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A Guide to the Developmentally Appropriate Assessment of Young Children

Issues associated with assessing the development of young children are related to philosophical differences among educators. Many good assessment tools exist for use in pre-primary and primary grades, and a need exists for information about student progress.

The role of assessment in educational programs for young children
As long as information about student learning is needed, there is a need for assessment. Assessment information answers questions such as: What are students learning well and what will take additional time? What approaches are effective for helping students learn? With so many questions to answer and so many characteristics to monitor, an assessment plan is critical to every instructional program.

Obtaining meaningful and accurate information about young children
Teachers need tools to systematically collect information about young children. Research-based assessment tools provide dependable and useful information about what children are able to do. Unlike parent ratings, teacher ratings tend to have less emotion or bias, and they tend to be based on varied opportunities to observe a child in a learning setting.

Comparisons to the average
Parents depend on information about “normal” progress for such activities as rolling over, sitting up, walking, and talking to understand their child’s development. Comparisons to national averages help to monitor the progress of individuals and to determine the strengths and weakness at various stages of growth.

Appropriate Use of Results
The primary purpose of an assessment of young children is to organize information for teachers to support instructional decisions they need to make about individual children and class groups. As with any source of information, scores from an assessment should not be used alone to make important decisions about individual students.

Assessment scores of young children would be appropriate to use for the following specific purposes:

  • To describe the developmental level of a student in areas related to school learning.
  • To supplement information from other sources about a student’s academic achievement.
  • To describe certain learning-related behaviors of students with special needs or those whose first language is not English.
  • To help identify students who might be at risk due to delayed development.
  • To monitor changes in the developmental level of young children.
  • To provide a baseline for monitoring improvement throughout the year of an individual student or class group.
  • To provide information for planning instructional programs for individuals or groups.
  • To report both initial status and progress to parents.

Inappropriate Use of Assessments
Those who assess young children should be aware of potential misuses or misinterpretations that might be made with the results. Most common misuses relate to depending on the results from a single instrument to make an important decision about a student or group of students. Educators should guard against these types of inappropriate uses of results:

  • To select students for enrollment in academic programs or special services.
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of educational programs.
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of the instruction of a teacher.

Planning for Assessments
What schedules should be considered when using an assessment with young children? When and how often an assessment is completed depends on the uses educators intend to make of the results. The lists below show the main reasons for using an assessment at three time periods during the year.

Reasons to use an assessment early in the year (fall):

  • To obtain baseline information.
  • To obtain information for a fall parent-teacher conference.
  • To document annually the entering status of students across a district or program.
  • To obtain information for immediate instructional planning.
Reasons to use an assessment during the year (midyear):
  • To monitor progress since the fall, especially for individual students.
  • To obtain information for an early spring parent-teacher conference.
  • To obtain information to guide or revise instructional planning.
Reasons to use an assessment late in the year (spring):
  • To document year-end status of student development districtwide or program-wide.
  • To estimate group changes since the fall.
  • To help determine the impact of instructional strategies.
  • To identify needs for summer programs.
  • To obtain information for end-of-year reports to parents.
Linking Results to Instruction
The assessment of young children often focuses on the following skills and behaviors related to the academic school curriculum:
  • General Knowledge
  • Oral Communication
  • Written Language
  • Math Concepts
  • Work Habits
  • Attentive Behavior

Click here to review specific instructional strategies that can be used if your results indicate that students show signs of developmental delay in any of these areas critical to future academic success.

Reprinted with permission by Riverside Publishing, a Houghton Mifflin Company.

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