Action Steps and Orientation

A1. Create and maintain an observation system to document the development of children age 0–2, including language and pre-literacy development.

A2. Create and maintain an observation and assessment system to document the development of children age 3–5, including language and pre-literacy development.

During this lesson, you and your team will continue planning a systematic approach to observation and assessment with infants, toddlers, and preschool children. As in Lesson 1, this lesson of the Assessment module will focus on Action Steps A1 and A2, which address the observation and assessment systems for children age 0–2 (A1) and 3–5 (A2). These Action Steps are parallel and emphasize the need for observation and assessment that is developmentally appropriate for children at different ages.

Part 1 of this lesson guides you and your site/campus-based leadership team in reviewing and selecting appropriate tools as part of your observation and assessment system for infants, toddlers, and children age 3–5.

In Part 2, your site/campus-based leadership team will learn about the major steps to consider when establishing and maintaining an observation and assessment plan for infants, toddlers, and children age 3–5.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Steps for this lesson. Examine the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—Identifying and Selecting Assessment Tools

As part of your site's implementation of Action Steps A1 and A2, you and your team will engage in the important task of reviewing and selecting assessment tools. These Indicators speak to this task:

Review and select appropriate, user-friendly observation tool(s) to document the progress of children age 0–2. (A1)

Identify tools to measure language and pre-literacy skills that predict later reading and writing success, such as phonological awareness, alphabet writing, and print knowledge. Ensure all tools are reliable and age appropriate. (A2)

To address these Indicators, you and your team will likely need to review the tools currently in use, select additional tools for your assessment system, and/or refine your assessment system so that it is valid, reliable, and developmentally appropriate. Part 1 of this lesson will guide you in completing these steps.

What tools may be considered for your assessment system?

An assessment system best serves infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children when it is ongoing and uses a variety of types of assessment tools. When assessment is ongoing, instructional staff can continuously respond to children's evolving needs and provide meaningful, differentiated instruction to each child. Differentiated instruction is tailored to the strengths and needs of an individual child. When multiple types of assessment are used, stakeholders (e.g., instructional staff, families, specialists) can get the most valid and accurate picture of children's abilities and needs. This section describes the types of assessment tools you may consider as part of your assessment system.

Tools for collecting and sharing information between site instructional staff and families

As described in Lesson 1, a strong collaboration between instructional staff and families is important because it helps instructional staff understand the learning and development of the infants, toddlers, and preschoolers they serve. The knowledge that instructional staff develop from meaningful relationships with families can guide teaching and learning in powerful ways. As part of your assessment system, you may want to consider tools that can aid in the sharing of information between site instructional staff and families.

To begin, family questionnaires are tools that can help instructional staff learn about the child's temperament, language at home, preferences, fears, family events, and developmental skills. Having this background information can help instructional staff know more about individual children and give meaningful and differentiated support. To collect this background family information, you can use a form like this sample family questionnaire or enter "Child Assessment Form 7293" in the search field of the Texas Department of Families and Protective Services website to access a downloadable form.

Another valuable tool is a thoughtfully designed daily communication log that parents and families complete each morning. This log might request information from families, such as whether the child slept well the night before, the child's general mood that day (e.g., fearful, playful), or the child's general health. In turn, your instructional staff will want to provide similar information to parents and families on a daily basis. If you are in a licensed center in the state of Texas, one requirement for the infants' rooms is a daily report prepared for and presented to parents and families. This report includes information about the child's day and is a Minimum Licensing Standard (746.2431, Subchapter H – basic care requirements for infants). The form should have basic observational information that can be completed quickly and sent home daily to support regular communication between instructional staff and families. Here is a sample form for a daily report.

Finally, family conferences can be a valuable format for communicating and collaborating with families about children's learning and development. When scheduling these conferences, you and your instructional staff will need to offer flexible options because working parents and families often have busy schedules. During these meetings, instructional staff can share information about children's growth and learning. They can also gather meaningful information about the family's goals and expectations, as well as the child's home and community experiences, language and cultural background, and interests. This information can be used with other data collected about children's learning to create a holistic picture of the child and how he or she is developing over time.

Planning ongoing opportunities for teachers to build strong parent and family partnerships will encourage open and productive conversations. The tools described in this section will provide the structure for these ongoing opportunities and can provide valuable data to instructional staff as they get to know each individual child and plan care and learning opportunities.

Tools and techniques for observing and documenting children's learning and development

As part of your observation system, you may incorporate a variety of tools that enhance the type and quality of information teachers collect on each child. You and your team will need to decide which of the critical domains of learning and development will be systematically observed. You will need to provide your teachers with opportunities to gain deep understanding of these areas. You will also need to give teachers a consistent way of documenting what they observe. For example, instructional staff may use an observation template that is organized by child's name and date, with space for recording the child's activities in the various domains.

You may also include a space for "setting goals" for each child, based on his or her current stage of development, and plan accordingly for next steps in learning, like in this sample blank template and this completed template. You and your instructional staff can create an observation checklist by compiling developmental milestones into a checklist format. Various milestones can be found in the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines, the Center for Disease Control website, the ZERO TO THREE website, and other sites targeting child development.

In addition, you and your instructional staff may use other forms of documentation to help different stakeholders (e.g., instructional staff, administrators, families) understand how and what children are learning. Some documentation tools include photographs of children at work on a task, portfolios of children's work or activities, and instructional staff journals about a class event, experience, or skill development. When learning is well documented, this information provides valuable insights into children's development and can "drive curriculum and collaboration in the early childhood classroom setting" (Seitz, 2008, p. 88). More details about these types of tools are described in the articles in the To Learn More section at the end of Part 2.

Formal assessment tools

As you and your team review the current formal assessment tools used at your site, or as you consider integrating new formal assessment tools into your system, it is important to keep in mind the foundational elements of assessment. First, you and your team will want to review all formal assessments used and address any issues about validity and reliability relevant to each tool. Second, it is important to consider whether each assessment is developmentally appropriate, as well as if the tool is appropriate for children who speak languages other than English. (See Lesson 1—A1 and A2: Observation and assessment for more information about these elements).

Two types of formal assessment tools are developmental scales/checklists and screeners. Developmental scales and checklists can be used to monitor children's progress in different areas of learning and can help instructional staff "collaborate with families, celebrate new milestones, and plan appropriate and challenging learning experiences for individual children" (Eliker & McMullen, 2013, p. 22). Formal scales are usually criterion referenced. This means they measure children's development against a fixed set of expectations of what they are supposed to be able to do at different ages and stages.

Screening assessments are formal, standardized tools designed to "identify at an early point which children may have learning problems or disabilities that could keep them from realizing their potential" (Meisels & Atkins-Burnett, 2005, p. 1). Your site may use screeners for many purposes. Health, hearing, and vision screening may be provided at your site to identify specific medical issues. Also, there are screeners for language, motor development, and social-emotional development. For further guidance in evaluating and selecting appropriate screeners for pre-literacy skills, see Sharon Ringwalt's "Developmental Screening and Assessment Instruments" and "Screening for Reading Problems in Preschool and Kindergarten: An Overview of Select Measures," available on the RTI (Response to Intervention) Action Network site. Lesson 4—A4: Special learning needs provides information and guidance on sharing information with families and specialists to support the identification of delays and special learning needs.

When selecting formal assessments, you and your team should always consider what is developmentally appropriate for the children in your care. Resources that can guide you in selecting valid assessment instruments designed for use with children under the age of 3 include Kisker and colleagues' Resources for Measuring Services and Outcomes in Head Start Programs Serving Infants and Toddlers and the Infant/Toddler Development, Screening, and Assessment module provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Child Care Administration for Families (available at the link listed in the To Learn More section below). Before you select and use structured assessment for infants and toddlers, you want to ensure that the skills measured match the goals and mission of your early childhood center.

Formal assessment tools are more common in the assessment of children age 3–5 as they begin to develop more language and pre-literacy skills. These tools can be helpful in identifying, at an early stage, children who are showing learning delays or may be in need of specialized support. There are formal assessment tools available for prekindergarten. One example is the CIRCLE Progress Monitoring System (formerly known as C-PALLS+). This assessment has been widely used to help prekindergarten instructional staff determine the early literacy knowledge of a child, including letter knowledge, vocabulary, and phonological awareness skills. These three pre-literacy skills are important foundational skills to support the child's later literacy skills. They should be assessed over the school year so that instructional staff can continuously evaluate how successful they are in helping all the prekindergarten children prepare for kindergarten. The CIRCLE Progress Monitoring System is given three times a year, and the resulting data can indicate weak and strong areas of development for the children. Keep in mind that there are other formal assessment tools you may use for children age 3–5. The resources provided in this section, as well as those in the To Learn More section, can provide guidance in selecting tools.

Choosing the right tools is not always an easy or straightforward process. As site leaders, you will need to have a strong understanding of which tools are currently being used in your program, which new ones could be added, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. In Part 2 of this lesson, you will learn about some steps you can take to implement your assessment plan once you and your team have finalized decisions about the tools you will use.

Part 2—Creating and Maintaining a Successful Assessment System

Once you have made your final decisions about the tools you will use, you may need to make sure you have key systems in place for implementing your assessment plan. The indicators of Action Steps A1 and A2 ask you to accurately identify instructional staff's professional learning needs and create a plan for addressing those needs. Also, you and your team will need to establish and communicate a timeline for assessment administration, as well as a system for organizing and maintaining all of the information collected from assessment tools.

Professional development on assessment

You and your team will need to determine instructional staff's professional development needs and plan professional learning opportunities. You may want to use a survey like this sample one to assess staff's learning needs in the area of assessment. As you learned in Lesson 1, instructional staff will need to understand the purpose of observation and know effective techniques for systematically observing children and recording information. Further, your instructional staff will need a strong understanding of each assessment tool used at your site, how to administer it reliably, and how to interpret the data that come from the tools. For example, your survey or needs assessment may reveal that instructional staff need training and practice on recording information efficiently and accurately on an observation form. Alternatively, they may need training and practice administering and scoring formal assessments such as pre-literacy screeners. Such training is critical because it helps ensure the information you collect is reliable and can help you make the best possible decisions about children's instructional needs. As you provide training, it is helpful to keep a record of which instructional staff members have received training and in which areas, as well as a plan to support new instructional staff as they join the team.

Establishing an assessment schedule and organizing assessment information

After the instructional staff are familiar with the observation and assessment tools, you and your team will need to establish when and how often to conduct assessments. Different assessments will be administered at different times, and some will be administered more often than others

Just as important, your schedule needs to include times for teams to collaboratively discuss the information gathered. Site leaders will want to present instructional staff with a schedule like this basic sample schedule before the school year begins so that all instructional staff members have a clear understanding of what they are expected to do with regard to assessment at specific times throughout the year.

Finally, you and your team will want to think through ways to collect, organize, and manage all the information you collect from assessments. In planning for this, you may want to discuss the following questions with your team:

  • After an assessment is administered, where is the information stored?
  • What is the best way for instructional staff to organize and manage all of the information they collect from observations and other informal tools (e.g., photographs, portfolios)?
  • Is the information from formal assessments easily accessible to instructional staff when they need it, while maintaining appropriate confidentiality of children's records? Do instructional staff know where information from assessments is stored and how to interpret that information?

The following scenario describes the steps that the site/campus-based leadership team at ABC Childcare took to implement an assessment system:

Scenario: After the site/campus-based leadership team members at ABC Childcare reviewed the assessment tools currently used at their site, they decided to implement a new assessment for the children in their care. They wanted an assessment that could guide instruction in the classroom and be shared with parents and families. To begin the process, the team reviewed the article "Appropriate and Meaningful Assessment in Family-Centered Programs" (see the To Learn More section below to access the article). The team then assigned each team member a tool to review and asked each member to create a list of the pros and cons of the tool. As team members listed the pros and cons of their assigned tool, they also considered questions such as these:

Is this assessment similar to one we are already using?

How will the information collected from this assessment help us improve teaching and learning?

Is this assessment appropriate for the age of children we will administer it to?

Is it appropriate for culturally and linguistically diverse children?

The next week, team members met to share their findings. After careful discussion, the team agreed on one of the assessment tools and ordered the assessment. Once it was received, the team reviewed all of the materials extensively so that team members could train other instructional staff on how to administer the assessment reliably. Also, the team discussed how the information from the assessment would be organized and managed.

Once these decisions were made, the team scheduled a professional development session with the full staff at the site. Team members trained instructional staff on how to correctly administer the assessment, and they communicated a timeline for the administration of the assessment and the frequency of future administrations. The team also gave instructions for organizing and storing the information so that instructional staff members could easily access it and use it to guide instruction. Finally, the site/campus-based leadership team communicated expectations for sharing the information with families.

As instructional staff began to implement the assessment and follow the timeline, the leadership team was available to answer questions and give extra support in classrooms so that the assessment could be administered correctly to help ensure the validity of the data.

As you and your staff take steps to implement and gradually improve your observation and assessment system, you will learn more about the children and families you serve. By knowing as much as possible, you will be ready to provide the individualized care and education that children need and families want their children to receive.

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TO LEARN MORE: For more information about observation and assessment for infants, toddlers, and three- to five-year-olds, you may want to review the following resources:

Eliker and McMullen's "Appropriate and Meaningful Assessment in Family-Centered Programs," found on the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website, includes information about different assessment tools educators can use for meaningful assessment. The article also describes the importance of reflecting on assessment information in collaboration with colleagues and families and the use of this information for setting goals and planning for individual children and groups.

The article "Assessment in Early Childhood" by Gillis, West, and Coleman is available on the Get Ready to Read! website. The article provides educators with basic background information and a general overview of national standards for assessment, universal screening, progress monitoring, observation in naturalistic settings, and the use of teacher ratings to identify children at risk.

"NAEYC Position Statements on Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation" is available at the NAEYC website. You can download PDF versions of various position statements on assessment, including assessment of young English learners.

The Infant/Toddler Development, Screening, and Assessment module is provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Child Care. From the ZERO TO THREE home page, enter "Infant/Toddler Development, Screening, and Assessment" in the search box. You can then download the PDF version of the module by clicking on the title.

"The Power of Documentation in the Early Childhood Classroom," by Hilary Seitz, describes how to use documentation of children's learning and development effectively. This article is available for download on the NAEYC website on the Past Issues page. See under June/July 2009, Vol. 2 No. 5.

The article "Screening for Reading Problems in Preschool and Kindergarten: An Overview of Selected Measures" is available on the RTI Action Network site and provides guidance in identifying and selecting appropriate screening assessments for prekindergarten children.

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on where your site/campus-based leadership team is in the process of selecting your assessment tools and establishing your assessment plan, you may want to consider the following next steps:

  • Evaluate current tools/protocols used for assessment and add/remove tools as needed.
  • Create an assessment schedule for infants, toddlers, and children age 3–5.
  • Assess instructional staff needs for professional development on how to use assessment tools.
  • Provide professional development to instructional staff on all selected assessment tools/techniques.


A1. Create and maintain an observation system to document the development of children age 0–2, including language and pre-literacy development.

A2. Create and maintain an observation and assessment system to document the development of children age 3–5, including language and pre-literacy development.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Steps A1 and A2 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings 0-SE

As you complete your assignment with your team, reflect on the key considerations of assessment outlined in this lesson. The resources and information from this lesson's content may be useful to you:

  • Part 1 of this lesson provides information about reviewing and selecting appropriate assessment tools as part of your assessment system for infants, toddlers, and prekindergarten children.
  • Part 2 outlines key components of an observation and assessment plan for infants, toddlers, and children age 3–5.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your site or campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on these Action Steps.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for these Action Steps and follow the instructions.


Elicker, J., & McMullen, M. B. (2013). Appropriate and meaningful assessment in family-centered programs. Young Children, 69(2), 22–27.

Meisels, S.J., & Atkins-Burnett, S. (2005). Developmental screening in early childhood: A guide (5th ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Seitz, H. (2008). The power of documentation in the early childhood classroom. Young Children, 63(2), 88–93.