Staff Workshop Teacher Handout: Early Childhood Curriculum and Assessment

Reevaluate your curriculum and assessment strategies to be certain you are offering children the highest-quality programming possible

  • Grades: Early Childhood, PreK–K
Leadership: A Special Section for Administrators

High-quality early education has proven to produce long-lasting benefits. With this evidence, federal, state, and local decision makers are asking critical questions about young children's education. What should children be taught in the years from birth through age 8? How do we know if they are developing well and learning what we want them to learn?

Answers to these questions-questions about early childhood curriculum and assessment-are the foundation of the joint position paper of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE).

Developing Curriculum

The NAEYC and NAECS/SDE take the position that policy makers, the early childhood profession, and other stakeholders in young children's lives have a shared responsibility to implement curriculum that is thoughtfully planned, challenging, engaging, developmentally appropriate, culturally and linguistically responsive, comprehensive, and likely to promote positive outcomes for all young children.

Indicators of Quality

>Children are active and engaged. Children from babyhood through primary grades-and beyondneed to be cognitively, physically, socially, and artistically active. In their own ways, children of all ages and abilities can become interested and engaged, can develop positive attitudes toward learning, and can have their feelings of security, emotional competence, and connection to their families and to the community supported.

>Goals are clear and shared by all. Curriculum goals are clearly defined and are shared and understood by all "stakeholders" (for example, program administrators, teachers, and families). The curriculum and related activities and teaching strategies are designed to help achieve these goals.

>Curriculum is evidence based, The curriculum has been shown to be developmentally, culturally, and linguistically relevant for the children who will experience the curriculum. It is organized around principles of child development.

>Valued content is learned through investigation, play, and focused, intentional teaching. Children learn by exploring, thinking about, and inquiring about all sorts of phenomena. These experiences help children investigate "big ideas," those that are important at any age and are connected to later learning. Pedagogy or teaching strategies are tailored to children's ages, developmental capacities, language and culture, and abilities or disabilities.

>Curriculum builds on prior learning and experiences. The content and implementation of the curriculum build on children's prior individual and cultural learning, are inclusive of children with disabilities, and are supportive of background knowledge. The curriculum supports children whose home language is not English, in building a solid base for later learning.

>Curriculum is comprehensive. The curriculum encompasses critical areas of development, including children's physical well-being and motor development, social and emotional development, various approaches to learning, and language development. It also addresses cognition, general knowledge, and such areas as science, mathematics, literacy, and the arts.

>Professional standards validate the curriculum's subject-matter content, Subject-specific curricula meet the standards of relevant professional organizations (for example, the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; the National Association for Music Education; the National Council of Teachers of English; the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; the National Dance Education Organization; and the National Science Teachers Association). They are reviewed and implemented so that they fit together coherently.

>The curriculum is likely to benefit children. Research and other evidence indicate that the curriculum, if implemented as intended, will likely have beneficial effects.

Making ethical, appropriate, valid, and reliable assessments is a central part of all early childhood programs.


The NAEYC and NAECS/SDE take the position that making ethical, appropriate, valid, and reliable assessments is a central part of all early childhood programs. To assess young children's strengths, progress, and needs, use assessment methods that are developmental Iy appropriate; culturally and linguistically responsive; tied to children's daily activities; supported by professional development; inclusive of families; and connected to specific, beneficial purposes.

Indicators of Effectiveness

Ethical principles underlie all assessment practices. Young children are not denied opportunities or services, and decisions are not made about children, on the basis of a single assessment.

>Assessment instruments are used for their intended purposes. Assessments are used in ways consistent with the purposes for which they were designed. If the assessments will be used for additional purposes, they are validated for those purposes.

>Assessments are appropriate for the ages and other characteristics of the children being evaluated. Assessments are designed and validated for use with children whose ages, cultures, home languages, socioeconomic status, abilities and disabilities, and other characteristics are similar to those of the children with whom the assessments will be used.

>Assessment instruments are in compliance with professional criteria for quality. Assessments are valid and reliable. Accepted professional standards of quality are the basis for the selection, use, and interpretation of assessment instruments, including screening tools.

>What is assessed is developmentally and educationally significant. The objects of assessment include a comprehensive, developmentally and educationally important set of goals, rather than a narrow set of skills. Assessments are aligned with early learning standards, with program goals, and with specific emphases in the curriculum.

>Assessment evidence is used to understand and improve learning. Assessments lead to improved knowledge about children. This knowledge is translated into improved curriculum implementation and teaching practices. Assessment helps early childhood professionals understand the learning of a specific child or group of children; enhance knowledge of child development; improve educational programs for young children, while supporting continuity across grades and settings; and access resources for children with specific needs.

>Assessment evidence is gathered from realistic settings and from situations that reflect children's actual performance. To enhance teaching strategies, or to identify children in need of further evaluation, the evidence used to assess young children's characteristics and progress is derived from real-world classroom or family contexts that are consistent with children's experiences.

>Assessments use multiple sources of evidence gathered over time. The assessment system emphasizes systematic observation, documentation, and other forms of criterion- or performance-oriented assessment, using broad, varied, and complementary methods, with accommodations for children with disabilities.

>Screening is always linked to follow-up. When a screening or other assessment identifies concerns, appropriate follow-up, referral, or other intervention is used. Diagnosis or labeling is never the result of a brief screening or one-time assessment.

>Use of individually administered norm-referenced tests is limited. The use of formal standardized testing and norm-referenced assessments of young children is limited to situations in which potential disabilities exist.

>Staff and families are knowledgeable about assessment. Staff is given resources that support their knowledge and skills concerning early childhood assessment and their ability to assess children in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways. Preservice and in-service training build teachers' and administrators' "assessment literacy," creating a community that sees assessment as a tool to improve outcomes for children. Families are a part of this community, with regular involvement.

This excerpt from the joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education is reprinted with permission from the NAEYC. For additional resources, log on to

  • Subjects:
    Early Learning, Assessment, Curriculum Development, Educational Policy, Educational Standards, School Administration and Management, Teacher Tips and Strategies, Teacher Training and Continuing Education

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