By Samuel J. Meisels,
tests are not designed to evaluate the individualized growth and development
taking place in your classroom. But there are assessment tools that do!
Many early childhood
educators are uncomfortable with the idea of testing the young children
they work with. This is because the assessment tools they know were designed
primarily for older elementary-school students. Children taking these
tests are assessed on isolated skills in ways that are unfamiliar to them,
and the test results often do not reflect children's personal experiences
In recent years,
however, a new approach to assessment has been gaining acceptance among
early childhood and primary grade teachers. Known as "performance"
or "authentic" assessment, these new tools have many benefits
that standardized tests do not. For example:
- They systematically
document what children know and can do based on activities they engage
in on a daily basis in their classrooms. Standardized test items, in
contrast, barely approximate actual classroom tasks. In addition, performance
assessment evaluates thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation,
and interpretation of facts and ideas skills which standardized
tests generally avoid.
- They are flexible
enough to allow teachers to evaluate each child's progress using information
obtained from ongoing classroom interactions with materials and peers.
In other words, they permit an individualized approach to assessing
abilities and performance.
- They are a means
for improving instruction, allowing teachers to plan a comprehensive,
developmentally oriented curriculum based on their knowledge of each
- They provide valuable,
in-depth information for parents, administrators, and other policy makers.
- They put responsibility
for monitoring what children are learning and what teachers are
teaching in the hands of teachers, where it belongs.
Of Performance Assessment
A comprehensive performance
assessment system should contain some variation of the following components:
domains such as language and literacy, mathematical thinking, and physical
development, are designed to reflect developmentally appropriate practices.
Teachers use checklists throughout the year to create profiles of children's
individualized progress in developing skills, acquiring knowledge, and
mastering important behaviors.
collections of children's work illustrate their efforts, progress, and
achievements over time. Teachers and children can compile the collections
together from work completed in the classroom. As they talk together
about the child's interests and progress, they develop new activities
for the child to focus on.
- Summary report
A summary report consists of a brief narrative summary of each child's
classroom performance. It is based on teacher observations and records
that are kept as part of the system. In completing this summary, teachers
should carefully review the checklists and portfolios and then make
overall judgments in order to report to parents, administrators, and
others about each child's activities and progress.
The three basic components
of performance assessment developmental checklists, portfolios,
and summary reports are all necessary. Without ongoing checklists,
teachers could not keep track of children's progress toward widely accepted
curriculum goals. Without portfolios, differences in the quality of one
child's work over time might be hidden, and children's ability to take
an active role in evaluating their own work ignored. Without summary reports,
easily understandable information for parents, teachers, and school administrators
would be unavailable. Together, the three components constitute a dynamic,
authentic performance system.
For Performance Assessment
Whenever you gather
with other professionals, parents, your supervisor, principal, or members
of your school board, use the opportunity to promote the use of some kind
of performance assessment in early childhood classrooms. Copy and distribute
the "Benefits of Performance Assessment" (see below). Also,
remember that whether you use an available system of performance or authentic
assessment, or develop a tool of your own, the actual examples of children's
work that you have on file, as well as ongoing observations of their individual
growth and development, are the strongest possible advocates for performance
assessment. Use them to show the depth and breadth of information they
contain about each child. No other approach has so much to say about what
the child brings to the learning situation, and what the learning situation
brings to the child!
Benefits Of Performance
A system of developmental
checklists, portfolios of children's work, and summary reports, when used
together, can help you to:
- Recognize that
children can express what they know and can do in many different ways.
- Evaluate progress
as well as performance.
- Evaluate the "whole
- Involve children
in the process of assessing their own growth.
- Establish a framework
for observing children that is consistent with the principles of child
- Contribute to
meaningful curriculum planning and the design of developmentally appropriate
- Give parents specific,
direct, and understandable information about their child.
- Collaborate with
other teachers, thus enhancing your own professional skills.
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