Assessment in Early Childhood Education Sue C. Wortham

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ISBN 978-1-29204-107-0

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Assessment in Early Childhood Education Sue C. Wortham

Sixth Edition



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Table of Contents





1Sue C. Wortham

1. An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood


7Sue C. Wortham

2. How Infants and Young Children Should be Assessed


35Sue C. Wortham

3. How Standardized Tests Are Used, Designed, and Selected


61Sue C. Wortham

4. Using and Reporting Standardized Test Results


91Sue C. Wortham

5. Observation


123Sue C. Wortham

6. Checklists, Rating Scales, and Rubrics


163Sue C. Wortham

7. Teacher-Designed Strategies


201Sue C. Wortham

8. Performance-Based Strategies


231Sue C. Wortham

9. Portfolio Assessment


261Sue C. Wortham

10. Communicating with Families


297Sue C. Wortham









achievement test A test that measures the extent to which a person has acquired information or mastered certain skills, usually as a result of instruction or training.

alternative assessment An assessment that is different from traditional written or multiple-choice tests. Usually related to authentic and performance assessments.

alternative-form reliability The correlation between results on alternative forms of a test. Reliability is the extent to which the two forms are consistent in measuring the same attributes.

analytic rubric A rubric that provides diag- nostic feedback and is more specific than a holistic rubric.

anecdotal record A written description of an incident in a child’s behavior that can be significant in understanding the child.

aptitude test A test designed to predict future learning or performance on some task if appropriate education or training is provided.

arena assessment An assessment process whereby a group of specialists in develop- mental disabilities observes a child in natural play and working situations. A profile of the child is developed by the group, comparing their individual observations of some facet of the child’s behaviors.

assessment software Software that has been developed to enable children to be assessed using a computer. Textbook pub- lishers and developers of early childhood assessment tools make assessment

software available as an option alongside traditional assessment tools.

attitude measure An instrument that mea- sures how an individual is predisposed to feel or think about something (a referent). A teacher can design a scale to measure students’ attitudes toward reading or mathematics.

authentic achievement Learning that is real and meaningful. Achievement that is worthwhile.

authentic assessment An assessment that uses some type of performance by a child to demonstrate understanding.

authentic performance assessment See authentic assessment.

behavioral objective An educational or instructional statement that includes the behavior to be exhibited, the conditions under which the behavior will be exhibited, and the level of performance required for mastery.

checklist A sequence or hierarchy of concepts and/or skills organized in a format that can be used to plan instruction and keep records.

concurrent validity The extent to which test scores on two forms of a test measure are correlated when they are given at the same time.

construct validity The extent to which a test measures a psychological trait or con- struct. Tests of personality, verbal ability, and critical thinking are examples of tests with construct validity.

From Glossary of Assessment in Early Childhood Education, 6/e. Sue C. Wortham. Copyright © 2012 by Pearson Education. All rights reserved.




content validity The extent to which the content of a test such as an achievement test represents the objectives of the instruc- tional program it is designed to measure.

contract An agreement between teacher and child about activities the child will complete to achieve a specific objective or purpose.

correctives Instructional materials and methods used with mastery learning that are implemented after formative evaluation to provide alternative learning strategies and resources.

criterion-referenced test A test designed to provide information on specific knowledge or skills possessed by a student. The test measures specific skills or instruc- tional objectives.

criterion-related validity To establish validity of a test, scores are correlated with an external criterion, such as another established test of the same type.

developmental checklist A checklist that emphasizes areas and levels of development in early childhood.

developmental rubric A rubric that is orga- nized using domains of development.

developmental screening Evaluation of the young child to determine whether development is proceeding normally. It is used to identify children whose develop- ment is delayed.

diagnostic evaluation An evaluation to analyze an individual’s areas of weaknesses or strengths and to determine the nature and causes of the weaknesses.

diagnostic interview An interview to deter- mine a child’s learning needs or assess weaknesses. May be part of a diagnostic evaluation.

directed assignment A specific assignment to assess a child’s performance on a learning objective or skill.

direct performance measure A performance measure that requires the student to apply knowledge in an activity specified by the teacher.

documentation A process of documenting information about progress of project activities and recording information about

children’s interests, ideas, thinking, and problem solving within their activities.

electronic management of learning (EML) Resources available to early childhood programs for instructional experiences using the computer. The materials can include creative, skill development, and assessment software.

enrichment activity In the context of mastery learning, a challenging activity at a higher cognitive level on Bloom’s taxonomy than the instructional objective described on a table of specifications.

equivalent forms Alternative forms of a test that are parallel. The forms of the test measure the same domain or objectives, have the same format, and are of equal difficulty.

event sampling An observation strategy used to determine when a particular behavior is likely to occur. The setting in which the behavior occurs is more impor- tant than the time it is likely to occur.

formative assessment An assessment designed to measure progress on an objec- tive rather than to give a qualitative result.

formative evaluation Evaluation conducted during instruction to provide the teacher with information on the learning progress of the student and the effectiveness of instructional methods and materials.

formative test A test designed to evaluate progress on specific learning objectives or a unit of study.

game In the context of authentic assessment, a structured assessment whereby the student’s performance progress is evaluated through engagement with the game.

grade equivalent The grade level for which a given score on a standardized test is the estimated average. Grade-equivalent scores, commonly used for elementary achievement tests, are expressed in terms of the grade and month.

grade norms Norms on standardized tests based on the performance of students in given grades.





graphic rating scale A rating scale that can be used as a continuum. The rater marks characteristics by descriptors on the scale at any point along the continuum.

group test A test that can be administered to more than one person at a time.

holistic rubric A rubric with competency levels that indicate levels of performance. It assigns a single score to a student’s performance.

inclusion The process of including children with disabilities into a classroom where they would have been placed if they had not experienced a disability.

indirect performance measure A measure that assesses what a student knows about a topic. The teacher’s assessment is accom- plished by observing a student activity or examining a written test.

individualized instruction Instruction based on the learning needs of individual students. It may be based on criterion- related evaluation or diagnosis.

individual test A test that can be adminis- tered to only one person at a time. Many early childhood tests are individual tests because of the low maturity level of the examinees.

informal test A test that has not been standardized. Teacher-designed tests are an example.

instructional objective See behavioral objective.

integration Facilitating the participation of children with disabilities into the classroom with peers who do not have disabilities. The child is integrated with other children, and the needs of all children are met without treating some children as “special.”

intelligence quotient (IQ) An index of intelligence expressed as the ratio of men- tal age to chronological age. It is derived from an individual’s performance on an intelligence test as compared with that of others of the same age.

intelligence test A test measuring developed abilities that are considered signs of intelligence. Intelligence is general potential independent of prior learning.

interest inventory A measure used to deter- mine interest in an occupation or vocation. Students’ interest in reading may be determined by such an inventory.

internal consistency The degree of relationship among items on a test. A type of reliability that indicates whether items on the test are positively correlated and measure the same trait or characteristic.

interview A discussion that the teacher con- ducts with a child to make an assessment.

item analysis The analysis of single test items to determine their difficulty value and discriminating power. Item analysis is conducted in the process of developing a standardized test.

learning disability A developmental difference or delay in a young or school-age child that interferes with the individual’s ability to learn through regular methods of instruction.

mainstreaming A process of placing chil- dren with disabilities into regular classrooms for part of the school day with children who do not have disabilities. Mainstreaming is being replaced by inclu- sion or integration, in which the child with disabilities is not singled out as being different.

mastery testing Evaluation to determine the extent to which a test taker has mastered particular skills or learning objectives. Performance is compared to a predetermined standard of proficiency.

mean The arithmetic average of a set of test scores.

minimum-competency testing Evaluation to measure whether test takers have achieved a minimum level of proficiency in a given academic area.

multiple choice A type of test question in which the test taker must choose the best answer from among several options.

narrative report An alternative to report cards for reporting a child’s progress. The teacher writes a narrative to describe the child’s growth and accomplishments.

neonatologist A physician who specializes in babies less than 1 month old.





normal distribution The hypothetical dis- tribution of scores that has a bell-shaped appearance. This distribution is used as a model for many scoring systems and test statistics.

norm-referenced test A test in which the test taker’s performance is compared with the performance of people in a norm group.

norms Statistics that supply a frame of reference based on the actual performance of test takers in a norm group. A set of scores that represents the distribution of test performance in the norm group.

numerical rating scale A series of numerals, such as 1 to 5, that allows an observer to indicate the degree to which an individual possesses a particular characteristic.

obstetrician A physician who specializes in pregnancy and childbirth.

pediatrician A physician who specializes in the development, care, and diseases of young children.

percentile A point or score in a distribution at or below which falls the percentage of cases indicated by the percentile. The score scale on a normal distribution is divided into 100 segments, each containing the same number of scores.

percentile rank The test taker’s test score, as expressed in terms of its position within a group of 100 scores. The percentile rank is the percentage of scores equal to or lower than the test taker’s score.

performance assessment An assessment in which the child demonstrates knowledge by applying it to a task or a problem-solving activity.

performance-based assessment An assessment of development and/or learning that is based on the child’s natural performance, rather than on contrived tests or tasks.

personality test A test designed to obtain information on the affective characteristics of an individual (emotional, motivational, or attitudinal). The test measures psychological makeup rather than intellectual abilities.

play-based assessment Assessment often used for children with disabilities that is conducted through observation in play environments. Play activities can be spon- taneous or planned. Play-based assessment can be conducted by an individual or through arena assessment.

portfolio A format for conducting an evaluation of a child. Portfolios are a collec- tion of a child’s work, teacher assessments, and other information that contribute to a picture of the child’s progress.

preassessment An assessment conducted before the beginning of the school year or prior to any instruction at the beginning of the school year.

project An authentic learning activity that can also be used to demonstrate student achievement.

rating scale A scale using categories that allow the observer to indicate the degree of a characteristic that the person possesses.

raw score The number of right answers a test taker obtains on a test.

reliability The extent to which a test is con- sistent in measuring over time what it is designed to measure.

rubric An instrument developed to measure authentic and performance assessments. Descriptions are given for qualitative charac- teristics on a scale.

running record A description of a sequence of events in a child’s behavior that includes all behaviors observed over a period of time.

scope (sequence of skills) A list of learning objectives established for areas of learning and development at a particular age, grade level, or content area.

specimen record Detailed observational reports of children’s behavior over a period of time that are used for research purposes.

split-half reliability A measure of reliability whereby scores on equivalent sections of a single test are correlated for internal consistency.

standard deviation A measure of the varia- bility of a distribution of scores around the mean.





standard error of measurement An esti- mate of the possible magnitude of error present in test scores.

standardized test A test that has specified content, procedures for administration and scoring, and normative data for inter- preting scores.

standard score A transformed score that reports performance in terms of the num- ber of standard deviation units the raw score is from the mean.

stanine A scale on the normal curve divided into nine sections, with all divisions except the first and the last being 0.5 standard deviation wide.

structured interview A planned interview conducted by the teacher for assessment purposes.

structured performance assessment A performance assessment that has been planned by the teacher to include specific tasks or activities.

summative assessment A final assessment to assign a grade or determine mastery of an objective. Similar to summative evaluation.

summative evaluation An evaluation obtained at the end of a cycle of instruction to determine whether students have mastered the objectives and whether the instruction has been effective.

summative test A test to determine mastery of learning objectives administered for grading purposes.

T score A standard score scale with a mean of 50 and a standard deviation of 10.

table of specifications A table of curriculum objectives that have been analyzed to determine to what level of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives the student must demonstrate mastery.

test–retest reliability A type of reliability obtained by administering the same test a second time after a short interval and then correlating the two sets of scores.

time sampling Observation to determine the frequency of a behavior. The observer records how many times the behavior occurs during uniform time periods.

true score A hypothetical score on a test that is free of error. Because no standardi- zed test is free of measurement error, a true score can never be obtained.

unstructured interview An assessment interview conducted by the teacher as the result of a naturally occurring perfor- mance by a child. The interview is not planned.

unstructured performance assessment An assessment that is part of regular classroom activities.

validity The degree to which a test serves the purpose for which it is to be used.

work sample An example of a child’s work. Work samples include products of all types of activities that can be used to evaluate the child’s progress.

Z score A standard score that expresses performance in terms of the number of standard deviations from the mean.








An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood

Chapter Objectives

As a result of reading this chapter, you will be able to

1. Understand the purposes of assessment in early childhood 2. Understand different meanings of the term assessment 3. Understand the history of tests and measurements in early childhood 4. Develop an awareness of issues in testing young children

From Chapter 1 of Assessment in Early Childhood Education, 6/e. Sue C. Wortham. Copyright © 2012 by Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

Image 100




U n d e r s t a n d i n g A s s e s s m e n t i n I n f a n c y a n d E a r l y C h i l d h o o d

Not too long ago, resources on early childhood assessment were limited to occa- sional articles in journals, chapters in textbooks on teaching in early childhood pro- grams, and a few small textbooks that were used as secondary texts in an early childhood education course. Very few teacher preparation programs offered a course devoted to assessment in early childhood. Now, in the 21st century, assessment of very young children has experienced a period of very rapid growth and expansion. In fact, it has been described as a “virtual explosion of testing in public schools” (Meisels & Atkins-Burnett, 2005, p. 1).

There has also been an explosion in the numbers of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in early childhood programs and the types of programs that serve them. Moreover, the diversity among these young children increases each year. Currently, Head Start programs serve children and families who speak at least 140 different languages. In some Head Start classrooms, ten different languages might be used. Head Start teaching teams may also be multilingual, also representing diversity (David, 2005).

What Is Assessment? What do we need to know about all these diverse children with all kinds of families, cultures, and languages? The study of individuals for measurement purposes begins before birth with assessment of fetal growth and development. At birth and throughout infancy and early childhood, various methods of measurement are used to evaluate the child’s growth and development. Before a young child enters a preschool program, he or she is measured through med- ical examinations. Children are also measured through observations of develop- mental milestones, such as saying the first word or walking independently, by parents and other family members. Children might also be screened or evalu- ated for an early childhood program or service. Assessment is really a process. A current definition describes the assessment process: “Assessment is the process of gathering information about children from several forms of evi- dence, then organizing and interpreting that information” (McAfee, Leong, & Bodrova, 2004, p. 3).

Assessment of children from birth through the preschool years is different from assessment of older people. Not only can young children not write or read, but also the young developing child presents different challenges that influence the choice of measurement strategy, or how to measure or assess the child. Assessment methods must be matched with the level of mental, social, and physical develop- ment at each stage. Developmental change in young children is rapid, and there is a need to assess whether development is progressing normally. If development is not normal, the measurement and evaluation procedures used are important in making decisions regarding appropriate intervention services during infancy and the preschool years.

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




Purposes of Assessment Assessment is used for various purposes. We may want to learn about individual chil- dren. We may conduct an evaluation to assess a young child’s development in language or mathematics. When we need to learn more, we may assess the child by asking her or him to describe what she or he has achieved. For example, a first-grade teacher may use measurement techniques to determine what reading skills have been mastered and what weaknesses exist that indicate a need for additional instruction.

Assessment strategies may be used for diagnosis. Just as a medical doctor conducts a physical examination of a child to diagnose an illness, psychologists, teachers, and other adults who work with children can conduct an informal or formal assessment to diagnose a developmental delay or identify causes for poor performance in learning.

If medical problems, birth defects, or developmental delays in motor, language, cognitive, or social development are discovered during the early, critical periods of development, steps can be taken to correct, minimize, or remediate them before the child enters school. For many developmental deficits or differences, the earlier they are detected and the earlier intervention is planned, the more likely the child will be able to overcome them or compensate for them. For example, if a serious hear- ing deficit is identified early, the child can learn other methods of communicating and acquiring information.

Assessment of young children is also used for placement—to place them in infant or early childhood programs or to provide special services. To ensure that a child receives the best services, careful screening and more extensive testing may be conducted before selecting the combination of intervention programs and other services that will best serve the child.

Program planning is another purpose of assessment. After children have been identified and evaluated for an intervention program or service, assessment results can be used in planning the programs that will serve them. These programs, in turn, can be evaluated to determine their effectiveness.

Besides identifying and correcting developmental problems, assessment of very young children is conducted for other purposes. One purpose is research. Researchers study young children to better understand their behavior or to measure the appro- priateness of the experiences that are provided for them.

The National Early Childhood Assessment Resource Group summarized the purposes for appropriate uses of assessment in the early childhood years as follows:

Purpose 1: Assessing to promote children’s learning and development Purpose 2: Identifying children for health and social services Purpose 3: Monitoring trends and evaluating programs and services Purpose 4: Assessing academic achievement to hold individual students, teachers,

and schools accountable (Shepard, Kagan, Lynn, & Wurtz, 1998). (See Figure 2-1.)

How were these assessment strategies developed? In the next section, I describe how certain movements or factors, especially during the past century, have affected the development of testing instruments, procedures, and other measurement tech- niques that are used with infants and young children.

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




T h e E v o l u t i o n o f A s s e s s m e n t o f Y o u n g C h i l d r e n

Interest in studying young children to understand their growth and development dates back to the initial recognition of childhood as a separate period in the life cycle. Johann Pestalozzi, a pioneer in developing educational programs specifically for children, wrote about the development of his 31/2-year-old son in 1774 (Irwin & Bushnell, 1980). Early publications also reflected concern for the proper upbringing and education of young children. Some Thoughts Concerning Education by John Locke (1699), Emile (Rousseau, 1762/1911), and Frederick Froebel’s Education of Man (1896) were influential in focusing attention on the characteristics and needs of children in the 18th and 19th centuries. Rousseau believed that human nature was essentially good and that education must allow that goodness to unfold. He stated that more attention should be given to studying the child so that education could be adapted to meet individual needs (Weber, 1984). The study of children, as advocated by Rousseau, did not begin until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Scientists throughout the world used observation to measure human behaviors. Ivan Pavlov proposed a theory of conditioning to change behaviors. Alfred Binet devel- oped the concept of a normal mental age by studying memory, attention, and intel- ligence in children. Binet and Theophile Simon developed an intelligence scale to determine mental age that made it possible to differentiate the abilities of individual

Early Intervention for a Child with Hearing Impairment

J ulio, who is 2 years old, was born prematurely. He did not have regular checkupsduring his first year, but his mother took him to a community clinic when he had a cold and fever at about 9 months of age. When the doctor noticed that Julio did not

react to normal sounds in the examining room, she stood behind him and clapped her

hands near each ear. Because Julio did not turn toward the clapping sounds, the doctor

suspected that he had a hearing loss. She arranged for Julio to be examined by an

audiologist at an eye, ear, nose, and throat clinic.

Julio was found to have a significant hearing loss in both ears. He was fitted with

hearing aids and is attending a special program twice a week for children with hearing

deficits. Therapists in the program are teaching Julio to speak. They are also teaching

his mother how to make Julio aware of his surroundings and help him to develop a

vocabulary. Had Julio not received intervention services at an early age, he might have

entered school with severe cognitive and learning deficits that would have put him at a

higher risk for failing to learn.

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




children (Weber, 1984). American psychologists expanded these early efforts, devel- oping instruments for various types of measurement.

The study and measurement of young children today has evolved from the child study movement, the development of standardized tests, Head Start and other federal programs first funded in the 1960s, and the passage of Public Law 94-142 (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and Public Law 99-457 (an expansion of PL 94-142 to include infants). Currently, there is a movement toward more meaningful learning or authentic achievement and assessment (Newmann, 1996; Wiggins, 1993). At the same time, continuing progress is being made in identifying, diagnosing, and providing more appropriate intervention for infants and young children with disabilities (Meisels & Fenichel, 1996).

The Child Study Movement G. Stanley Hall, Charles Darwin, and Lawrence Frank were leaders in the develop- ment of the child study movement that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. Darwin, in suggesting that by studying the development of the infant one could glimpse the development of the human species, initiated the scientific study of the child (Kessen, 1965). Hall developed and extended methods of studying children. After he became president of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, he estab- lished a major center for child study. Hall’s students—John Dewey, Arnold Gesell, and Lewis Terman—all made major contributions to the study and measure- ment of children. Dewey advocated educational reform that affected the devel- opment of educational programs for young children. Gesell first described the b e h av i o r s t h a t e m e r g e d i n c h i l d r e n a t e a c h c h r o n o l o g i c a l a g e. Te r m a n b e came a leader in the development of mental tests (Irwin & Bushnell, 1980; Wortham, 2002).

Research in child rearing and child care was furthered by the establishment of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial child development grants. Under the leadership of Lawrence Frank, institutes for child development were funded by the Rockefeller grants at Columbia University Teacher’s College (New York), the University of Minnesota, the University of California at Berkeley, Arnold Gesell’s Clinic of Child Development at Yale University, the Iowa Child Welfare Station, and other locations.

With the establishment of child study at academic centers, preschool children could be observed in group settings, rather than as individuals in the home. With the development of laboratory schools and nursery schools in the home economics departments of colleges and universities, child study research could also include the family in broadening the understanding of child development. Researchers from many disciplines joined in an ongoing child study movement that originated strategies for observing and measuring development. The results of their research led to an abundant literature. Between the 1890s and the 1950s, hundreds of children were studied in academic settings throughout the United States (Weber, 1984). Thus, the child study movement has taught us to use observation and other strategies to as- sess the child. Investigators today continue to add new knowledge about child de- velopment and learning that aids parents, preschool teachers and staff members, and professionals in institutions and agencies that provide services to children and

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




families. In the last decade of the 20th century and in the 21st century, brain research has opened up a whole new perspective of the nature of cognitive development and the importance of the early years for optimum development and later learning (Begley, 1997; Shore, 1997). These new findings have caused early childhood edu- cators to reflect on the factors that affect early development and the implications for programming for children in infancy and early childhood.

Standardized Tests Standardized testing also began around 1900. When colleges and universities in the East sought applicants from other areas of the nation in the 1920s, they found the high school transcripts of these students difficult to evaluate. The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) was established to permit fairer comparisons of applicants seeking admission (Cronbach, 1990).

As public schools expanded to offer 12 years of education, a similar phenome- non occurred. To determine the level and pace of instruction and the grouping of students without regard for socioeconomic class, objective tests were developed (Gardner, 1961). These tests grew out of the need to sort, select, or otherwise make decisions about both children and adults.

The first efforts to design tests were informal. When a psychologist, researcher, or physician needed a method to observe a behavior, he or she developed a proce- dure to meet those needs. The procedure was often adopted by others with the same needs. When many people wanted to use a particular measurement strategy or test, the developer prepared printed copies for sale. As the demand for tests grew, textbook publishers and firms specializing in test development and production also began to create and sell tests (Cronbach, 1990).

American psychologists built on the work of Binet and Simon in developing the intelligence measures described earlier. Binet’s instrument, revised by Terman at Stanford University, came to be known as the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale. Other Americans, particularly educators, welcomed the opportunity to use precise measurements to evaluate learning. Edward Thorndike and his students designed measures to evaluate achievement in reading, mathematics, spelling, and language ability (Weber, 1984). Because of the work of Terman and Thorndike, testing soon became a science (Scherer, 1999). By 1918, more than 100 standardized tests had been designed to measure school achievement (Monroe, 1918).

After World War II, the demand for dependable and technically refined tests grew, and people of all ages came to be tested. As individuals and institutions selected and developed their own tests, the use of testing became more centralized. Statewide tests were administered in schools, and tests were increasingly used at the national level.

The expanded use of tests resulted in the establishment of giant corporations that could assemble the resources to develop, publish, score, and report the results of testing to a large clientele. Centralization improved the quality of tests and the establishment of standards for test design. As individual researchers and teams of psychologists continue to design instruments to meet current needs, the high qual- ity of these newer tests can be attributed to the improvements and refinements made over the years and to the increased knowledge of test design and validation (Cronbach, 1990).

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




Head Start and the War on Poverty Prior to the 1960s, medical doctors, psychologists, and other professionals serving children developed tests for use with preschool children. Developmental measures, IQ tests, and specialized tests to measure developmental deficits were generally used for noneducational purposes. Child study researchers tended to use observational or unobtrusive methods to study the individual child or groups of children. School-age children were tested to measure school achievement, but this type of test was rarely used with preschool children.

After the federal government decided to improve the academic performance of children from low-income homes and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds, test developers moved quickly to design new measurement and evaluation instruments for these preschool and school-age populations.

In the late 1950s, there was concern about the consistently low academic perfor- mance of children from poor homes. As researchers investigated the problem, national interest in improving education led to massive funding for many programs designed to reduce the disparity in achievement between poor and middle-class chil- dren. The major program that involved preschool children was Head Start. Models of early childhood programs ranging from highly structured academic, child-centered developmental to more traditional nursery school models were designed and imple- mented throughout the United States (White, 1973; Zigler & Valentine, 1979).

All programs funded by the federal government had to be evaluated for effec- tiveness. As a result, new measures were developed to assess individual progress and the programs’ effectiveness (Laosa, 1982). The quality of these measures was uneven, as was comparative research designed to compare the overall effectiveness of Head Start. Nevertheless, the measures and strategies developed for use with Head Start projects added valuable resources for the assessment and evaluation of young chil- dren (Hoepfner, Stern, & Nummedal, 1971).

Other federally funded programs developed in the 1960s, such as bilingual pro- grams, Title I, the Emergency School Aid Act, Follow Through, and Home Start, were similar in effect to Head Start. The need for measurement strategies and tests to eval- uate these programs led to the improvement of existing tests and the development of new tests to evaluate their success accurately.

Legislation for Young Children With Disabilities PL 94-142

Perhaps the most significant law affecting the measurement of children was Public Law (PL) 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, passed in 1975. This law, later amended and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), guaranteed all children with disabilities the right to an appropriate edu- cation in a free public school and placement in the least restrictive learning environ- ment. The law further required the use of nondiscriminatory testing and evaluation of these children (McCollum & Maude, 1993).

The implications of the law were far reaching. Testing, identification, and place- ment of students with mental retardation and those with other disabilities were dif- ficult. Existing tests were no longer considered adequate for children with special

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




needs. Classroom teachers had to learn the techniques used to identify students with disabilities and determine how to meet their educational needs (Kaplan & Saccuzzo, 1989).

The law required that a team of teachers, parents, diagnosticians, school psychologists, medical personnel, and perhaps social workers or representatives of government agencies or institutions be used to identify and place students with disabilities. When appropriate, the child must also be included in the decision-making process. The team screens, tests, and develops an Individual Education Programme (IEP) for each child. Not all team members are involved in every step of the process, but they can influence the decisions made.

The term mainstreaming came to define the requirement that the child be placed in the least restrictive environment. This meant that as often as possible, the child would be placed with children developing normally, rather than in a segre- gated classroom for students in special education. How much mainstreaming was beneficial for the individual student? The question was difficult to answer. In addition, the ability of teachers to meet the needs of students with and without disabilities simultaneously in the same classroom is still debated. Nevertheless, classroom teachers were expected to develop and monitor the educational program prescribed for students with disabilities (Clark, 1976).

The identification and diagnosis of students with disabilities is the most com- plex aspect of PL 94-142. Many types of children need special education, including students with mental retardation, physical and visual disabilities, speech impair- ments, auditory disabilities, learning disabilities, and emotional disturbances, and

One Family’s Experience with Head Start

R osa is a graduate of the Head Start program. For 2 years, she participated in a classhoused in James Brown School, a former inner-city school that had been closed and remodeled for other community services. Two Head Start classrooms were in the building,

which was shared with several other community agencies serving low-income families. In

addition to learning at James Brown School, Rosa went on many field trips, including trips

to the zoo, the botanical garden, the public library, and a nearby McDonald’s restaurant.

This year Rosa is a kindergarten student at West Oaks Elementary School with her

older brothers, who also attended Head Start. Next year, Rosa’s younger sister, Luisa, will

begin the program. Luisa looks forward to Head Start. She has good memories of the

things she observed Rosa doing in the Head Start classroom while visiting the school

with her mother.

Luisa’s parents are also happy that she will be attending the Head Start program.

Luisa’s older brothers are good students, which they attribute to the background they

received in Head Start. From her work in kindergarten, it appears that Rosa will also do

well when she enters first grade.

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




students who are gifted. Children may have a combination of disabilities. The iden- tification and comprehensive testing of children to determine what types of disabil- ities they have and how best to educate them requires a vast array of assessment techniques and instruments. Teachers, school nurses, and other staff members can be involved in initial screening and referral, but the extensive testing used for diag- nosis and prescription requires professionals who have been trained to administer psychological tests (Mehrens & Lehmann, 1991).

Under PL 94-142, all children with disabilities between ages 3 and 21 are enti- tled to free public education. This means that preschool programs must also be pro- vided for children under age 6. Public schools have implemented early childhood programs for children with disabilities, and Head Start programs are required to include them (Guralnick, 1982; Spodek & Saracho, 1994). Other institutions and agencies also provide programs for children with and without disabilities.

PL 99-457

Many of the shortcomings of PL 94-142 were addressed in PL 99-457 (Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments), passed in 1986. The newer law authorized two new programs: the Federal Preschool Program and the Early Intervention Program. Under PL 94-142, the state could choose whether to provide services to children with disabilities between ages 3 and 5. Under PL 99-457, states must prove that they are meeting the needs of all these children if they wish to receive federal funds under PL 94-142. The Federal Preschool Program extends the right of children with disabilities under PL 94-142 to all children with disabilities between ages 3 and 5.

The Early Intervention Program established early intervention services for all children between birth and age 2 who are developmentally delayed. All participat- ing states must now provide intervention services for all infants and toddlers with disabilities (McCollum & Maude, 1993; Meisels & Shonkoff, 1990).

How to measure and evaluate young children with disabilities and the pro- grams that serve them are a continuing challenge (Cicchetti & Wagner, 1990). The design of measures to screen, identify, and place preschool children in intervention programs began with the passage of PL 94-142 and was extended under PL 99-457. Many of these instruments and strategies, particularly those dealing with develop- mental delay, were also used with preschool programs serving children developing normally, as well as those with developmental delays or disabilities.

As children with disabilities were served in a larger variety of settings, such as preschools, Head Start programs, child-care settings, infant intervention programs, and hospitals, early childhood educators from diverse backgrounds were involved in determining whether infants and young children were eligible for services for special needs. Early childhood educators and other practitioners in the field were challenged to be knowledgeable in measurement and evaluation strategies for effec- tive identification, placement, and assessment of young children in integrated early childhood settings (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1993).

Many questions were raised about appropriately serving young children with diverse abilities. Meeting the developmental and educational needs of infants and preschool children with disabilities and at the same time providing mainstreaming were a complex task. How should these children be grouped for the best intervention services? When children with and without disabilities were grouped together, what

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




were the effects when all of them were progressing through critical periods of development? Not only was identification of young children with disabilities more complex, but evaluation of the infant and preschool programs providing interven- tion services was also difficult.

PL 101-576

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990 (Stein, 1993), and the amendments to PL 94-142 (IDEA) have had an additional impact on the education of young children with disabilities. Under the ADA, all early childhood programs must be prepared to serve children with special needs. Facilities and accommoda- tions for young children, including outdoor play environments, must be designed, constructed, and altered appropriately to meet the needs of young children with dis- abilities. The PL 94-142 amendments, passed in 1991, require that the individual educational needs of young children with disabilities must be met in all early childhood programs (Deiner, 1993; McCollum & Maude, 1993; Wolery, Strain, & Bailey, 1992). These laws advance the civil rights of young children and have resulted in the inclusion of young children in preschool and school-age programs. As a result, the concept of mainstreaming is being replaced by integration, or inclusion, whereby all young children learn together with the goal that the individual needs of all chil- dren will be met (Krick, 1992; Wolery & Wilbers, 1994). The efforts of these pro- grams and their services must be assessed and evaluated to determine whether the needs of children are being met effectively.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004

The Congress reauthorized the Education for All Children Act of 1975 in 1997 (IDEA). The reauthorization of the 1997 law required special education students to participate in state tests, and states were to report results of those tests to the public. Many states were slow to comply with the law and there were no consequences for states that did not comply.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) required states to test at least 95% of their students with disabilities. Subsequently, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 was aligned with the requirements of NCLB. Final regulations of the law were officially published in August 2006. Three important rules addressed the impact of NCLB. A provision of NCLB was that highly qualified teachers must be hired. The regulations clarified this rule for spe- cial education teachers: states could create a state standard of evaluation for special education teachers.

NCLB specified that states could still use other methods of diagnosing children with learning disabilities. The response-to-intervention process involved providing intervention services for students. Students who did not respond could be referred for special education services. This process was clarified in the regulations, which stated that states could still use other methods of diagnosing children with learning disabilities. A third provision caused some controversy. This required that students in private schools would be provided services through the public schools. School districts were required to set aside a certain percentage of their federal funds for services to private school students (Education Week, n.d; Samuels, 2006; U.S. Department of Education, 2006).

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




C u r r e n t I s s u e s a n d Tr e n d s i n A s s e s s m e n t i n E a r l y C h i l d h o o d E d u c a t i o n

The 1980s brought a new reform movement in education, accompanied by a new emphasis on testing. The effort to improve education at all levels included the use of standardized tests to provide accountability for what students are learning. Minimum competency tests, achievement tests, and screening instruments were used to ensure that students from preschool through college reached the desired educational goals and achieved the minimum standards of education that were established locally or by the state education agency. As we continue in a new century, these concerns have increased.

Trends in a New Century In the 1990s many schools improved the learning environment and achievement for all children; nevertheless, a large percentage of schools were still low performing in 2000 and 2001. Inadequate funding, teacher shortages, teachers with inadequate training, aging schools, and poor leadership affected quality education (Wortham, 2002).

During the 2000 presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush named quality education as one of the goals of his presidency. After his election, President Bush worked for legislation that would improve education for all children. After months of dialogue and debate, Congress passed a new education act in December 2001. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), signed into law on January 8, 2002, had an impact on testing required by individual states. In addition to other provi- sions, all states were required to administer tests developed by the state and to set and monitor adequate yearly progress (Moscosco, 2001; Wortham, 2002).

President Bush was also committed to strengthening early childhood programs. In 2002, several projects were conducted to support early childhood programs. Under the Sunshine Schools program, the U.S. Department of Education focused on what is work- ing in early childhood education and gave attention to highly effective state, district, city, county, and campus programs (Grissom, personal communication, April 4, 2002).

Another Bush initiative, Good Start, Grow Smart, was intended to strengthen Head Start and improve the quality of experiences for children. The initiative pro- vided the following:

• Training for nearly 50,000 Head Start teachers on the best techniques • Assurance that preschool programs are more closely coordinated with K–12

educational programs • A research effort to identify effective early literacy programs and practices

(Grissom, personal communication, April 4, 2002).

In July 2001, the White House hosted the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development. The Early Childhood–Head Start Task Force formed following the summit published a new guide, Teaching Our Youngest (Grissom, personal communication, April 4, 2002).

The early childhood education projects initiated by the Bush administration to improve education stressed the importance of improving early childhood programs;

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




nevertheless, there is no doubt that mandates for increased standards-based testing will continue in the future in spite of concerns of their relevancy, especially for young children. Fortunately, child-outcome standards have also been developed by professional organizations in addition to state education agencies. The National Council for the Social Studies issued Curriculum Standards for the Social Studies (National Council for the Social Studies, 1994). Improved Head Start Performance Standards published in 1996 included children from birth to age 5 (Early Head Start, 2000). These standards and others provide guidelines for early childhood educators as they strive to improve programs and experiences for young children. By 2005, standards that included early childhood were available in many states. Some were in response to NCLB, but others were part of the emerging efforts to establish state and national standards for development and learning (Seefeldt, 2005).

Individual states are continuing to develop, implement, and review early learn- ing guidelines as the set standards for preschool curriculum. All states except for Hawaii were engaged in or had completed the process in 2009 (National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center [NCCIC], 2009).

T h e A c c o u n t a b i l i t y E r a The major issue in education today is the idea of accountability. Even before the rules and regulations surrounding the legislation for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) were issued, there were growing concerns about accountability. The interest in developing more responsibility for student results evolved from a perception that

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

NCLB requires states to do the following (U.S. Department of Education, 2001):

• Provide public school choice and supplemental services for students in failing

schools as early as fall 2002.

• Integrate scientifically based reading research into comprehensive instruction for

young children.

• Set and monitor adequate yearly progress, based on baseline 2001–2002 data.

• Issue annual report cards on school performance and statewide test results by


• Implement annual, standards-based assessments in reading and math for grades

3 to 8 by 2005–2006.

• Assure that all classes are taught by a qualified teacher by 2005–2006.

U.S. Department of Education (2001). Retrieved February 14, 2007, from

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




states had been evaluating school systems on the basis of available resources rather than student performance. NCLB addressed student performance, public reporting of achievement results, consequences for poor student performance, and continu- ous improvement (Edweek, 2004). Individual states were also responding to the need for accountability by moving from a focus on curriculum offerings and funding levels to standards-based accountability. States now have set standards, developed assessment systems, and assigned responsibilities for meeting the goals and designating rewards and sanctions to achievement levels. If states want to continue getting benefits under NCLB, they have to follow the new policies for accountability (National Council of State Legislatures, 2009).

Emerging Issues With NCLB The requirements of NCLB were to be implemented by 2006. In the summer of 2006 it was evident that there were difficulties in complying with the law.

An early issue was the requirement that schools report test scores by racial subgroup. Nearly two dozen states had been granted waivers in reporting by subgroups. Other schools avoided the problem by determining that numbers of students in racial subgroups were too small to be statistically significant. Their scores were not included (Rebora, 2006).

The law also provided that states would implement standards-based assess- ments in reading and math by 2006. Ten states were notified in 2006 that a portion of state administrative funds would be withheld for failing to comply fully with NCLB. Twenty-five states might also lose a portion of their aid if they didn’t comply fully with NCLB and comply with the testing requirement by the end of the school year. The monetary penalties caught many states by surprise. In addition, states had difficulty providing the extensive documentation required to demonstrate that the tests met that state’s academic standards (Olson, 2006). Further, states had to

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood

Assessments can be conducted while young children engage in independent work. Anne Vega/Merrill




demonstrate how they were including students with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs) in their testing system. This included developing alterna- tive assessments when needed. When combined with concerns about testing young children in the early childhood years, NCLB had an impact on all populations of students, including those in the preschool years.

The reauthorization of NCLB was due in 2007. Congress had already blocked action on the reauthorization until after the 2008 election. The Obama administra- tion indicated in 2009 that the rewriting of the law would focus on teacher quality, academic standards, and more attention given to help failing schools and s t u dents. The Commission on No Child Left Behind (2009) urged Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to retain some core elements of NCLB. Regardless of the direction of continuing reform in education, the federal government would continue to expand its influence on accountability and would also encourage the movement from individual state standards to national standards (Dillon, 2009; The New York Times, 2009).

Concerns About Testing Young Children in Early Childhood Settings The increased use of testing at all levels has been an issue in American education, but the testing of young children is of particular concern. Standardized tests and other assessment measures are now being used in preschool, kindergarten, and pri- mary grades to determine whether children will be admitted to preschool programs, promoted to the next grade, or retained. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, tests were used to determine whether students should be promoted from kindergarten to first grade or placed in a “transitional” first grade. Although this practice is now less popular, it persists in some school districts and states (Smith, 1999). In 2000, the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) was concerned about the continuing trend to deny chil- dren’s entry to kindergarten and first grade. They issued a position statement, “Still! Unacceptable Trends in Kindergarten Entry and Placement” (National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education [NAECS/SDE], 2000). This continuing effort to advocate appropriate assessment of very young chil- dren was endorsed by the Governing Board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 2001).

By 2006, states used a wide range of types of assessments with young children entering public school. Screening tests were in use in many states for hearing and vision as well as developmental assessments and readiness tests. Many states conducted screening to identify children at risk for failing to succeed in school and/or developmental disorders or disabilities. Some states met the criteria for developmentally appropriate assessments, while others did not. For example, California required observation and portfolio materials in preschool assessments. On the other hand, Georgia students were tested for first-grade readiness at the end of the kindergarten year to determine grade placement (Education Commission of the States, 2006). More information on these topics will be provided in later chapters.

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




The announcement by President Bush in 2003 that all Head Start students would be given a national standardized test assessment raised new concerns. At issue were validity and reliability of tests for preschool children (Nagle, 2000) and whether such “high-stakes” testing should be used to evaluate the quality of Head Start pro- grams (Shepard et al., 1998). Policy makers had to address these and other concerns about appropriate assessment of young children in their decisions about how to evaluate preschool programs that receive federal funding (McMaken, 2003).

In February 2003, a large group of early childhood experts wrote to their congres- sional representatives to express their concerns about the impending test. They made the following points:

1. The test is too narrow. 2. The test may reduce the comprehensive services that ensure the success of Head

Start. 3. The test is shifting resources away from other needs within Head Start. 4. Testing should be used to strengthen teaching practices, not evaluate a

program, and should in no way be linked to program funding (Fair Test, 2003; NAEYC, 2004).

In September 2003, the new test, the National Reporting System (NRS) (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] Head Start Bureau, 2003), was administered by the Head Start Bureau in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and Families to more than 400,000 children ages 4 and 5, and continues to be administered each year. In 2005, when Head Start funding was being considered, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on the NRS. The report said that the NRS had not shown that it provided reliable information on children’s progress during the Head Start pro- gram year, especially for Spanish-speaking children. Moreover, the NRS had not shown that its results were valid measures of the learning that took place in the pro- gram. In its recommendations, the GAO required that the Head Start Bureau estab- lish validity and reliability for the NRS. As a result the NRS was not to be used for accountability purposes related to program funding (Crawford, 2005; Government Accountability Office [GAO], 2005). Because the Bush administration reportedly intended to use the NRS to establish accountability requirements similar to NCLB, this GAO finding essentially halted the use of the test for that purpose.

Concerns About Testing Young Children With Cultural and Language Differences A concurrent concern related to current trends and practices in the assessment of young children is the question of how appropriate our tests and assessment strate- gies are in terms of the diversity of young children attending early childhood programs. Socioeconomic groups are changing dramatically and rapidly in our society, with an expansion of the poorer class and a corresponding shrinking of the middle class (Raymond & McIntosh, 1992). At the same time, an increase in minority citizens has occurred as the result of the continuing influx of people from other

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




countries, especially Southeast Asia and Central and South America. Moreover, Hispanic families are no longer concentrated in the Southwest; their growth in many parts of the country has caused new communities to have unprecedented high percentages of Hispanic children. Seventy-nine percent of young ELLs in public schools speak Spanish. In addition, approximately 460 languages are represented in schools and programs in the United States, including Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Armenian, and Hmong (Biggar, 2005; Lopez, Salas, & Flores, 2005). Assessment of the developmental progress of children from these groups is particularly important if their learning needs are to be identified and addressed.

Evidence shows that standardized test scores have had a high correlation to par- ents’ occupations, level of education, the location of the student’s elementary school, and the family’s income bracket. Moreover, students from limited English backgrounds tend to score lower on reading and language fluency tests in English. They typically perform better on computational portions of mathematics tests (Wesson, 2001). The fairness of existing tests for children who are school disadvan- taged and linguistically and culturally diverse indicates the need for alternative assessment strategies for young children (Biggar, 2005; Goodwin & Goodwin, 1993, 1997). A major issue in the 21st century is appropriate measurement and evaluation strategies that will enhance, rather than diminish, the potential for achievement.

The history of assessment of minorities who are bilingual students or learning English as a second language is one of potential bias. Children have been and con- tinue to be tested in their nondominant language (English) or with instruments that were validated on an Anglo, middle-class sample of children. As a result, many Hispanic preschool children were and are still regularly diagnosed as developmen- tally delayed and placed in special education (Lopez et al., 2005). The issue of appropriate assessment of these children was addressed by court cases such as Diana v. California State Board of Education (1968) and Lau v. Nichols (1974). More recently, NCLB and the Head Start NRS have addressed the issue of testing ELLs (Crawford, 2005; David, 2005; GAO, 2005).

The overidentification of minority students for special education is often related to language and cultural differences. Some of the issues addressed in the rising numbers of minority children being referred to special education were traced in one study to inconsistent methods of determining home language and English profi- ciency, confusion as to the purpose of language screening instruments, and a need for more training for teachers in meeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse children and families (Abebe & Hailemariam, 2008; Hardin, Roach-Scott, & Peisner-Feinberg, 2007).

Increasing concerns about overidentification of minority children is addressed in two significant books. Why Are So Many Minority Students in Special Education? Understanding Race and Disability in Schools (Harry & Klingner, 2005) is one effort to explain the problem. The authors address the issue of the disproportionate repre- sentation of minorities in special education. Racial Inequity in Education (Loren & Orfield, 2002) addresses many factors that include language, high-stakes testing, inappropriate and inadequate special education for minority children, and the role of the federal government.

Another concern about testing children with cultural and language differences is the process of screening preschool children who fit into this category. A problem of correctly screening young children who are learning English may lead to the

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




underidentification of children who have special needs or overidentification of special needs because English language delays are misdiagnosed as a disability (NAEYC, 2005a). Recommendations were made for appropriate screening and assessment and program accountability for correctly serving young children in English.

The impact of NCLB on testing ELLs has resulted in the development of new English language proficiency tests based on new standards adopted by each state. More importantly, the tests measure the reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills of ELLs (Zehr, 2006). In summer 2006, five states had failed to meet the Department of Education’s deadline to have tests in place. While some states designed their own tests, other states adopted tests designed by consortia or testing corporations. Nevertheless, because test development and implementation were still in the beginning stages, little was known about the validity and reliability of the tests and whether the tests met the requirements of the law. The New York example reveals the complexity of the assess- ment of ELLs. The New York State test was designed to measure language acquisition, while the tests meeting NCLB measured English language skills. This was true for bilingual and ELL programs throughout the United States prior to NCLB. It would take many years to develop and validate tests that would resolve how to assess the language skills of limited-English speakers that were comparable with tests for English-speaking students.

Assessment of young children who are from families that are culturally and lin- guistically diverse must include many dimensions of diversity. It is not useful to pro- ceed with assessment that is culturally fair for Hispanic or Asian populations generally. The many variations within communities and cultures must be consid- ered, among them the educational background of the parents and the culture of the immediate community of the family. Congruence between the individual cultural perceptions of the assessors and the children being assessed, even when both are from the same culture or language population, must also be considered (Barrera, 1996). Many types of information, including the child’s background and the use of assessments, must be combined to determine a picture of the child that reflects individual, group, and family cultural characteristics (Lopez et al., 2005).

Concerns About Testing Young Children With Disabilities The use of testing for infants and young children with disabilities cannot be avoided. Indeed, Meisels, Steele, and Quinn-Leering (1993) reflected that not all tests used are bad. Nevertheless, Greenspan, Meisels, and others (1996) believe that assessments used with infants and young children have been borrowed from assessment methodology used with older children and do not represent meaningful information about their developmental achievements and capacities. Misleading test scores are being used for decisions about services, educational placements, and intervention programs. These developmental psychologists propose that assessment should be based on current understanding of development and use structured tests as one part of an integrated approach that includes observing the child’s interactions with trusted caregivers. Assessment should be based on multiple sources of information that reflect the child’s capacities and competencies and better indicate what learning environ- ments will best provide intervention services for the child’s optimal development.

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




Play-based assessment is one major source of information among the multiple sources recommended. Play assessment is nonthreatening and can be done unob- trusively. Moreover, during play, children can demonstrate skills and abilities that might not be apparent in other forms of assessment. Children’s ability to initiate and carry out play schemes and use play materials can add significant information (Fewell & Rich, 1987; Segal & Webber, 1996). In transdisciplinary play-based assess- ment, a team that includes parents observes a child at play. Each member of the team observes an area of development. During the assessment the child’s developmental level, learning styles, patterns of interaction, and other behaviors are observed (Linder, 1993).

NCLB has had an impact on curriculum and assessment of children with dis- abilities. While identification of children can begin very early in life, the needs of the children as they enter public education are not usually identified until first grade. However, during the last 10 years, the nature and objectives of kindergarten have changed because of advances in knowledge about what young children are capable of learning and the advent of the standards-based accountability move- ment. Kindergarteners are taught and tested on the mastery of academic standards. This change in expectations has affected the kindergarten year for children at risk for learning disabilities. The kindergarten year formerly was used to work with at-risk children and refer them for testing at the end of the year. When they reached first grade they would be referred for identification and possible special education ser- vices. Children with disabilities or who are at risk for learning problems now need identification and services earlier than first grade. Identification of disabilities and referral for services should now be considered for the kindergarten year, even if some disabilities are difficult to identify in early childhood (Litty & Hatch, 2006).

NCLB also added accountability measures to IDEA, as described earlier in the chapter. School districts must test at least 95% of students with disabilities and incorporate their test scores into school ratings. There has been strong public reac- tion to the inclusion of special education students in state testing and reporting. Some policy makers see this provision as an important step in every child receiving a high-quality education. Critics worry that the law is not flexible enough to meet individual needs of students with disabilities. Many teachers felt that special educa- tion students should not be expected to meet the same set of academic content stan- dards as regular education students. These issues were yet to be resolved when the final regulations were published in August 2006 for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (Education Week, n.d.; U.S. Department of Education, 2006).

Since 2006, work has continued to address the issue of identifying and serving students with learning disabilities. The focus of this effort has been to find more flexible and research-based strategies for both identifying students who need inter- vention services and better serving students with quality instruction and evaluation (Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children, 2007). Two models for a more inclusive instructional process for all students are Response to Intervention (RTI) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Response to Intervention addresses all student needs whether or not they have been identified as learning disabled. RTI is implemented through a three-tiered process of responding to the needs of all children (Burns & Coolong-Chaffin, 2006; Millard, 2004). All students begin at the first tier. Students who need more targeted

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




education are served in the second tier. Students who need intensive intervention are served in the third tier. This tier can include special education services.

The RTI model seeks to match students with the most effective instruction. The core features of RTI are high-quality classroom instruction, research-based instruc- tion, classroom performance, universal screening, continuous progress monitoring during interventions, and fidelity measures (Millard, 2004).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) also seeks to include all kinds of students, including students with learning disabilities, English language barriers, emotional or behavior problems, lack of interest or engagement, or sensory and physical dis- abilities. UDL is based on the need for multiple approaches to instruction that meet the needs of diverse students (Center for Applied Special Technology [CAST], 2009). It applies recent research on neuroscience and uses technology to make learning more effective for all students. The curriculum includes customized teaching that includes multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expres- sion, and multiple means of engagement (CAST, 2009).

Authentic and Performance Assessment Assessment is in a period of transition. Teachers of young children are moving from more traditional strategies of assessing for knowledge and facts to assessing the stu- dents’ ability to reason and solve problems. Despite the demands for accountability for addressing early childhood standards, assessments provide a variety of methods for children to demonstrate what they understand and can do.

A broader view of assessment has incorporated a multidimensional approach to measurement, as described earlier in the sections on concerns for assessment of children from diverse populations and children with disabilities. It is now felt that too much attention has been given to the use of standardized tests, rather than a multidimensional approach that uses many sources of information. The more inclusive practice of assessment, which includes work samples, observation results, and teaching report forms, is called alternative assessment. These alternatives to standardized tests measure how students can apply the knowledge they have learned (Blum & Arter, 1996; Maeroff, 1991). Within this evolution in the purposes for assessment and interpretation of assessments is the move to authentic and per- formance assessments. Authentic assessments must have some connection to the real world; that is, they must have a meaningful context. They are contextual in that they emerge from the child’s accomplishments. Performance assessments permit the child to demonstrate what is understood through the performance of a task or activity (Wortham, 1998).

Performance assessment as applied through the use of portfolios provides a multifaceted view of what the young child can understand and use. Performance as- sessment is used because teachers in early childhood programs seek information about the child’s development and accomplishments in all domains. Performance assessment combined with other assessments provides a longitudinal record of change in development, rather than an assessment of a limited range of skills at a particular time. It is appropriately used with infants, young children, school-age children, children from diverse populations, and children with disabilities (Barrera, 1996; Meisels, 1996; Wortham, 1998).

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood




Documentation is another form of performance assessment. First developed in Reggio Emilia schools in Italy and now widely used in the United States, documen- tation is a process of collecting and displaying children’s work on projects (Wurm, 2005). More about documentation will be discussed in chapter 8.

This broader view of assessment in early childhood programs is echoed by the organizations that endorsed and supported the Guidelines for Appropriate Curriculum Content and Assessment in Programs Serving Children Ages 3 Through 8, a position statement of the NAEYC and the NAECS/SDE adopted in 1990 and renewed in 2000 and 2001 (NAEYC,1992; NAECS/SDE, 2000). These guidelines proposed that the purpose of assessment is to benefit individual children and to improve early childhood programs. Appropriate assessment should help enhance curricu- lum choices, help teachers collaborate with parents, and help ensure that the needs of children are addressed appropriately. Rather than being narrowly defined as testing, assessment should link curriculum and instruction with pro- gram objectives for young children (Hills, 1992). Authentic and performance assessments provide dynamic assessment approaches that benefit the child, parents, caregivers, and teachers.

Standards for Beginning Teachers The era of accountability includes expectations for the appropriate preparation of teachers. Just as states set standards for student curriculum and assessment for diverse children, there are standards for preparing and assessing whether beginning teachers are qualified to teach young children.

The Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) includes state education agencies and national education organizations. The consortium believes that each state’s education system should have a teacher licensing policy that requires teachers to know and be able to effectively help all students achieve the state standards for students (Council of State School Officers, 2007, 2009).

An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood

The Mission of INTASC

T he mission of INTASC is to provide a forum for its member states to learn andcollaborate in the development of • Compatible educational policy on teaching among the states.

• New accountability requirements for teacher preparation programs.

• New techniques to assess the performance of teachers for licensing and


• New programs to enhance the professional development of teachers (Council of

Chief State School Officers, 2007, p. 1).




An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood

The licensing standards for early childhood teachers has been addressed by three organizations: the Association of Teacher Education (ATE), the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI). A position statement on early childhood teachers was issued by ATE and NAEYC in 1991 (ATE & NAEYC, 1991). The position statement also calls for state early childhood organizations and agencies to develop policies leading to certification that is distinct from policies related to elementary and secondary certification. In addition, policies for early childhood teachers should be congruent across the 50 states.

The Position Paper on the Preparation of Early Childhood Education Teachers was issued by ACEI in 1998 (Association for Childhood Education International [ACEI], 1998). It calls for early childhood specialization to be developed within broader policies for teacher preparation. Early childhood teachers should have a broad and liberal education. Experiences should also include foundations of early childhood education, child development, the teaching and learning process, and provisions for professional laboratory experiences.

NAEYC also developed a position statement on ethical conduct (NAEYC, 2005). Standards of ethical behavior by early childhood care and education teachers are based on a commitment to

• Appreciate childhood as a unique and valuable stage of the human life cycle. • Base our work on knowledge of how children develop and learn. • Appreciate and support the bond between child and family. • Recognize that children are best understood and supported in the context of

family, culture, community, and society. • Respect the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual (child, family

member, and colleague). • Respect diversity in children, families, and colleagues. • Recognize that children and adults achieve their full potential in the context of

relationships that are based on trust and respect (NAEYC, 2005b, p. 1).

S u m m a r y The measurement and assessment of children begins very early in the life span. Newborns are tested for their neonatal status, and infant tests designed to assess development begin the trend for testing and assessment in the early childhood years. Assessments in the early childhood years have many purposes; some are beneficial for young children, and others are detrimental.

The advent of measures to assess and evaluate young children’s development and learning occurred at the beginning of the 20th century. As the decades passed, significant trends in the study of young children and services and pro- grams implemented for young children have driven the need to develop stan- dardized tests and other measures to evaluate children’s progress and program effectiveness.




An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood

Many issues surround the testing of young children. Some educators question the validity and reliability of standardized tests used with young children, as well as the purposes for administering tests to children who are culturally and linguistically diverse. At the same time, the use of individual testing and evaluation to identify children with disabilities and provide services for them continues to serve a valu- able purpose.


1. Why are very young children measured in infancy and in the preschool years? Give examples.

2. Explain developmental deficits. How are develop- mental deficits identified and treated?

3. Why is research conducted on the development of very young children? How can such research be used?

4. How were Pestalozzi and Rousseau pivotal in the ori- gins of understanding and measuring young children?

5. Why has the child study movement been the major resource for understanding child development?

6. How does the history of standardized testing in- clude testing with infants and young children? What kinds of standardized tests are beneficial for children under age 6?

7. Why were standardized tests developed for Head Start? How were they used?

8. Why were standardized tests developed as a result of legislation for young children with disabilities? How are they used?

9. Why is it difficult to develop assessments for chil- dren who are culturally and linguistically different? What factors must be addressed in their assessment?

10. What are some of the weaknesses in assessments of young children with disabilities? How can these difficulties be overcome?

11. How is authentic assessment different from assessment using standardized tests?


1. Review a recent journal article on a topic related to current issues in the testing and assessment of young children. The article should have been published within the past 5 years. Describe the major points in the article and your response. Be prepared to share in small groups.

2. What are the policies followed in your state regarding the use of standardized tests? What

tests are administered in the primary grades? How are they chosen? How are the results used?

3. How does the school district in your community screen preschool children for possible disabilities? What types of assessments are used? If children need further testing to identify specific needs, what process is used? Who conducts the tests with the child?


alternative assessment authentic assessment documentation inclusion

integration mainstreaming performance assessment




An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood


National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center

National Conference of State Legislatures

Association for Childhood Education International

National Association for the Education of Young Children

Council of Chief State School Officers


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An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood

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An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood

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An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood

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An Overview of Assessment in Early Childhood

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How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

From Chapter 2 of Assessment in Early Childhood Education, 6/e. Sue C. Wortham. Copyright © 2012 by Pearson Education. All rights reserved.




How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

Chapter Objectives

As a result of reading this chapter, you will be able to

1. Discuss how assessment should be improved for the 21st century 2. Describe how assessment should be used in early childhood 3. Describe how measurement and evaluation are used with infants, preschoolers,

and school-age children 4. Understand the differences between formal and informal assessments 5. Describe different types of informal assessments 6. Explain how performance assessments reflect authentic learning

Anne Vega/Merrill




The topic of assessing young children was introduced in chapter 1. The fact that infants and preschool children are measured differently from older children and adults was discussed, as was the evolution of testing and assessment in the United States. Also discussed were issues and trends in assessment in early childhood edu- cation in a new century. Much attention was given to concerns about testing young children, particularly preschool children. The National Reporting System, imple- mented with Head Start, is a good example of how demands for accountability have displaced decades of research on the appropriate assessment of young children. The National Education Goals Panel reported that standardized achievement tests should not be administered before age 8 (see Figure 2-1). The conflict of expecta- tions for achievement in NCLB and the reality of assessing children in bilingual and ELL programs and children with disabilities have resulted in confusion over testing requirements and results.

In this chapter, appropriate methods of assessing infants and children will be described. The focus will be on the future and what assessment should do, as well as how assessment should specifically serve children in the early childhood years. Principles for quality assessments describe how assessments should be conducted and used. They also include the characteristics of quality assessments. These varied assessments can be organized to provide a comprehensive plan for evaluation, also called an assessment system. The components of a comprehensive assessment sys- tem will be described, followed by how assessment results are used in preschool and school settings.

W h a t A s s e s s m e n t S h o u l d D o The history of assessment is cumulative. This means that each era in the history of measuring children has provided methods for assessment that are still in use today. Although there are issues as to when and how some of the methods are used, as dis- cussed in chapter 1, all contributions are still relevant in some context to learn about children’s development and learning. The goal of the discussion in this part of the chapter is to address the concerns and issues raised about the testing and evalu- ation of young children and to set criteria for higher goals of the process. The objec- tive is not to eliminate established methods and replace them with new ones, but to formulate how to use each most effectively to serve the needs of the child. First, criteria for optimal approaches to assessment will be described generally, followed by how assessment should be used for the benefit of young children specifically.

Principles for Assessment Assessment Should Use Multiple Sources of Information

No matter what strategy is used for assessment, a single application for evaluation is insufficient (Greenspan, Meisels, & the Zero to Three Work Group on Developmental Assessment, 1996). Each assessment strategy has strengths and lim- itations; moreover, a single method provides only one portion of what needs to be known about a child. A variety of strategies provides a comprehensive picture of the

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed




How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

FI G U R E 2-1 Purposes for early childhood assessments

Source: Shepard, L., Kagan, S. L., Lynn, S., & Wurtz, E. (Eds.) (1998). Principles and recommendations for early childhood assessments. Report submitted to the National Education Goals Panel. Washington, DC: National Education Goals Panel, pp. 20–21. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

AApppprroopprriiaattee UUsseess aanndd TTeecchhnniiccaall AAccccuurraaccyy ooff AAsssseessssmmeennttss CChhaannggee AAccrroossss

Birth 1 2 3 4

PPuurrppoossee 11:: AAsssseessssiinngg ttoo pprroommoottee cchhiillddrreenn’’ss lleeaarrnniinngg aanndd ddeevveellooppmmeenntt

Parents and caregivers observe and Parents, caregivers, and preschool respond as children develop language teachers use direct measures, including and physical skills. observations of what children are learning

to decide what to teach next.

PPuurrppoossee 22:: IIddeennttiiffyyiinngg cchhiillddrreenn ffoorr hheeaalltthh aanndd ssppeecciiaall sseerrvviicceess

All children should be screened regularly Children entering Head Start and other for health needs, including hearing and preschool programs should be screened vision checks, as part of routine health for health needs, including hearing and care services. vision checks.

Many serious cognitive and physical Individual children with possible disabilities are evident at birth or soon developmental delays should be referred thereafter. As soon as developmental for in-depth assessment. delays or potential disabilities are suspected, parents and physicians should seek in-depth assessments.

PPuurrppoossee 33:: MMoonniittoorriinngg ttrreennddss aanndd eevvaalluuaattiinngg pprrooggrraammss aanndd sseerrvviicceess

Because direct measures of children’s Assessments, including direct and indirect language and cognitive functioning are measures of children’s physical, social, difficult to aggregate accurately for emotional, and cognitive development, ages from birth to 2, state reporting could be constructed and used to evaluate systems should focus on living and social prekindergarten programs, but such conditions that affect learning and the measures would not be accurate enough adequacy of services. to make high-stakes decisions about

individual children.

PPuurrppoossee 44:: AAsssseessssiinngg aaccaaddeemmiicc aacchhiieevveemmeenntt ttoo hhoolldd iinnddiivviidduuaall ssttuuddeennttss,,




How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

tthhee EEaarrllyy CChhiillddhhoooodd AAggee CCoonnttiinnuuuumm ((BBiirrtthh ttoo AAggee 88)).. KKiinnddeerrggaarrtteenn 11sstt ggrraaddee 22nndd ggrraaddee 33rrdd ggrraaddee

5 6 7 8 years Beyond age 8

Teachers use both formal and informal assessments to plan and guide instruction.

All children should be screened at school entry for vision and hearing needs and checked for immunizations.

Some mild disabilities may become apparent only in the school context. Districts and states must by law have sound teacher and parent referral policies so that children with potential disabilities are referred for in-depth assessment.

Beginning at age 5, it is possible to use direct measures, including measures of children’s early learning, as part of a comprehensive early childhood assessment for monitoring trends. Matrix sampling should be used to ensure technical accuracy and to provide safeguards for individual children. Because of the cost of such an assessment, states or the nation should pick one grade level for monitoring trends in early childhood, most likely kindergarten or first grade.

tteeaacchheerrss,, aanndd sscchhooooll aaccccoouunnttaabbllee

Before age 8, standardized achievement measures are not sufficiently accurate to be used for high-stakes decisions about individual children and schools. Therefore, high-stakes assessments intended for accountability purposes should be delayed until the end of third grade (or preferably fourth grade).




Mara Larson—Kindergarten

T he children in Mara’s classroom enjoy the center activities that follow each day’smath lesson. They don’t know that when they are playing counting and number games, Mara is assessing their progress. For example, when they are learning about

numerals, Mara might have a lesson in which children use counters to place the correct

number of objects under numeral cards up to ten. In another activity, children take turns

throwing dice, counting the total, and selecting the correct numeral. A third game is a

game board with a spinner. The child spins the wheel and counts out the correct number

to match the numeral where the spinner lands. If the answer is correct, the child

advances one square on the game board. At first, Mara guides small groups of children in

the math activities. When she observes children who have mastered the math objective of

the game, she allows them to play the game independently. Mara continues to guide the

children she observes having difficulties with the skills used in the activities. Mara also

observes children as they participate in math lessons and also assigns tasks that serve as


child’s development and learning from different perspectives (Feld & Bergan, 2002). For infants and toddlers, several observations are better than a single observation, and other inputs into development, such as parents’ and caregivers’ views of the child, provide a more complete picture of the child’s progress. For older children who have entered school, achievement of learning becomes important. The kindergarten and school-age child should be able to demonstrate learning in more than one way and on more than one occasion. Use of a variety of measures of learning ensures an accurate view of the child’s accomplishments (Greenspan et al., 1996; McAfee, Leong, & Bodrova, 2004; National Education Association, 1994; Shepard, 1989; Wiggins, 1993).

Assessment Should Benefit the Child and Improve Learning

The purpose of evaluating infants and toddlers is generally to determine whether the child is developing normally or exhibits delay and needs assistance or interven- tion. The purposes of assessment are to benefit the child. When young children enter school, however, assessments can have negative purposes that are not related to the needs and interests of the child. As is discussed elsewhere in this text, tests are sometimes administered to young children to determine whether they can be admitted to a preschool program or promoted in grade. In the primary grades, tests are administered to determine the child’s achievement during a school year. When such tests are given to determine the child’s progress and to plan appropriate instruction based on what the child has accomplished, the purpose will benefit the child and improve learning. On the other hand, when such tests are used merely for evaluation of the school program and have no implications for how the child will be

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed




served, they do not benefit the child and should not be used. Whatever assessment strategies are used, the information should be used to guide the child and enhance learning (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009; Wiggins, 1993, 1998).

Assessment Should Involve the Child and Family

The family should have an important role in assessment. Infants and toddlers are unable to understand their developmental progress; however, their parents and caregivers are primary sources of information. Although tests can be administered to measure development, a parent’s knowledge about the child is essential for a true understanding of the child’s developmental characteristics (Darragh, 2009; Popper, 1996; Rocco, 1996).

Preschool, kindergarten, and primary-grade children are more able to understand what they know and what they are able to do. This ability increases with the child’s age and maturity. However, parental input is still very important. By the time the child is in the primary grades, self-assessment improves. Students can evaluate their progress and have a voice in how they can best succeed in mastering learning objec- tives. Assessment is not just administered to students, but accomplished with active participation by the students.

Assessment Should Be Fair for All Children

Chapter 1 pointed out that many tests are inappropriate for children who are culturally or linguistically diverse. In addition, educators must evaluate children with disabilities accurately and fairly. Because tests may not reflect a child’s culture or language, other, more effective methods must be employed. As was mentioned earlier, a variety of strategies can overcome the limitations of a single method or test. The person administering the evaluation must be alert to limitations and have other strategies to acquire the needed information. This is especially important in the case

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

Gloria Fuentes—Toddler Class

S everal weeks into the school year, two children in Gloria’s class still speak very littlein school. Gloria has questions about their language development. She schedules conferences with parents to get their help in assessing their child’s language ability. As a

result of the conversations with parents, she discovers that one of the children readily

speaks at home but is still shy and uncertain about school. Another child comes from a

home where English is not spoken. From her discussions with these parents, Gloria

knows more about the children’s language needs. Different approaches will be used with

each child to help him or her use more language. One will need much attention and

emotional support each day to ensure that he or she is confident and secure enough to

talk in class. The other will need daily opportunities to learn and use new English words in

classroom activities.




of children who are culturally and linguistically diverse or whose abilities are outside normal developmental ranges (Barrera, 1996; Genishi & Dyson, 2009; Goodwin & Goodwin, 1993).

Principles for Early Childhood Assessments The previous section described principles for assessing all children. As a follow-up to that information, we can address how those principles are applied to young children. Principles for early childhood assessments are not just relevant for the assessment of children, but have implications for program evaluation and quality (Epstein, Schweinhart, DeBruin-Parecki, & Robin, 2004). In the early childhood years, assessment of development is the primary focus. The NAEYC position statement calls for sound assessment that reflects how young children grow and learn. Sound assessment is described through a series of statements of principles (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009, pp. 21–22):

A. Assessment of young children’s progress and achievements is ongoing, strate- gic, and purposeful. The results of assessment are used to inform the planning and implementation of experiences, to communicate with the child’s family, and to evaluate and improve teachers’ and the program’s effectiveness.

B. Assessment focuses on children’s progress toward goals that are develop- mentally and educationally significant.

C. There is a system in place to collect, make sense of, and use the assessment infor- mation to guide what goes on in the classroom (formative assessment). Teachers use this information in planning curriculum and learning experiences and in moment-to-moment interactions with children—that is, teachers continually engage in assessment for the purpose of improving teaching and learning.

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

Margie Phillips—First Grade

T wo boys in Margie’s first-grade class are having trouble copying information from theboard. As a result, they are not having success in completing board assignments. Margie feels that the boys are not paying attention; however, she talks to the parents and

suggests that the parents seek professional help to determine whether there is a

problem. The parents of the boys take them to a local university to be tested by an early

childhood diagnostician. After the assessment, the specialist calls Margie and explains

that the boys have difficulty transferring information from the board to paper. They are

unable to remember the written material between seeing it on the board and then looking

down to their paper. Both boys need to have the written information written out and

placed on their desks for easy referral. Although Margie feels that changing her methods

for the two boys is unnecessary and shows favoritism, she follows the specialist’s

recommendations. When she tries placing the information on the boys’ desks, she is

surprised to see that they improve in completing assignments.




D. The methods of assessment are appropriate to the developmental status and experiences of young children, and these methods recognize individual variation in learners and allow children to demonstrate their competence in different ways. Methods appropriate to the classroom assessment of young children, therefore, include results of teachers’ observations of children’s work samples, and their performance on authentic activities.

E. Assessment looks not only at what children can do independently but also at what they can do with assistance from other children or adults. Therefore, teachers assess children as they participate in groups and other situations that are providing scaffolding.

F. In addition to this assessment by teachers, input from families as well as children’s own evaluations of their work are part of the program’s overall assessment strategy.

G. Assessments are tailored to a specific purpose and used only for the pur- pose for which they have been demonstrated to produce reliable, valid information.

H. Decisions that have a major impact on children, such as enrollment or placement, are never made on the basis of results from a single developmental assessment or screening instrument/device but are based on multiple sources of relevant information, including that obtained from observations of and interactions with children by teachers and parents (and specialists as needed).

I. When a screening or other assessment identifies children who may have special learning or developmental needs, there is appropriate follow-up, evaluation, and if indicated, referral. Diagnosis or labeling is never the result of a brief screening or one-time assessment. Families should be involved as important sources of information.

The NAEYC position statement demonstrates how appropriate assessment is tai- lored to the changing developmental needs of young children. As children go through developmental differences, assessments that best measure the variations in development are employed. Figure 2-1 shows how four purposes of assessment in early childhood development change as children progress from birth until the primary grades.

H o w I n f a n t s a n d Y o u n g C h i l d r e n A r e A s s e s s e d

As exemplified in the Principles and Recommendations for Early Childhood Assessments (National Education Goals Panel, 1998) just discussed, there are many reasons for measuring and evaluating young children, and various methods are available to accomplish our goals. Sometimes we measure the child informally. We might look for characteristics by watching the child’s behaviors at play or in a setting arranged for that purpose. A pediatrician may watch a baby walk during an examination to determine whether he or she is progressing normally. In a similar fashion, a teacher may observe a child playing to determine how he or she is using language.

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed




A second-grade teacher who constructs a set of subtraction problems to evaluate whether his or her students have mastered a mathematics objective is also using an informal test.

Formal methods, or standardized instruments, are also used for measure- ment and evaluation. These are more extensive and proven measures for evalua- tion. Specialists in tests and measurements design and then try out, with a large number of children, instruments that evaluate the characteristics that have been targeted. This process ensures that educators can use the information gained each time the test is given to another child or group of children. This type of test is called a standardized test because a standard has been set from the results achieved by using the test with children who are representative of the population.

Why do we measure infants and young children? The most common pur- pose is to assess development. Soon after a child’s birth, the obstetrician or pediatrician evaluates the newborn by using the Apgar scale (Apgar, 1975) to determine whether he or she is in good health. Thereafter, at regular intervals, parents, doctors, and teachers follow the baby’s development by using tests and informal evaluation strategies (Greenspan et al., 1996; Wodrich, 1984). The screening test for phenylketonuria (PKU) may also be administered to detect the presence of the enzyme phenylalanine, which can cause mental retardation if not managed through diet. In addition, there are newborn screening tests for cystic fibrosis and congenital hypothyroidism (Widerstrom, Mowder, & Sandall, 1991).

But what if development is not progressing normally? How can evaluation measures be used to help the young child? In recent years, researchers, medical specialists, and educators have learned how to work with children at increasingly younger ages to minimize the effects of delays in growth or other problems that retard the child’s developmental progress. Various strategies and instruments are now available. A neonatologist conducts a comprehensive evaluation on a premature baby to determine what therapy should be initiated to improve the infant’s chances for survival and optimal development. A young child can be tested for hearing loss or mental retardation. The child who does not speak nor- mally or who is late in speaking is referred to a speech pathologist, who assesses the child’s language and prescribes activities to facilitate improved language development.

During a child’s infancy and toddler years, child development specialists follow the child’s progress and initiate therapy when development is not normal (Meisels, 1996). During the preschool years, this effort includes evaluating and predicting whether the child is likely to experience difficulties in learning. Tests and other mea- sures are used to help to determine whether the child will develop a learning dis- ability and how that disability will affect his or her success in school. Again, when problems are detected, plans are made to work with the child in a timely manner to help him or her to overcome as much of the disability as possible before entering school. The child may have a vision problem, difficulty in hearing, or a disability that may interfere with learning to read. The evaluation measures used will help identify the exact nature of the problem. In addition, test results will be used to help determine what kind of intervention will be most successful (Greenspan et al., 1996; Wodrich, 1984).

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed




During the preschool period or even earlier, a different kind of developmental difference may emerge. Parents or other adults who deal with the child may observe that the child demonstrates a learning ability or potential that is much higher than the normal range. A more formal evaluation using a standardized test may confirm these informal observations. Plans then can be made to facilitate the child’s devel- opment to help him or her to achieve full potential for learning.

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

Assessment for Risk in Developmental Status

W hen Sarah was 6 months old, her teenage mother gave her up for adoption.Because Sarah’s father could not be located to agree to release her for adoption, Sarah was placed temporarily in a foster home.

Prior to placement with the foster family, Sarah had lived with her mother in her

maternal grandparents’ home. In addition to Sarah’s mother, six other children were in the

family. Both grandparents were employed. Sarah’s primary caregiver had been an aunt

with mental retardation who was 12 years old.

For the first few days after Sarah was placed in the foster home, she cried when the

foster parents tried to feed her. She sat for long periods of time and stared vacantly,

without reacting to toys or people. She had no established patterns for sleeping and

usually fretted off and on during the night.

When a pediatrician examined Sarah, she was found to be malnourished, with sores

in her mouth from vitamin deficiencies. As determined by the Denver Developmental Screening Test, she was developing much more slowly than normal.

A special diet and multivitamins were prescribed for Sarah. Members of the foster

family patiently taught her to enjoy eating a varied diet beyond the chocolate milk and

cereal that she had been fed previously. Regular times for sleeping at night gradually

replaced her erratic sleeping habits. Her foster family spent many hours playing with her,

talking with her, and introducing her to various toys.

By age 11 months, Sarah had improved greatly. She was alert, ate well, began to

walk, and said a few words. Her development was within the normal range, and she was

ready for adoption.

Sarah had benefited from being placed in a home where she received good nutrition,

guidance in living patterns, and stimulation for cognitive, physical, and social development.

Without early intervention, Sarah’s delay in development might have become more

serious over time. Adaptability to an adoptive home might have been difficult for her and

her adoptive parents. If she had been unable to adjust successfully with an adoptive

family, she might have spent her childhood years in a series of foster homes, rather than

with her adoptive family. She also would have been at risk for not learning successfully

beginning in the first years of schooling.




Although potential for learning may be assessed at a very early age in the child who is gifted or talented, learning aptitude may also be evaluated in the general population during the preschool and primary school years. Educators wish to deter- mine children’s learning abilities and needs, as well as the types of programs that will be most beneficial for them. Informal strategies and formal tests are used with individual children and groups of children to assess what and how much they have

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

Combating Limitations in Vocabulary and Concept Development

M icah, who is 4 years old, is the sixth child in a family of seven children. Both of hisparents work, and he and his younger brother are cared for by a grandmother during the day. Although Micah’s parents are warm and loving, their combined income is

barely enough to provide the basic necessities for the family. They are unable to buy

books and toys that will enhance Micah’s development. Because the family rarely travels

outside the immediate neighborhood, Micah has had few experiences that would broaden

his knowledge of the larger community.

Fortunately, Micah’s family lives in a state that provides a program for 4-year-old

children who can benefit from a prekindergarten class that stresses language and

cognitive development. The program serves all children who come from low-income

homes or who exhibit language or cognitive delay.

In response to a letter sent by the school district, Micah’s grandmother took him to

the school to be tested for the program. Micah’s performance on the test showed that he

uses a limited expressive vocabulary and lacks many basic concepts. When school begins

in late August, Micah will start school with his older brothers and sisters and will be

enrolled in the prekindergarten class.

Micah will have the opportunity to play with puzzles, construction toys, and other

manipulative objects that will facilitate his cognitive development. Stories will be read and

discussed each day, and Micah will be able to look at a variety of books. Micah’s teacher

will introduce learning experiences that will allow Micah to learn about shapes, colors,

numbers, and many other concepts that will provide a foundation for learning in the

elementary school grades.

Micah will also travel with his classmates to visit places that will help him learn about

the community. They may visit a furniture or grocery store or a bread factory. Visitors to

the classroom will add to the students’ knowledge about occupations and cultures

represented in the community. The children will have opportunities to paint, participate in

cooking experiences, and talk about the new things they are learning. They will dictate

stories about their experiences and learn many songs and games. When Micah enters

kindergarten the following year, he will use the knowledge and language he learned in

prekindergarten to help him to learn successfully along with his 5-year-old peers.




already learned and to evaluate weak areas that can be given special attention. Informal and formal strategies are also used to evaluate the success of programs that serve children, as well as provide indicators for how programs can be improved.

D e v e l o p i n g a C o m p r e h e n s i v e S y s t e m o f A s s e s s m e n t

If measurement and evaluation of infants and young children were to follow the criteria for assessment in a new century, a system for assessment should be developed. The com- bination of measurement methods used will depend on the uses for the system, but, overall, many of the components to be described will be included in any plan for evalu- ation. Using a comprehensive system of assessment involves planning. Not only do teachers need to understand what strategies and tools are available and how to use them, but they also need to have a plan for conducting assessments (Bowers, 2008; National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2005). There are many types of assessment systems. Chapters 9 and 10 describe some systems that are currently used in early childhood programs. All systems use most of the options described next.

Components of an Assessment System Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are designed to measure individual characteristics. The tests may be administered to an individual or to a group. The purpose of standardized tests is to measure abilities, achievements, aptitudes, interests, attitudes, values, and per- sonality characteristics. The results can be used to plan instruction, to study differences between individuals and groups, and for counseling and guidance.

Classroom Assessment Strategies

Standardized tests are not the only tools available for evaluation and assessment. Various types of informal instruments and strategies to determine development and learning are available as well.

School districts often use informal tests or evaluation strategies developed by local teachers or staff members. In early childhood programs, an informal screening test may be administered to preschool children at registration to determine their instructional needs. Likewise, the speech teacher may use a simple screening instru- ment to evaluate the child’s language development or possible speech difficulties.

Observation. One of the most valuable ways to become aware of the individual characteristics of young children is through observation. Developmental indicators in early childhood are more likely to be noted from children’s behavior in natural circumstances than from a designed assessment or instrument. Adults who observe children as they play and work in individual or group activities are able to determine progress in all categories of development (Segal & Webber, 1996). The child who

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed




shows evidence of emerging prosocial skills by playing successfully in the play- ground is demonstrating significant growth in social development. Children who struggle to balance materials on both sides of a balance scale demonstrate visible signs of cognitive growth. Physical development can be evaluated by observing chil- dren using playground equipment. Because young children learn best through active involvement with their environment, evaluation of learning may be assessed most appropriately by observing the child during periods of activity. Observation records can be used to plan instruction, to report progress in various areas of devel- opment, and to track progress in mastery of preschool curriculum objectives.

Teacher-Designed Measures. Teachers have always used tests that they have devised to measure the level of learning after instruction. Early childhood teachers are more likely to use concrete tasks or oral questions for informal assessment with young children. Teachers frequently incorporate evaluation with instruction or learning experiences. Activities and games can be used both to teach and to evaluate what the child has learned. Evaluation can also be conducted through learning centers or as part of a teacher-directed lesson. Although pencil-and-paper tests are also a teacher-designed measure, they should not be used until children are comfortable with reading and writing.

Checklists. Developmental checklists or other forms of learning objective sequences are used at all levels of preschool, elementary, and secondary schools. Often referred to as a scope, or sequence of skills, a checklist is a list of the learn- ing objectives established for areas of learning and development at a particular age, grade level, or content area. Many checklists are standardized, while others are locally developed by a teacher or school district and are not standardized.

Skills continuums are available from many sources. The teacher may construct one, or a school district may distribute checklists for each grade level. Educational

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

Observation is part of an assessment system. Scott Cunningham/Merrill




textbook publishers frequently include a skills continuum for teachers to use as an instructional guide with the textbook they have selected. State education agencies now publish objectives to be used by all school districts in the state.

Rating Scales. Rating scales are similar to checklists. They contain criteria for measurement that can be based on learning objectives or other factors. The major difference between checklists and rating scales is that rating scales provide for mea- surement on a continuum. Checklist items are rated with a negative or positive response. Rating scales can be used for many purposes when a range of criteria is needed to acquire accurate information.

Rubrics. Rubrics have been developed to evaluate authentic and performance assessments. They include a range of criteria like rating scales, but have indicators that can be used to determine quality of performance or to assign a grade. Rubrics are used most frequently with portfolio assessment, but are appropriate for perfor- mance assessment that is not part of a portfolio.

Performance and Portfolio Assessments. Additional forms of informal assessments focus on more meaningful types of evaluation of student learning. Sometimes called performance assessments or authentic assessments (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1993; Wiggins, 1993), these evaluation measures use strategies that permit the child to demonstrate his or her understanding of a concept or mastery of a skill. The evalua- tion might take the form of a teacher-directed interview in which a dialogue with the child would reveal the child’s thinking and understanding. Other procedures might include games, directed assignments, or activities related to a project.

Processes for reporting student progress related to outcome-based or authentic assessments are also intended to communicate learning and development from a meaningful perspective. Traditional report cards and standardized test results do not necessarily reflect the student’s progress accurately. Portfolios with samples of the student’s work are one type of reporting of progress that is compatible with outcome-based assessment. A detailed narrative or narrative report of the student’s progress developed by the teacher is another process that enables the teacher to describe the nature of the child’s activities that have resulted in achievement and learning.

Technology-Based Assessments. Early childhood educators in the 21st century have access to computers and assessments that are available through technology. One source of technological assessment is assessment software. Assessments from computer software can be an adaptation of paper-based assessments, such as reading or mathematics checklists, or assessments that are linked to a specific curriculum. Other software can be acquired that permits the design of activities and lesson plans or continuous revision of assessment tools.

Assessment resources are also available on the Internet. Electronic management of learning (EML) makes it possible to collect, analyze, and report progress in children’s learning that can then be used to document learning outcomes and plan for subsequent learning objectives and activities. This type of assessment management uses Web pages. Through EML, parents, teachers, and administrators can access information about children’s learning and assessment-based curriculum planning (Feld & Bergan, 2002).

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed




U s i n g A s s e s s m e n t R e s u l t s Earlier in the chapter, we discussed the kinds of assessments that are needed for a new century. Components of a comprehensive system of evaluation were described. Now we can summarize how and when the system of assessment should be used. The discussion will relate to preschool and primary-grade children rather than infants and toddlers. In keeping with the premise that assessment should benefit the child and improve learning, three primary purposes for comprehensive assess- ment throughout the year can be reviewed: planning for instruction, reporting progress, and evaluating the instructional program continuously from the begin- ning until the end of the school term.

Using Assessment Results to Plan for Instruction If assessments should benefit the child, then assessments in preschool and primary-grade settings should be linked to learning experiences and instruction. If they are to be fair for all children and authentic, they include all types of strategies that provide a comprehensive picture of each child’s progress and needs. The teacher selects the assessment methods that are relevant to the information needed and uses the results in planning for curriculum and instruction. This assumes that the teacher is concerned with individual rates of development and learning and is prepared to address individual differences. The learning activities that are available in the classroom and through teacher instruction reflect not only curriculum goals established by the school, but also how each child can best achieve these goals.

Using Assessment Results to Report Progress The limitations of report cards were discussed earlier in relationship to the broader information provided by performance assessments. Just as we need multiple assess- ment strategies to assess young children, these assessment strategies should be used to report how the child has developed and what has been learned. If the assessment system is comprehensive, the method to report the child’s progress should also be comprehensive and provide many examples of how the child demonstrated growth and achievement. Parents receive limited information from reports that rate a child average, above average, or below average in preschool settings. Likewise, a report that indicates that the child’s progress is satisfactory or unsatisfactory tells little about the child’s learning experiences and accomplishments. Rather than a snapshot of progress, a comprehensive picture of the child should be conveyed in the progress report, regardless of whether the child is in preschool or in the primary grades.

Using Assessment Results to Evaluate the Instructional Program The assessment process includes evaluation of the effectiveness of the teacher’s instruction and the activities and materials used with children. The teacher uses assessment information to determine whether instructional strategies were

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed




successful for children to learn new concepts and skills or whether new approaches are needed. The teacher might ask the following questions about the success of instruction: Were the children interested and engaged in the materials or activities? Did the children demonstrate a deeper understanding of concepts as a result of an instructional activity? Was the activity the right length of time? Too short? Too long? What changes might be made to improve the effectiveness of the activity?

With this type of evaluative reflection, the teacher demonstrates that assessment should focus not on student achievement but rather on how well students are progressing and the role that the quality of instruction has on this progress. If some students need additional opportunities to learn information and skills, the teacher considers how more varied activities might accomplish the goal. Should the con- cepts be incorporated into different types of activities, or should they become a part of a continuum that includes a new direction or focus? Young children need many opportunities to learn new skills, and encountering concepts in new contexts pro- vides meaningful routes to understanding and the ability to use what is being learned.

Environmental Assessment When assessment of the instructional program is discussed, child progress is part of the purpose; nevertheless, the teacher is also being evaluated. Assessment of the envi- ronment also informs how well the instructional program serves young children. Both the indoor and outdoor environments can be evaluated. The Environmental Rating Scales (ECERS) are used to assess elements of the indoor environment as well as how teachers function in the environment. The Early Childhood Rating Scale, Revised Edition (Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 2005) and Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale, Revised Edition (Harms, Cryer, & Clifford, 2006) are representative of appropriate environmental assessments. Teachers College Press has print copies of the scales, while Branagh Information Group holds the electronic rights to the scales (ERS Data System, 2009).

The Playground Checklist (Frost, 2007) provides for the evaluation of the outdoor environment. The checklist contains sections that address what the playground contains, the condition of the playground, how the playground and playground leader function, and how the playground and/or playground leader should function. The Playground Checklist can be located in Play and Child Development (Frost, Wortham, & Reifel, 2008).

A s s e s s m e n t o f Y o u n g C h i l d r e n : T h e P r o c e s s

We proposed earlier that assessment occurs throughout the school year. In this section, we will describe how a process of assessment proceeds from the beginning of the school year until the final evaluation at the end of the year. Ongoing assess- ment is complemented by periodic assessment for reporting periods.

How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed




How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

Preassessment At the Beginning of the Year

Each year, when a teacher receives a new group of students, the first task is to learn about individual differences and determine each child’s current developmental level. Young children have uneven rates of development. Each domain in development— physical, social, cognitive, and language—develops differently within and between children. Development occurs in spurts and may lag for a period of time. The teacher might use observation, checklists, and discussions with the child and parents to determine each child’s current status. This initial evaluation provides the teacher with a starting place for planning learning experiences and activities. This step in the assessment process is also called preassessment because the teacher is conducting assessment prior to planning curriculum based on individual needs.

Throughout the Year

The teacher uses preassessment whenever a new cycle of learning is initiated. For example, if a teacher is planning for a new unit of study with students, a preassess- ment might be conducted to find out what children already know about the topic. If the teacher has taught all of the shapes and now wants to use them all together, a group preassessment might be conducted to determine if the children are still famil- iar with the individual shapes.

Ongoing Assessment Ongoing assessment is conducted almost continuously throughout the year. In the course of group lessons, activities in learning centers, and observation of play, the teacher notes the child’s progress or difficulties that might be impeding progress. Notation of this information is made in anecdotal records or some other type of record-keeping system so that the information can be used for planning.

The process of ongoing evaluation can also use formative assessment and summative assessment. Formative assessments are the strategies the teacher uses to monitor a child’s progress in mastery of information or skills during a series of learning activities. Summative assessment is used at the end of a cycle of instruc- tional experiences to confirm mastery of information or skills.

Formative assessment is used during instructional periods to monitor how chil- dren are progressing and serves as a planning tool based on individual children’s needs. Summative assessment assures the teacher that the children understand the concept being taught and can move on to the next stage of instruction. These two types of assessments will be explained further in chapter 7.

Assessment at the End of Reporting Periods Generally, at the end of a period of several weeks, teachers are asked to evaluate a child’s progress and accomplishments. At this time, the teacher might record the child’s progress for the period of time, as well as plans for the child in the next




How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

reporting period. Because some type of report, either oral or written, is made to par- ents at the end of the reporting period, the teacher might include documentation of the child’s work and/or a written summary of progress. In addition to observing the child, the teacher might use specific tasks to document acquisition of a concept or skill. The teacher might interview the child to determine how the child perceives and uses information introduced in classroom activities. In addition, the child might have the opportunity to self-evaluate, and parents can describe their observa- tions of the child’s progress.

Assessment at the End of the School Year The most complete assessment and reporting of progress is conducted at the end of the school year. At this time, the teacher needs to summarize the child’s progress for all the reporting periods. In some settings, this summarization occurs at a midpoint in the year, as well as at the end of the year. A variety of strategies might be used to determine progress, including teacher-designed assessments in different content areas, standardized achievement tests, student self-evaluation, and a written narrative of the student’s accomplishments. As will be discussed in later chapters, a variety of possibilities exists to document what the student has accomplished during the year. In many school districts, this summative information is passed on to the next teacher to help in the initial assessment at the beginning of the next school year.

Addressing and Assessing for Standards

Chapter 1 included information on the impact of NCLB on early childhood educa- tion and the controversy between early childhood specialists and standardized test- ing requirements for Head Start programs. This chapter has focused on how infants and young children should be assessed and for what purposes. In this section of the chapter we will examine the impact of organizational, state, and national standards of the assessment of children in the early childhood years, particularly in the preschool years.

Evolution of Early Education Standards

Until the last 10 years, the focus on learning and assessment with young children has been on appropriate kinds of assessment. The movement to establish standards was part of a national effort to improve American public schools in the latter decades of the 20th century. The first standards were developed by content-area organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the National Center for History in the Schools (NCHS), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) (see chapter 1). By the mid-1990s, standards had been published for all of the fields of education taught in elementary and secondary schools (Gronlund, 2006; Seefeldt, 2005). The purpose of the standards is to pro- vide clarity for curriculum content, to raise expectations for student learning, and to ensure accountability, as required by NCLB.

When states entered the work of establishing standards, kindergarten and other school-based pre-primary programs were included. Because each state developed its own standards, each is different. In addition, the quality of the standards varies




How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

Assessing for Standards in Indiana

A university professor in Indiana was prepared to teach a graduate class in authenticassessment. She had planned to talk with the students about how authentic assessment could be incorporated into assessments for meeting state standards. The

students responded eagerly to the exchange of ideas for assessment; however, they

informed the professor that they had been given worksheet-formatted tests on which the

students could fill in a circle next to the correct answer. These were the primary tools to

assess reading and math standards in kindergarten.

Source: Cress, S. W. (2004, October). Assessing standards in the “real” kindergarten classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32, 95–99.

from state to state (Scott-Little, Kagan, & Frelow, 2006). The state standards became the structure for accountability required by NCLB.

In the early years of standards development, educators of preschool children were not included in the standards movement. Standards were considered difficult to establish because of the wide age range and diversity of preschool programs. In addition, early childhood programs were sponsored by different types of organiza- tions and functioned differently from public schools. The philosophy of learning can be different between early childhood teachers and elementary school teachers (Seefeldt, 2005).

Most states have developed standards for preschool children. A few states have developed standards for infant and toddler programs. The standards have become the curriculum framework for preschool programs, particularly publicly funded programs. There are important benefits to having and addressing early learning standards. First, they encourage educators to understand the learning potential in the infant, toddler, and preschool child and help develop quality early childhood programs. Second, they establish definite expectations for preschool children of different ages and provide guidelines for communication of children’s accomplishments. Third, they provide for the requirements for ac- countability for the children’s development and achievement as well as program quality (Gronlund, 2006).

Challenges When Assessing Young Children to Meet Standards

How do early educators address the assessment of young children to meet expec- tations and accountability in state standards? Are the principles for appropriate assessment described in this chapter compatible with the assessments needed for early learning standards? They can be, but teachers face challenges in answering the call for greater accountability and the emphasis on achievement of skills (Oliver & Klugman, 2006). Standards require teachers to be more intentional in how they assess young children. In their planning for teaching and assessment, they need to make the link between the learning experiences and the standards




How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

very clear. Standards will need to be integrated into the existing curriculum and assessments that are proven to be of high quality for young children. Otherwise, they might find themselves narrowing the curriculum, depending on direct teaching, and using inappropriate testing methods (Cress, 2004; Gronlund, 2006; Oliver & Klugman, 2006).

G u i d e l i n e s f o r W o r k i n g W i t h Y o u n g C h i l d r e n i n a n A s s e s s m e n t S e t t i n g

When teachers and other professionals conduct assessments with infants and young children, they need to be sensitive to the special requirements of working with very young children. They also need to be constantly aware of professional ethics that are necessary when conducting assessments with all children. Confidentiality of information acquired through assessment should be used when working with assessment results. Parents should be included in understanding assessment results and should understand the reasons for the assessment (Darragh, 2009). Young children have very short attention spans and are easily distracted. Administrators of assessment instruments and other strategies will ben- efit from the following guidelines:

1. Contact the home for parental permission to conduct the assessment. 2. Have all materials ready before the assessment session and review procedures

for administering the assessment before the child arrives. 3. If possible, be sure that the child is familiar with the environment when con-

ducting an assessment. For very young children, the session might need to be conducted in their homes. For assessments administered to children entering a group setting, results will be more accurate if the child has been given time to adjust to the school setting. The test administrator should also be familiar to the child.

4. Before beginning the assessment session, develop rapport with the child. Engage the child in a conversation or introduce a toy before the session begins. Once the child seems comfortable, the first assessment tasks can begin.

5. Be alert to signs of fatigue or behaviors that indicate that the child is no longer responding to assessment tasks. Take a brief break or remind the child how to respond to tasks before resuming the session.

6. Use assessment time efficiently. The child should not be hurried, but assess- ment tasks should be administered with little lag in time while the child is alert and attentive.

7. Consider adaptations that might be needed for children with disabilities. Be knowledgeable about how tasks might be adapted within requirements for how standardized tests should be administered. If alternative procedures can be used, permit the child to respond differently to a test item. Caution must be used, however, not to change the intent of the item or the type of response that is appropriate as well as correct.




How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

S u m m a r y We need to be able to evaluate the growth and development of young children for various purposes. Specialists who work with children from various perspectives have devised formal and informal assessments that can be used with newborns, as well as later in the early childhood years. Members of the medical profession, psycholo- gists, educators, and parents all want to know whether the young child is developing at a normal rate. If development deviates from acceptable progress in some way, tests and other evaluation strategies are available to study the child and to help devise early intervention measures that can minimize or eliminate the developmental problem.

As we work with young children in a new century, we need to consider how the available assessment methods are best used. In view of the many concerns and issues about testing young children, assessment should focus on meeting the child’s developmental and learning needs. We should take advantage of the many assess- ment strategies available but, at the same time, be sure that we understand the pur- poses, strengths, and limitations of each type when including them in a system for comprehensive evaluation and reporting. All assessments should have a meaningful purpose and method and be related to the child’s development and learning. The assessments used to report progress should also be meaningful to parents and other adults who need to understand the child’s profile of progress and learning needs. The assessment process should include the child and the child’s parents if the process is to be the most comprehensive and informative.

In the next eight chapters, each component of a comprehensive evaluation sys- tem will be discussed, beginning with standardized tests. Informal methods will then be discussed, with portfolio assessment serving as a model for the desired com- prehensive assessment plan that will best benefit the young child.

Assessing Aggie’s Knowledge of Concepts

A ggie is 6 years old and entering first grade in an inclusion class. All the children areadministered a test of basic concepts that requires the child to mark the correct answer for three pictures given to identify the concept asked for by the teacher. Because

Aggie’s physical limitations have affected her fine-motor development, she is unable to

hold a pencil or crayon or to make a mark on the test. Instead, her teacher conducts the

test orally and asks Aggie to indicate which of the three pictures is the correct answer.

Aggie can point with some difficulty, so the teacher exposes only one row of pictures at a

time and asks Aggie to point to the picture that matches the concept she has described.




How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed

assessment software authentic assessment developmental checklist directed assignment electronic management of learning (EML) formative assessment informal test interview learning disability narrative report neonatologist

obstetrician pediatrician performance assessment portfolio preassessment rating scale rubric scope (sequence of skills) standardized test summative assessment


1. What should be the purposes for assessing young children?

2. Who are the professionals who test young children? 3. How can a young child’s development be

atypical? Give examples. 4. Why are infant neonatal scales administered?

Infant development scales? 5. What is the purpose of preschool intelligence tests? 6. How are adaptive scales used? Give examples. 7. Why do schools administer tests to preschool

children? Describe the purposes. 8. How do schools use group achievement tests?

State education agencies? National agencies? 9. How are informal measures different from

psychological or standardized tests?

10. Why is observation an important evaluation method to use with young children?

11. How do performance assessments differ from other types of informal assessment? What should performance assessments reflect?

12. What is a comprehensive assessment system? How is it used for instruction and reporting progress?

13. Why is a comprehensive assessment system better than more traditional reporting methods?

14. How is assessment used throughout the school year? Describe different purposes for assessment at the beginning of the school year, at the end of reporting periods, and at the end of the school year.


1. Examine a test for infants and a test for primary-grade children discussed in this chapter. Describe the similarities and differences between the two measures. Discuss how the tests reflect the developmental level of the children. What are the unique characteristics of each test?

2. Conduct an interview with a preschool teacher and a primary-grade teacher. Find out what kinds of standardized tests are administered in the

classroom and what types of informal assessment strategies the teacher uses. Write a report summa- rizing the types of assessments used by the two teachers.

3. Study the purposes of assessment presented in Figure 2-1. Four purposes are listed. Discuss how the assessments change from preschool to primary school. Contrast the differences you find for each purpose.





How Infants and Young Children Should Be Assessed


National Institute for Early Education Research

Child Care Exchange

Education Week


Apgar, V. (1975). A proposal for a new method of evaluation of a newborn infant. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 32, 260–267.

Barrera, I. (1996). Thoughts on the assessment of young children whose sociocultural background is unfamiliar to the assessor. In S. J. Meisels & E. Fenichel (Eds.), New visions for the developmental assessment of infants and young children (pp. 69–84). Washington, DC: Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families.

Bowers, F. B. (2008, November/December). Developing a child assessment plan: An integral part of program quality. Exchange, pp. 51–55.

Copple, C, & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.). (2009). Developmentally appropriate practices in early child- hood programs (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Cress, S. W. (2004, October). Assessing standards in the “real” kindergarten classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32, 95–99.

Darragh, J. (2009, May/June). Informal assessment as a tool for supporting parent partnerships. Exchange, pp. 91–93.

Epstein, A. S., Schweinhart, L. J., DeBruin-Parecki, & Robin, K. B. (2004, July). Preschool assessment: A guide to developing a balanced approach. National Institute for Early Education Research. Retrieved August 11, 2009, from policybriefs/7.pdf

ERS Data System. (2009). Software for the Environment Rating Scales. Retrieved August 11, 2009, from gelid=CNS

Feld, J. K., & Bergan, K. S. (2002). Assessment tools in the 21st century. Child Care Information Exchange, 146, 62–66.

Frost, J. L., Wortham, S. C., & Reifel, S. (2008). Play and child development (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Genishi, C., & Dyson, A. H. (2009). Children, language, and literacy. New York: Teachers College Press.

Goodwin, W. L., & Goodwin, L. D. (1993). Young children and measurement: Standardized and nonstandardized instruments in early childhood education. In B. Spodek (Ed.), Handbook of research on the education of young children (pp. 441–463). New York: Macmillan.

Greenspan, S. I., Meisels, S. J., & the Zero to Three Work Group on Developmental Assessment. (1996). Toward a new vision for the developmental assessment of infants and young children. In S. J. Meisels & E. Fenichel (Eds.), New visions for the developmental assessment of infants and young children (pp. 11–26). Washington, DC: Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families.

Gronlund, G. (2006). Make early learning standards come alive: Connecting your practice and curriculum to state guidelines. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

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