This article summarizes how and when the system of assessment should be used. The discussion will relate to preschool and primary-grade children rather than infants and toddlers. In keeping with the premise that assessment should benefit the child and improve learning, three primary purposes for comprehensive assessment throughout the year can be reviewed: planning for instruction, reporting progress, and evaluating the instructional program continuously from the beginning until the end of the school term.

Using Assessment Results to Plan for Instruction

If assessments should benefit the child, then assessments in preschool and primary-grade settings should be linked to learning experiences and instruction. If they are to be fair for all children and authentic, they include all types of strategies that provide a comprehensive picture of each child’s progress and needs. The teacher selects the assessment methods that are relevant to the information needed and uses the results in planning for curriculum and instruction. This assumes that the teacher is concerned with individual rates of development and learning and is prepared to address individual differences. The learning activities that are available in the classroom and through teacher instruction reflect not only curriculum goals established by the school, but also how each child can best achieve these goals.

Using Assessment Results to Report Progress

The limitations of report cards were discussed earlier in relationship to the broader information provided by performance assessments. Just as we need multiple assessment strategies to assess young children, these assessment strategies should be used to report how the child has developed and what has been learned. If the assessment system is comprehensive, the method to report the child’s progress should also be comprehensive and provide many examples of how the child demonstrated growth and achievement. Parents receive limited information from reports that rate a child average, above average, or below average in preschool settings. Likewise, a report that indicates that the child’s progress is satisfactory or unsatisfactory tells little about the child’s learning experiences and accomplishments. Rather than a snapshot of progress, a comprehensive picture of the child should be conveyed in the progress report, regardless of whether the child is in preschool or the primary grades.

Using Assessment Results to Evaluate the Instructional Program

The assessment process includes evaluation of the effectiveness of the teacher’s instruction and the activities and materials used with children. The teacher uses assessment information to determine whether instructional strategies were successful for children to learn new concepts and skills or whether new approaches are needed. The teacher might ask the following questions about the success of instruction: Were the children interested and engaged in the materials or activities? Did the children demonstrate a deeper understanding of concepts as a result of an instructional activity? Was the activity the right length of time? Too short? Too long? What changes might be made to improve the effectiveness of the activity?
With this type of evaluative reflection, the teacher demonstrates that assessment should focus not on student achievement, but rather on how well students are progressing and the role that the quality of instruction has on this progress. If some students need additional opportunities to learn information and skills, the teacher considers how more varied activities might accomplish the goal. Should the concepts be incorporated into different types of activities, or should they become a part of a continuum that includes a new direction or focus? Young children need many opportunities to learn new skills, and encountering concepts in new contexts provides meaningful routes to understanding and the ability to use what is being learned.