One of the challenges of early childhood programs is determining which assessment tools will best meet children’s needs and program goals. There are several helpful steps to take as you begin creating a plan for collecting and using data to inform instruction. This lesson will take you through some key steps, and for more detailed information, you can review the Assessment component of the TSLP, which focuses specifically on creating a solid assessment system.
One of the first things to consider is which assessment tools you will use. These tools could include standardized assessments, observational instruments, standardized screening instruments, or developmental checklists. They can be informal or formal assessments.
As you research assessment tools, your team will need to consider the ages and stages of the children you are assessing. For infants and toddlers, many evidence-based screeners and developmental checklists can supply helpful information for planning care and instruction. For preschool children, an array of evidence-based assessment tools, screeners, and observational checklists can provide data to help meet the needs of all children. You will find useful links regarding some of these tools in the To Learn More section.
Another source of information for zero-to-school-age children may be parent/family questionnaires or surveys. These documents can provide your teaching staff with valuable information about the developmental stages, interests, and needs of young children. Staff can also complete a developmental milestone checklist that will help them gather current information about the children in their care.
After your team learns what assessment tools are available and which ones may work for your assessment plan, you will need to evaluate the tools further to determine which ones best fit your program’s vision and needs. You may decide to order one set of each tool that is under consideration to learn more about each specific instrument. Your team might then review the instruments in pairs. When they finish reviewing the possibilities, each pair might report their findings to the whole group. This strategy may allow your team to make an informed decision and determine which tools best meet your program’s goals.
Here is a sample comparison chart that might help you evaluate various assessment tools.
Keep in mind that successful programs include their stakeholders in discussions about program plans, assessment tools, and goals for children. As you choose assessment tools, you may need to plan regularly scheduled meetings with stakeholders who are a part of the educational decision-making team. This step will provide opportunities for you to have a conversation and reflect on your plans with stakeholders. When stakeholders understand your educational plans, they are more likely to provide the support and materials you need. In strong teams in which there is ongoing communication, everyone achieves more.
After you have taken these collaborative steps, you will be ready to decide which tools your program will use for infants, toddlers, and preschool children. This decision will be based on thoughtful reflection, research, and collaboration with your team and stakeholders. You will need several tools in order to fit the needs of each age group. Your next step will be to make your final selection and plan to purchase the selected tools.
An important next step will be to discuss and plan the professional development for staff regarding how to administer the selected screeners or assessment tools. Additionally, you will need to provide professional development to staff on how to use the assessment data to plan instruction to meet children’s needs and goals. Your leadership team might do the following:
Consider available training dates on your school calendar and decide on specific training times.
Locate a qualified trainer and find an appropriate training location.
Plan details for the training and order materials.
Send an announcement about the training to all staff who need to attend the professional development.
Create any handouts for the professional development.
As you take these steps to move your plans forward, this quotation will remind you of why assessment is so important:
“Developmental assessment is a process designed to deepen understanding of a child’s competencies and resources, and of the caregiving and learning environments most likely to help a child make fullest use of his or her developmental potential” (Greenspan & Meisels, 1996, p. 11.i9).
TO LEARN MORE: For more information about developmental screening and assessment tools, the following resources may be helpful:
In the Publications section of the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center website, you can scroll down the page to download the guide “Developmental Screening and Assessment Instruments with an Emphasis on Social and Emotional Development for Young Children Ages Birth through Five.”
Get Ready to Read contains screening tools and resources for early childhood and prekindergarten-age children.
First Signs: Recommended Screening Tools contains reviews of current developmental and behavioral screeners for working with children aged 0–36 months.
First Steps of North Central Indiana: Developmental Checklist contains more information on developmental milestones
NEXT STEPS: Depending on your site/campus-based leadership team’s progress in selecting assessment tools and establishing your assessment plan, you may want to plan a meeting to
review your assessment tools and plans;
brainstorm how and when you will provide the necessary professional development to staff who will be using the tools;
consider details such as timelines and locations for the professional development;
discuss possible assessment windows;
investigate both formal and informal assessment tools and checklists your program might consider using; and
consider ways to share information with families and stakeholders.