated with screening and assessment of children entering school: school readiness tests and developmental screening tests. Readiness tests yield information about the extent to which a child has acquired the knowledge and skills considered to be important entry criteria for a particular program. Developmental screening tests, by contrast, provide information about a child’s performance in broad areas of normal development and his or her potential to acquire further knowledge and skill. Both kinds of information can be important to early childhood educators, but one kind of measure cannot be substituted for the other. (For a discussion of criteria for readiness and developmental screening tests, and for specific examples of each, see Meisels, l986.)  (Wilson Hills, 1987)

How should children’s abilities be measured? It is difficult to distinguish among the separate domains of functioning in young children. Tapping broad developmental areas — language, intellectual and perceptual functioning, and gross and fine motor coordination — will help to assure validity. Screening should include the social-emotional domain, since children with early behavioral problems often have problems later in school (Wilson Hills, 1987).

Screening procedures should sample broadly what children know and can do in situations in which they are comfortable. Young children’s behavior is affected by unfamiliar situations. If they have difficulty with the way they are to respond (e.g., using pencils to write or mark on forms), they may not be able to demonstrate their actual abilities. Information from multiple sources — parents, teachers, and others, using informal tools to augment any tests and checklists — will present a more adequate picture of a child’s current functioning.  (Wilson Hills, 1987)

Educators who select screening instruments should insist upon accepted standards (Wilson Hills, 1987).

All the talk about assessment, and options available may prove to be somewhat of a mine field to parents who are not knowledgeable in the field – in particular to parents of children with ADHD or other educational related disorders.   It is therefore essential to get the right kind of help and approach the right organizations.

“Effective and appropriate assessment is a crucial step to improving early childhood education, but there are a lot of misconceptions about how assessment should work,” said NAEYC President Jane Wiechel. “With all the calls for assessment of young children and early education programs, it’s important to ensure that assessments are designed and applied properly. We need appropriate assessments and program evaluations to get information that will help us raise the quality of early education programs and improve early learning experiences for young children.”  (Simpson, 2006)

The new guidelines update a position statement issued by the two organizations in 1991 and respond to a variety of changes that have occurred in early childhood education since then, including:  Greater knowledge of the benefits of well-planned systems of curriculum and assessment; more focus on subject matter content in curriculum for children below kindergarten age;  more children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and more children with disabilities; and  state mandates for programs to select curricula or curriculum models with specific characteristics, and to use assessments of young children as part of accountability systems.  (Simpson, 2006)

“There is much greater recognition today that the early years are learning years, and that means higher expectations, among parents, policymakers and others,” said NAECS/SDE President Lindy Buch. “These guidelines are designed to help decision-makers develop appropriate curriculum for young children, and to connect curriculum to effective assessments and program evaluations.”  (Simpson, 2006)

Most of us who are adults now were not subjected to this sort of rigorous assessment in our early educational years.  So how did it come about that this is now the norm?  Let’s take for example the country of Scotland.

By 1998 it was clear that current initiatives designed to improve early education and raise standards were making new demands on the 5-14 system of assessment, which were not envisaged in 1987. In particular the expansion of pre-school education from 1996 and of early intervention schemes from 1997 had focused increased attention on the role of assessment at the pre-school and early primary stages in identifying and addressing as early as possible children’s strengths and any difficulties that they might be experiencing the increased focus on national standards of attainment, and on public accountability, had led to a demand for more consistent and reliable information about pupils’ performance, particularly at points of transfer, so that the effectiveness of steps taken to improve provision and attainment could be more easily monitored and evaluated. (AIFL 2006)

Continuing developments are as follows

December 1999 – The review of assessment in pre-school and 5-14

December 2000 – Responses to the consultation on the review of assessment in pre-school, primary schools and S1/S2

September 2001 – The Minister’s announcement

November 2001 – The launch of the Assessment Development Programme (AIFL 2006)

Indeed, in America these tests are not a new idea either.  According to the University of Minnesota Libraries, tests such as these were conducted as far back as 1955.  (University of Minnesota Libraries, 2006)


AIFL (2006) “Assessment is for Learning”  retrieved 4 Oct 2006 from the website

Costello, Katherin and Zarowin, David (2006) “Technology Connects Assessment, Accountability Standards, in Early Childhood Education” retrieved 4 Oct 2006 from the website

EPCS, (2006) “LD/ADHD Psycho / Educational Assessment” retrieved 4 Oct 2006 from the website

Simpson, A (2006) “Early Education Experts Issue Guidelines for Assessment and Curriculum” retrieved 4 Oct 2006 from the website

University of Minnesota Libraries (2006), “Education / Psychology Test File” retrieved 4 Oct 2006 from the website

Wilson Hills, T (1987) “Screening for School Entry” retrieved 4 Oct 2006 from the website

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