Early Childhood Assessment: 3 Points of Consensus

Early Childhood Assessment: 3 Points of ConsensusThis is the third article in a series on Early Childhood Assessment. In this series, I’m exploring the core concepts from a white paper recently published by Dr. Cindy Jiban. You can find the previous two articles here and here.

In my last installment, I focused on the key issues at the heart of the early childhood assessment debate. Now, I’d like to shift gears and talk instead about the points of consensus.

Whose consensus are we talking about here? When writing the Early Childhood Assessment White Paper, Dr. Jiban reviewed a number of guidelines and seminal reports developed by key organizations and groups that focus specifically on the learning and developmental needs of the youngest learners (through third grade). The organizations include:

+ National Education Goals Panel
+ National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
+ National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE)
+ Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children
+ National Research Council (NRC)

Each of these organizations developed a document to outline the key considerations that must be kept in mind and and best practices that must be followed when assessing young children. While each organization approached the task somewhat differently, there were three threads that ran through every document:

Purposeful Early Childhood Assessment
The thought leaders agree: the design, use, and interpretation of assessments must be purpose-driven. While the question of which purposes are appropriate remains a points of debate (as mentioned in my last article), the concept of putting purpose front and center is one that appears in all of the seminal reports on early childhood assessment best practices.

Instructionally Aligned Early Childhood Assessment
The thought leaders also agree that assessments must be clearly and explicitly integrated into the overall system, including curriculum and instruction. Material assessed must represent the valued outcomes on which instruction is focused. This suggests that assessments for our young learners must reach toward alignment to standards or curriculum. Moreover, classroom-based assessments (e.g. teacher-designed measures) should be aligned closely to the instructional calendar.

Beneficial Early Childhood Assessment
Finally, the thought leaders leave no doubt about this one: before serving any other purpose, tests of young children must serve to optimize their learning. Since assessments take time away from instruction, they must demonstrate consequential validity; the consequence of the time and resources invested in the assessment should be demonstrably positive for the children assessed.

Without a doubt, those are three building blocks for a solid early childhood assessment foundation.  Have you thought of others? In the next article in this series, we’ll discuss the case for evidence-based intervention in the early grades.

Photo credit to University of Fraser Valley.