The recent revision of Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs lists five fundamental principles related to children's learning and development. These guidelines were written to inform education decisions and practice. In previous issues we discussed the first three guidelines: 1) Creating a Caring Community of Learners, 2) Teaching to Enhance Development and Learning, and 3) Constructing Appropriate Curriculum. This month, let's look at the fourth guideline, Assessing Children's Learning and Development, and how it can help us make informed decisions about appropriate classroom curriculum and practices.

Developmentally Appropriate Assessment Practices

Assessments made during children's informal work and play are most likely to give an accurate and balanced understanding of their learning and development. As you strive to understand each child, make sure:

  • Assessment efforts are ongoing, strategic, and purposeful. Plan and conduct both formal and informal assessments during the year. Strive to recognize children's continuous, positive development and learning. Use the results to shape program curriculum, adapt teaching styles, enhance parent communication, and evaluate program effectiveness.
  • Information is integrated with curriculum content and goals. Plan for and incorporate assessment into your daily routine by thinking about the ways children are learning and developing. This will help everyone better understand how children are progressing and what needs to happen next.
  • Methods are appropriate to children's ages and experiences. With young children, the most effective methods are observation, descriptive data, and collections of children's work. Steer clear of contrived activities designed to test specific skills or abilities. Do consider input from families and children's evaluations of their own work.
  • Children's progress is documented from anecdotal notes and parent comments.
  • Formal assessments are used infrequently.
  • Decisions that have a major impact on children, such as enrollment or placement, are never made on the basis of a single developmental assessment or screening device. Instead, they are based on multiple sources of relevant information-particularly teacher and parent observations. Keep in mind, an incorrect placement or enrollment can affect a child negatively for life. Decisions must be carefully based on a broad and balanced picture of the child's capabilities, development, and maturity. The younger the child, the greater the risk of assigning false labels.
  • Developmental assessments are used to identify children who have special learning or developmental needs and to plan appropriate curriculum. Failure to evaluate and assess children's progress might mean that some children would be deprived of needed intervention at a time when these services could do the most good.
  • Assessment recognizes individual variation, allowing for differences in learning styles and rates of learning. For example, in terms of literacy, multiple factors must be considered-the child's home language, stage of language acquisition, and whether the child has had the time and opportunity to develop proficiency in his or her home language, as well as in English.
  • Assessment addresses not only what children can do independently but also what they can do with assistance from other children or adults. By observing and documenting group projects and other collaborative work, teachers can learn about children as individuals as well as their roles in relationship to groups.

By discussing and following these guidelines, you and your staff will be on the way to using assessments to achieve your goal of improving the learning and development of each child in your program. Next month we will look at the fifth and final guideline, Establishing Reciprocal Relationships With Families.

Strategies for Administrators

Thoughtful and practical assessment of children's development and learning requires deliberate planning and execution. Here are some strategies that will help:

Share goals and purposes with staff. Assessment may seem cumbersome and time-consuming to teachers. Use the points outlined above to help staff focus. If everyone understands why assessment is important and how the results can help improve children's learning, they will be more enthusiastic participants.

Remember that training is a key component of assessment Ongoing observations may seem overwhelming to a teacher who is caught up in the demands of classroom life. Discuss the above standards and then strategize how and when to fit everything into their busy days. Provide mentors. Ongoing and effective assessment may be one of the most difficult skills to learn. An effective mentor can demonstrate both process and execution as well as answer specific questions as they occur.

Be there for your staff Be sure your staff sees you as a willing participant in the assessment process. Gather resources and be one yourself.

Motivate, support, and praise. Teachers at all levels of experience need positive feedback. Consistent attention to their work and public praise, especially to families, will encourage improvement as well as help staff feel valued and respected.