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Getting A Handle on Child Assessments

Why do we assess children? Teachers have an almost endless list of tasks to accomplish – lesson planning, preparing the learning environment, meeting with families, ensuring compliance with licensing or accreditation criteria, and many more.  But at the heart of teaching, there should be a focus on child assessment. Because it is from assessment that intentional teaching occurs. Assessment helps educators understand where each child is currently situated on the developmental continuum…and where they should be going. Assessment helps to provide a roadmap for your teaching.

One of the most common tools that we can use to easily collect data are checklists, which are used to assess discrete skills such as hops on one foot or recognizes letters of one’s name. Another great tool, work sampling, is when the teacher collects artifacts that a child creates which can be aligned to specific developmental milestones, such as a child’s drawing that they’ve labeled as evidence of their writing skill. Lastly, anecdotal records are short notes which teachers write down that give insight about children’s development such as social-problem solving. So, let’s take a trip through a typical preschool day and identify situations where you can naturally gather data that is aligned to developmental milestones.

It’s 8-o’clock and Kolby has just arrived at school. Setup your classroom with a Student sign-in chart, so that the first thing he does to start the day is write his name in the blank space. If you use an online assessment system, then you can snap a picture with your smartphone or tablet and upload that as evidence for the goal Writes Name. But let’s say your 4Y program in California doesn’t have technology like that. No problem! You can use a paper sign-in sheet to collect student work samples each day and document how a child demonstrates progress from Makes a series of circles at the start of the year to Writes name but reverses some letters near the end of the year.

It’s 9-o’clock and the class is sitting at circle time. In a TX PreK classroom, Teacher Sylvia has a job chart and Jesse is the Class Counter for the week. She asks Jesse to count how many friends came to school today. Using a checklist, Teacher Sylvia can track Jesse’s counting skills over the course of the year. Down the hall, Maestro Miguel is reading the Olivia book with his dual-language immersion class which has a high percentage of ELL students. As he does so, he uses this as an opportunity to track student engagement and interaction – plus, he closely monitors his ELL students’ growing capacity of speaking in English. During naptime, he’ll review his notes so that he can make adjustments to story time tomorrow and introduce some new vocabulary.

A VPK classroom in Florida also uses a Job chart and one of the favorite jobs is being the Weather Watcher. Today, Sydney observes that it’s a windy day with only a few wispy clouds – not like yesterday when they had a thunderstorm watch. She tells the class that her mother said she didn’t need her raincoat today because it would be sunny…but she did get to wear her rainboots to splash in the puddles. Teacher Heather asks Sydney to color in the right box on their weather graph for today. So far, they’ve had 2 sunny days, thunderstorms yesterday, and a windy day today. Sydney also uses the digital thermometer to check the temperature – already 75 degrees. Sydney predicts it will be sunny and hot tomorrow – the chances are good in central Florida.

It’s now 10:30 and the class races outside to explore the obstacle course that Teacher Celeste has told them about during morning meeting. She brings out her Post-it notes and starts taking some anecdotal records on how children navigate the obstacle course. She hopes they show progress in balancing since she’s put out the balance beam for the last 2 weeks.  

It’s nearly 12:00 p.m. in North Carolina and Farooq is the Table Setter this week, so she counts out the number of plates, forks and napkins for each table. Teacher Shaneka marks off on her checklist that she correctly set the table with the requisite number of plates, cups and napkins--but she only counted out 3 spoons instead of 4. The teacher makes a mental note to play a matching game with her after naptime.

Now one of my favorite times of the day is mealtime because it allows me to observe so many different skills across domains. Consider how many objectives you can gather data on by simply asking a child What did you do this weekend? Forms relationships with adults…Tells about another place and time…Engages in conversations…Uses social rules of language…Interacts with peers…Demonstrates simple geographic knowledge and many more.

After lunch, many programs get ready for a rest period and Teacher Claudia makes some mental notes about how Xochitl takes responsibility for getting her cot ready and follows the naptime routine – those are great evidence for follows limits and expectations or takes care of own needs. She takes time while the children are napping to record her observations in each child’s portfolio.

It’s 2:00 o’clock and Teacher Anya observes interactions during Tabletop games while children are waiting to go home. She knows that this activity will provide her with information on children’s cognitive and social-emotional development. While her co-teacher chats with the parents of children getting picked up, she’s able to spend more 1:1 time with those children who have been struggling with patterning. Since she’s been tracking their progress, she knows how to appropriately scaffold and challenge each individual child and feels a sense of accomplishment as they complete more complex patterning.

We started off the question of Why do we assess children? Teacher Hope noticed that 4-year-old Clemency is not yet alternating feet when climbing stairs – she’s going to contact the Intervention specialist to conduct a more thorough gross motor assessment. Teacher Miguel observes that one ELL child is struggling with rhyming; he decides to read Hop on Pop at tomorrow’s circle time. And Teacher Shaneka found some great matching game ideas online and can’t wait to play those tomorrow with Farouq. Today’s been a good day for assessment.


Ashford University/Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education

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