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.
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