Kindergarten entry assessment is a key – and sometimes controversial – component of the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (ELC) initiative. The central question is how to conduct systemic, developmentally appropriate assessment of young children and use the results to inform instruction.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers some guidance in a recent report, “Developing Kindergarten Readiness and Other Large-Scale Assessment Systems: Necessary Considerations in the Assessment of Young Children.” Massachusetts, one of nine states to win an ELC grant, is developing a kindergarten entry assessment as part of its Massachusetts Early Learning Plan.
“Assessment with young children compared with older children requires very different considerations in terms of how it is conducted and used,” NAEYC Executive Director Jerlean E. Daniel says in a news release. “Having reliable information on how children are doing in all areas of cognitive, social and emotional development is the key to good education both before and after kindergarten assessments.”
The kindergarten entry assessment, NAEYC notes, should be viewed as a baseline snapshot, followed by ongoing assessments that help kindergarten teachers “target and recalibrate” instruction over the course of the year. The entry assessment, NAEYC cautions, should not be used to determine eligibility for kindergarten.
The report offers an overview of key issues in building an assessment system:
- Pyschometric characteristics. Assessments should be both reliable and valid. “Reliability refers to the degree to which an assessment provides the same result when administered by different people to the same child or to the same child at two time points in close proximity. Validity refers to the degree to which the results of the assessment accurately capture what they are intending to capture.”
- Types of assessment. “Direct assessments are those administered directly to the child. Direct assessment can be costly, time consuming, and require specialized skills to administer; however, because responses are coming directly from the child they are also often assumed to be objective and accurate (although they may in fact vary in validity). Observational measures do not require explicit administration to children, as they are typically assessments completed by adults after or during a period of observing the child. Observational measures may include rating scales or checklists of specific skills that are demonstrated during the observational period.”
- Standardization. “The popular concern is that of very young children completing paper and pencil assessments en masse, similar to perceptions of large-scale standardized assessments for older children. The use of this type of assessment is not appropriate for young children. However, the concept of standardization is relevant. Briefly, standardization means that an assessment is administered in the same way, each time it is administered…. Violating standardization certainly undermines the assessment’s reliability, but also threatens its validity.
- Components of an early childhood assessment system. “High-quality early childhood education is supported by assessments aligned with instructional goals and approaches. Assessment, however, does not refer simply to the tool being used; it refers to an interconnected system of decisions and activity…. The system requires supports and procedures to effectively and appropriately administer the assessment, as well as a data management and analysis system that captures the results of the assessments and allows the data to be used appropriately. These three components – selection, administration and utilization – collectively comprise the assessment system.”
The report outlines “considerations and caveats” for developing an early childhood assessment system, including recommendations on data analysis, English language learners, cost, training of assessors, administration and timeliness of results.
“Early childhood assessment systems, properly developed and implemented, can contribute greatly to the success of early childhood programs,” the NAEYC report concludes. “Systems that effectively screen for follow-up children at risk for developmental delays can identify young and very young children for intervention services. Systems that inform a teacher’s instruction better allow for targeted instruction and support to further children’s learning and development. Systems that provide a portrait of skills children have as they enter public school systems can inform curriculum decisions. And assessments that can provide evidence of growth tied to participating in programs can guide implementation and policy decisions. Effective early childhood assessment systems exist within a larger early childhood system that provides programs to young children and supports teachers’ professional growth.”