Developing a Comprehensive System of Assessment (page 3)
If measurement and evaluation of infants and young children is to follow the criteria for assessment in a new century, a system for assessment should be developed. The combination of measurement methods used will depend on the uses for the system, but, overall, many of the components to be described will be included in any plan for evaluation. There are many types of assessment systems. All systems use most of the options described below.
Components of an Assessment System
Standardized tests are designed to measure individual characteristics. The test may be administered to an individual or to a group. The purpose of standardized tests is to measure abilities, achievements, aptitudes, interests, attitudes, values, and personality characteristics. The results can be used to plan instruction, to study differences between individuals and groups, and for counseling and guidance.
Informal Assessment Strategies
Standardized tests are not the only tools available for evaluation and assessment. Various types of informal instruments and strategies to determine development and learning are available as well.
School districts often use informal tests or evaluation strategies developed by local teachers or staff members. In early childhood programs, an informal screening test may be administered to preschool children at registration to determine their instructional needs. Likewise, the speech teacher may use a simple screening instrument to evaluate the child’s language development or possible speech difficulties.
One of the most valuable ways to become aware of the individual characteristics of young children is through observation. Developmental indicators in early childhood are more likely to be noted from children’s behavior in natural circumstances than from a designed assessment or instrument. Adults who observe children as they play and work in individual or group activities are able to determine progress in all categories of development (Segal & Webber, 1996). The child who shows evidence of emerging prosocial skills by playing successfully in the playground is demonstrating significant growth in social development. Children who struggle to balance materials on both sides of a balance scale demonstrate visible signs of cognitive growth. Physical development can be evaluated by observing children using playground equipment. Because young children learn best through active involvement with their environment, evaluation of learning may be assessed most appropriately by observing the child during periods of activity. Observation records can be used to plan instruction, to report progress in various areas of development, and to track progress in mastery of preschool curriculum objectives.
Teachers have always used tests that they have devised to measure the level of learning after instruction. Early childhood teachers are more likely to use concrete tasks or oral questions for informal assessment with young children. Teachers frequently incorporate evaluation with instruction or learning experiences. Activities and games can be used both to teach and to evaluate what the child has learned. Evaluation can also be conducted through learning centers or as part of a teacher-directed lesson. Although pencil-and-paper tests are also a teacher-designed measure, they should not be used until children are comfortable with reading and writing.
Developmental checklists or other forms of learning objective sequences are used at all levels of preschool, elementary, and secondary schools. Often referred to as a scope or sequence of skills, a checklist is a list of the learning objectives established for areas of learning and development at a particular age, grade level, or content area. Many checklists are standardized, while others are locally developed by a teacher or school district and are not standardized.
Skills continuums are available from many sources. The teacher may construct one, or a school district may distribute checklists for each grade level. Educational textbook publishers frequently include a skills continuum for teachers to use as an instructional guide with the textbook they have selected. State education agencies now publish objectives to be used by all school districts in the state.
Rating scales are similar to checklists. They contain criteria for measurement that can be based on learning objectives or other factors. The major difference between checklists and rating scales is that rating scales provide for measurement on a continuum. Checklist items are rated with a negative or positive response. Rating scales can be used for many purposes when a range of criteria is needed to acquire accurate information.
Rubrics have been developed to evaluate authentic and performance assessments. They include a range of criteria like rating scales, but have indicators that can be used to determine quality of performance or to assign a grade. Rubrics are used most frequently with portfolio assessment, but are appropriate for performance assessment that is not part of a portfolio.
Performance and Portfolio Assessments
Additional forms of informal assessments focus on more meaningful types of evaluation of student learning. Sometimes called performance assessments or authentic assessments (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1993; Wiggins, 1993), these evaluation measures use strategies that permit the child to demonstrate his or her understanding of a concept or mastery of a skill. The evaluation might take the form of a teacher-directed interview in which a dialogue with the child would reveal the child’s thinking and understanding. Other procedures might include games, directed assignments, or activities related to a project.
Processes for reporting student progress related to outcome-based or authentic assessments are also intended to communicate learning and development from a meaningful perspective. Traditional report cards and standardized test results do not necessarily reflect accurately the student’s progress. Portfolios with samples of student work are one type of reporting of progress that is compatible with outcome-based assessment. A detailed narrative or narrative report of the student’s progress developed by the teacher is another process that enables the teacher to describe the nature of the child’s activities that have resulted in achievement and learning.
Early childhood educators in the 21st century have access to computers and assessments that are available through technology. One source of technological assessment is assessment software. Assessments from computer software can be an adaptation of paper-based assessments, such as reading or mathematics checklists, or assessments that are linked to a specific curriculum. Other software can be acquired that permits the design of activities and lesson plans or continuous revision of assessment tools.
Assessment resources are also available on the Internet. Electronic management of learning (EML) makes it possible to collect, analyze, and report progress in children’s learning that can then be used to document learning outcomes and plan for subsequent learning objectives and activities. This type of assessment management uses Web pages. Through EML parents, teachers, and administrators can access information about children’s learning and assessment-based curriculum planning (Feld & Bergan, 2002).
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