Issues in Early Childhood Education Assessments
Early childhood educators have followed Rousseau’s admonition to “Study your children, for assuredly you do not know them” (Rousseau, 1947). They study children using a variety of assessment methods and techniques. The methods of authentic evaluation and assessment, which includes observations of children, structured interviews, and portfolios, is used to monitor the growth and learning of individual children. Standardized tests, which do offer some information about how an individual child is doing, are usually used to describe groups of children.
Neither authentic evaluation methods nor standardized tests are perfect. The field has a long way to go in increasing the reliability and validity of authentic assessment techniques. The objectivity of authentic assessment is also a problem. No matter how objective teachers attempt to be in selecting work samples to place in a portfolio, their prior experiences, values, and attitudes continue to influence their judgment. Decisions about what behaviors to observe, what the work in the portfolio actually means, or what questions to ask in an interview are not considered fully valid because they are affected by the teacher’s personal belief systems, attitudes, and values. Whether the samples of work or observations really do measure or assess what the teacher thinks they do can be questioned.
Sabrina’s parents were told by the teacher that Sabrina would not be ready for first grade. The teacher said that she had observed Sabrina, who never sat still, never listened, and talked all the time. Further, she said, she asked her to perform several tasks, and Sabrina failed each. She did not know the ABCs when asked to recite them and failed to correctly complete assigned worksheets. Her parents, thinking Sabrina was an especially verbal child, sought the help of the school counselor, who gave Sabrina the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (Dunn & Dunn, 2000). Sabrina’s score indicated that she had the receptive vocabulary of a typical seven-year-old rather than a five-year-old. Sabrina did progress to the first grade, where she excelled in reading.
Authentic assessment techniques, in addition to being subjective, lack reliability. They often fail to reproduce the same results if used again with the same child. What a teacher observes one day may not be present the next. Moreover, the findings obtained from authentic assessment techniques conducted on individual children cannot be generalized to other children. This means that the results or findings cannot be applied to the total group of children, nor can comparisons between children or groups of children be made.
Standardized tests are considered another good source of information that can be used diagnostically or to provide insights into children’s development and learning. Although standardized tests purport to be objective, reliable (producing the same score each time given to a specific child), and valid (measuring what they purport to measure), they too are influenced by the culture in which they were constructed and by their administration. Because every test is developed within some culture, no test is culture free. Each reflects the values and attitudes of the culture. Tests that purport to be culture fair, like the Goodenough-Harris Draw a Person Test (Goodenough & Harris, 1969), have been developed in multiple cultures and require no or little language for administration.
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