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Assessment is an organized way of collecting and measuring information about a particular topic. It plays an integral role in the classroom. Depending on the type utilized, it can yield data that: informs individualized learning goals, shapes classroom instruction, signals the need for further evaluation, or provides suggestions for classroom-wide improvement.
Teaching young children requires a lot of precision. Knowing what to do, when to do it, and generally how to put the pieces together in a way that makes each day full of meaning and opportunity, learning within an emotionally safe space. Teaching is both an art and a craft that can be further honed by continuous learning and reflection cycles.
You may be fortunate enough to have an early childhood coach - either as a separate role or as a part of a position that a director may play. Unlike a sports team or an orchestra conductor, most of your work will not happen in the presence of a coach. There are tools to help you reflect on practices good teachers develop to make children’s learning in your classroom the best experience possible.
There are also means to look at quality at a program-wide level. Tools that look at an entire program are also crucial because greater consistency and quality across all classrooms usually means a better experience for children and families. It can say that the workplace’s quality is high, and employee satisfaction is essential to further opportunities and keep valued staff working together and moving in the same direction.
Depending on any federal, state, or local funding your program receives, you or your program may be required to use specific tools as a part of your requirements. Even if required, it is crucial to go beyond the mindset of “I completed this requirement.” and use both the tool and the data gathered responsibly. Any time that data is collected, you have an ethical responsibility to children to use that data (information) to help improve yourself and the program for the benefit of children’s learning and development.
Included are some common classroom-level and program-level assessments but note this list may not be exhaustive.
Purpose and Big Picture
Ongoing assessment is an essential component of quality early childhood programs. When teachers have detailed knowledge about their student's developmental skill levels, they can more effectively scaffold or differentiate learning. Progress monitoring and assessment, ongoing throughout the year, offer a way to see all aspects of the child’s and class’ developmental and skill growth throughout the year.
You will have an individual relationship with each child, yet it is important to not let that relationship sway your data collection when assessing or using progress monitoring. Remain neutral, with a clear lens. Later, after data collection, you will interpret the results to understand what you have collected.
Types of Assessment and Progress Monitoring
Progress monitoring assessments
Anecdotal Notes - Narrative writing about exactly what is seen as a child is playing or working.
Checklists - A means of noting if a child has completed something, or has a level of skill (e.g., not yet, progressing, mastered).
Screenings - provide a "developmental snapshot" of the child, based upon defined standards. They yield information that helps determine individualized learning objectives and the need for formal evaluation work.
Samples - A child’s work, dated, related to some aspect of development or a standard. Work Samples are sometimes called artifacts, such as a piece of artwork, a photograph of a block structure, a picture, or an audio or video clip.
Using Child-Level Assessment Results
Sometimes, various assessments are required to satisfy a supervisor or a funding source. Regardless of the “why” - when data - any sort of assessment or progress monitoring - is collected on a child, you have an ethical responsibility to maintain confidentiality of individual results AND to use that information to benefit the child. It is important to look at various (multiple) data points to see what story the data tells. This is often called triangulating data. Is the child progressing as expected, experiencing unexpected challenges in one area or another? We do not want to depend upon one data point, as it may or may not be an accurate depiction of the child.
It is important to look at individual child results AND aggregate results (look at the entire class) too. This will help you understand where the class is as a whole, which children may need more support in small groups, or if there is a child struggling that may need a different look to understand them better.
These results should be intentionally used as a part of planning. If reviewing and interpreting data is new to you, don’t worry. Everyone must start somewhere. Practice makes permanence. Ask your director or a more experienced staff person for support too. This is also an advantage of planning in collaboration with other teachers because this opportunity can be a place where assessment results are discussed, confidentially, to increase understanding.
Learning Beyond Paper Progress Monitoring
The LBP Progress Monitoring Tool should be used as described in the Professional Development to understand how children are growing and learning in your classroom. We always want to look at children with a strengths-based perspective - what they CAN do, where their strengths ARE - and build from this. If a child doesn’t have a skill, we frame it as “not yet” - indicating a positive frame of reference (“You can’t do it yet, but you’ll get it. We are going to work on it”).
Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ)
caregiver - or both. For infants and toddlers, ASQ-3 is available for children of the following age in months: 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 30, 33, and 36. The ASQ-3 is currently available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French, and Vietnamese.
A second, dedicated screening tool, Ages and Stages Questionnaires: Social-Emotional, Second Edition (ASQ:SE-2) is available to better understand a child’s social-emotional development in the areas of self- regulation, compliance, social-communication, adaptive functioning, autonomy, affect, and interaction with people. The ASQ:SE-2 is completed by a parent. For infants and toddlers, the ASQ:SE-2 is available based on the following months of age: 2, 6, 12, 18, 24, 30, and 36. It is available in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. It is rated by the parent as “often or always,” “sometimes,” or “rarely or never.”
Both tools can be used as a paper version or online. The tools have been rigorously tested and can help identify a child who may be at risk for developmental delays.
CLASS (Classroom Assessment Scoring System) Tool
The CLASS tool measures caregiver interactions from birth through 12th grade. There are different iterations for various age groups. A caregiver can be in either a home or classroom setting and denotes the process of teachers and caregivers interacting with children, separate from the content taught.
CLASS is essential because it looks at the experienced interactions a child may have throughout the day with all staff in the classroom - it measures the “how” teachers are going about their practice rather than “what” they are teaching. Children learn from those they have a relationship connection to, which amplifies why the “how” is very important to children’s learning. Relationships are the heart of successful interactions that lead to positive development and learning for children.
Using the CLASS tool to understand how well a classroom is interacting, and to drive teachers to improve their interactions, can be an essential step in making a good preschool classroom GREAT. For children, teachers who promote interactions can make each day better for young children’s learning. Higher quality interactions promote greater readiness for kindergarten and better success down the road - fewer repeated grades, higher graduation rates, and more likely to attend college.
The Pre-K CLASS tool is designed for use in preschool classrooms with 3- and 4-year-olds. Organized around three main areas called domains: emotional/behavioral support, classroom organization, and instructional support, each domain has various dimensions that include items looking more precisely at teacher interactions with young children. Each item (42 total), dimension, and the overall score is on a scale from 1 to 7, with scores in the 1-2 range as low, scores in the 3-5 range as middle, and scores of 6-7 as high.
Certain domains and dimensions are easier to score higher on, while others are more challenging to score high on.
Getting Started with CLASS
Your classroom can get started by having a Pre-K CLASS observer come to complete an assessment. The Director often organizes observations, as often a program will have every classroom observed. The assessment will typically take a couple of hours, with the observer carefully watching teachers interact with children throughout the day’s routine and taking some breaks from observation. The observer will take notes while trying to remain neutral (not interacting) with children and teachers.
If you have not taken part in observations much, it can feel a bit nerve-wracking, but try your best to go about your day as naturally as possible. Be yourself. The observer is not looking for perfection from you or your children. Conversely, the observer is looking at how you handle the day and what occurs in a preschool classroom. Your children will notice and react or interact differently than you usually do.
Receiving Your Pre-K CLASS Results
The CLASS observation will generate a rating for each dimension and an overall Pre-K CLASS score for the classroom. If the classroom has more than one teacher, the rating is based on all teachers, as children experience interactions from all teachers in the classroom.
Regardless of the classroom’s rating, it is essential to note that having a starting point - a baseline - is vital to growth. CLASS is about observed practice, not your value. Do not take it personally, even though it can feel personal because teaching is a very personal calling.
You are on a path to improving - all professionals should continue to improve. You need to know where you are so that you can make a plan for where you would like to go - where you would like to grow.
Remember, there are some domains and dimensions that are easier to score higher on, while others are challenging to score high on. Most importantly, though, some small improvements to interactions can have grand changes in children’s outcomes. Keep focusing on how to improve your “how” by taking part in training such as MMCI (Making the Most of Childhood Interactions), or other opportunities available in person or online from Teachstone-approved trainers.
For more information and purchase of materials and professional development, visit the Resources section. Environmental Rating Scales:
Environmental rating scales look at the quality of a group program for a particular age of children. The Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale(R), Third Edition (ECERS-3) is a tool to assess preschool classrooms (ages 3-5).
Like CLASS, ECERS-3 is observational and uses a trained observer. The ECERS-3 includes six areas - subscales that look at a total of 35 items. The subscales are space and furnishings, personal care routines, language, and literacy, learning activities, interaction, and program structure.
The results of the ECERS-3 can give a teacher information about how to improve their program to benefit children’s experience. It can also shed light for a director to better understand the classroom environment and workplace characteristics (e.g., dedicated break room or planning time away from children) that are important to staff longevity.
There are ERS for infant and toddler classrooms, school-age programs, and family childcare homes. Some programs use ERS and CLASS in combination to have a multifocal lens on their program’s quality. More information about environmental rating scales, including the purchase of materials and professional development, can be found here within the Resources section.
Visit the Resources section for additional information on child-level assessments.
Early Childhood Program Accreditation is a way for your program to self-reflect on practices. When ready, an outside entity (reviewer(s)) will evaluate the quality of your program based on its criteria. If your program selects a reputable accreditation, it may attract families and high-quality staff. Program accreditation may also be used in your state to determine funding levels or other criteria related to a local, state, or federal funding stream. If so, the funding stream usually determines the accreditation bodies that it accepts, so be sure the program accreditation your program seeks is on the approved list, if such a list exists.
NAEYC Early Learning Program Accreditation
The NAEYC program accreditation has been around for more than 30 years. There are four stages: enroll and self-study, apply and self-assess, candidate for the site visit, and maintain accreditation. View the Resources section to learn more information on NAEYC’s program accreditation.
Accredited Professional Preschool Learning Environment (APPLE)
APPLE accreditation has existed for more than 20 years and focuses on balancing quality standards and the financial impact of implementing quality standards. There are five steps: enroll, self-study, on-site verification, accreditation, and accreditation continuance.
Visit the Recourses section for more information on Accreditation.
Program-level assessments are important to program-wide reflection and change, viewing cross-classroom inconsistencies, and gathering information from varying sources. A program-level assessment usually follows a periodic basis (e.g., annual, semi-annual) as a way to take a pulse of the program. Some program- level assessments are used in conjunction with one another, or with classroom-level assessments to give a complete picture of how the program as a whole and parts are functioning.
Early Education Essential Survey
The Early Education Essentials Survey, developed by the Ounce of Prevention Fund with the University of Chicago, is a newer tool developed to look at organizational conditions needed to grow quality to a level where the children benefit at the levels research shows are possible. Modeled after an elementary-age tool initially designed around the research on school improvement, the Early Education Essential Survey documents strong research.
This tool surveys teachers/staff as well as parents. The surveys, conducted with the University of Chicago, measure organizational conditions around six components or relational trust: effective instructional leaders, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environment, ambitious instruction, and parent voice. The resulting reports and data-use and improvement tools to make plans for change and improvement over time.
More information about the Early Education Essentials in the Resources Section.
Program Quality Assessments (PQAs):
The Program Quality Assessment (PQA), developed by High Scope, has several iterations (i.e., infant-toddler, preschool, family childcare). PQAs have seven domains to review program quality and teacher strengths: learning environment, daily routine, adult-child interaction, curriculum planning and assessment, parent involvement and family services, staff qualifications and development, and program management.
Visit the Recourses section for more information on Program Level Assessment