Late spring is a good time to begin thinking ahead to next year. A comprehensive process of program and individual assessment can take up to six weeks. Starting early will allow plenty of time to plan and discuss all the components and strategize goals. As you begin this process, start with a comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the year as a whole.
The process of program assessment has several components. A comprehensive end-of the-year assessment should include all the individuals and groups who are involved, such as program administrators, education coordinators, teachers, parents, and children. Don't forget the children! Their opinions may surprise and delight you.
Reflecting on the work of this year will allow you to set goals that will strengthen your program in the coming year. Consider these seven steps, ideas, and resources.
Start now. Experienced early childhood professionals know the end of the year is too late. Unexpected events can require attention that may take your mind off this important process. Starting two months ahead will give you time to be thorough and detailed (and get temporarily distracted!).
Plan carefully. Think about what you want to know. Ask for feedback and input from all stakeholders, plan the strategies and questions, and then execute your plan. Keep in mind that when you ask a question can influence the responses you get. Start the process when other deadlines or priorities will not conflict and allow several days for people to get involved and for comments to filter in.
Vary the method. Written surveys are only one way of getting information. Try personal gatherings around some simple refreshments at the end of the day, use a few minutes in another meeting to ask a couple of questions, post a question on a chart in the hallway and attach a pen or marker, and engage in informal one-on-one discussions. Make sure to document ideas that come from these conversations quickly so they are not lost.
Delegate. Ask for help coordinating the information gathering. Parents could communicate and compile their groups' responses. One or two teachers could work to gather information from teachers and staff. An older group of school-age children could assist in getting responses from preschool children. Request that a member of each group summarize the information gathered and list the recommendations.
Set goals. Discuss responses with each group. Identify goals for next year by area of the program or curriculum. What additions are needed to the curriculum? What strategies can be used to improve staff development? How can we enhance the education, the services, or the program for teachers and parents? What are children interested in learning about? What community programs or initiatives could be integrated into your curriculum and program next year?
Create an action plan. Here's where everyone gets involved to agree on specific strategies that will be the focus for next year. A frequent problem with this stage of assessment occurs when the action plan has too many strategies. Keep the plan simple and specific. Try starting with no more than two strategies for each area. When those are accomplished, add more. What new curriculum ideas will be added? List by classroom so that each teacher is focused on a few specific goals. Will new equipment or materials be purchased?
Share the vision. Gather everyone together. Share the successes and accomplishments made over the past year. The goals and strategies you have established for the coming year are your vision for the future. This can be done in many different and fun ways. Teachers can share personal growth, children can share projects from the year, and everyone can enjoy a picnic or potluck meal.
As you all work together to assess your accomplishments this year, you will be organized and prepared to add and modify for next year. This process, done yearly, will be a productive and positive experience for everyone involved. Seeing the positive changes and growth take place from one year to the next in the curriculum, program, and for teachers and parents is one of the most rewarding parts of working in early childhood education.
Sample Assessment Questions
For administrators. How well did the program meet the goals established at the beginning of the year? Did you see growth in your program, as well as in children and families, throughout the year? Did teachers and staff grow professionally? What specific example can you identify? How will you continue to provide professional growth and education for teachers and families? Were new community resources used this year? Did you link with any new organizations or groups? Did you grow professionally?
For parents. Did our program meet your child's needs? In what other ways did we meet your needs? What can we do to enhance our program for you or your child? Did we communicate effectively with you during the year? How can we better support your family next year? Did you find the family events and workshops helpful? What other topics would you like to see next year?
For teachers. Which parts of your curriculum went well this year? Which learning centers were well-used? Which were not? What areas look tired, worn, or in need of improvement? What enhancements are needed? What new activities, materials, or topics would interest your children? What additions will you make? How do you feel about the interactions between yourself and children? Between yourself and parents? Between yourself and other professionals? Do you like your classroom arrangement and daily schedule? Do you feel like you are growing professionally?
For children. What did you like best in your room this year? What special toys and games did you play with most often? Where is your favorite place to play in our class? What else would you like to do in our class?
National Academy of Early Childhood Programs, Early Childhood Program Accreditation, 1997, NAEYC, Washington, DC (800-424-2460; www.naeyr-org) National Child Care Association, National Early Childhood Program Accreditation, 1996, NCCA; Conyers; GA (800-5059878; www.nccanet.org) Moore, Kimberly. "What Every Classroom Needs," Early Childhood Today, May/June, 1998. Wilford, Sara. "End-of the Year Evaluations," Early Childhood Today, May/June, 1999.