Early Childhood Assessment: 3 Essential Steps to Building Your Plan

This is the fifth and final article in a series on assessment best practices and planning for the early elementary grades (pre-K–3). In this series, I’m exploring the core concepts from a white paper recently published by Dr. Cindy Jiban. Here are the four previous articles:

In this final installment, I’ll focus on the most important tactical piece of the puzzle: the act of building a sound early childhood assessment plan. This large project is rendered more manageable and systematic with Dr. Jiban’s three recommended steps. Once you’ve assembled your assessment planning team and downloaded Dr. Jiban’s paper, (which includes a helpful template on pages 9–13 to guide you through this process), you can dive right in.

Step 1: Domains: Aligning early childhood instruction and assessment

  • Goal at this step: Ensure your assessment plan lines up well with your instructional goals.
  • Task: Compare what will be measured and what will be taught; adjust to ensure the two match.
  • Some questions to guide the discussion with your planning team: Which domains are taught but may not be assessed? For each area we plan to assess, are we giving students an opportunity to learn?

Step 2: Assessment purpose: Informing explicit decisions

  • Goal at this step: Before choosing your early childhood assessment tools, make sure your assessment plans map to specific assessment purposes.
  • Task: Identify decisions your team is hoping to inform (clustering broadly into decisions about eligibility, instructional planning, and effectiveness/evaluation).
  • Some questions to guide the discussion with your planning team: What decisions do we want to inform with our assessment data? What type of assessment might help inform each of these decisions (e.g. screening, progress monitoring, etc.)? What are some candidate assessment tools that might help us with each decision?

Step 3: Assessment methods: Multiple and authentic

  • Goal at this step: Review the list of candidate tools from step two and pick multiple assessment methods that can work well together to help your team form a holistic picture of each child’s learning and growth.
  • Task: Narrow down your list and identify the assessment methods that best serve your needs.
  • Some questions to guide the discussion with your planning team: Does a particular tool have the level of reliability, validity, and other properties required for informing a particular decision? Have we accounted for multiple assessment methods in our mix of candidate tools (e.g., tests, observations, embedded formative assessment)? Across the full range of tools, are we collecting evidence of what a student can do, is ready to do, and cannot do? Do some of these tools reach toward authenticity by making use of everyday situations, incorporating an element of interaction, or accommodating multiple behaviors across multiple settings and situations?

Putting it all together

Going through these three steps in sequence can help your team build proven best practices into your plan. Your assessment tools will be chosen to serve specific instructional purposes, you’ll be better positioned to evaluate multiple methods in concert, and you’ll also keep the concept of authentic assessment top of mind. Don’t forget, you can use the template on pages 9–13 of the white paper to walk through these three steps with your team.

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