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As teachers we interact, work and plan activities for students. These activities are geared to develop their learning, therefore planning for students progress teachers need to document the development of the children improvements on a daily basis. To do this a system that is easy to use and one that is flexible enough to account all or most of the activities they participate in, therefore assessment is an umportant part of recording progress.
Assessment is the process of finding out what children can do, what they know and the things they are interested in. assessment also involves all methods through which teachers can gain an understanding of children's development and learning. Assessment is important because once information is gained, appropriate activities and experiences can be implemented for continued growth in all areas of development.
Assessment comes in many forms, and some work better than others. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides assessment guidelines in its publication Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age Eight. In this publication, NAEYC states that:
"Developmental assessment of children's progress and achievements is used to adapt curriculum to match the developmental needs of children, to communicate with the child's family, and to evaluate the program's effectiveness" (Bredekamp, p. 13).
"Assessment of individual children's development and learning is essential for planning and implementing developmentally appropriate programs, but should be used with caution to prevent discrimination against individuals and to ensure accuracy. Accurate testing can only be achieved with reliable, valid instruments and such instruments developed for use with young children are extremely rare. In the absence of valid instruments, testing is not valuable. Therefore, assessment of young children should rely heavily on the results of observations and descriptive data" (Bredekamp, pp. 12-13).
Portfolio is a systematic collection or sample of children work, with information relating to each child's developmental progress which depicts the student activities, accomplishments, and achievements within the educational setting. As explained by Carol Gestwicki in Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Curriculum and Development in Early Education, "Portfolios may contain collections of representative work of children that illustrate their progress and achievementsâ€¦" and "Children are encouraged to add their own selections of work that they feel show their progress to the portfolios" (Gestwicki, p. 304).
Portfolio promotes a positive, enthusiastic perspective is the statement in Janine Batzles's book, Portfolio Assessment and Evaluation: "A portfolio should be a celebration of the child's unique abilities, achievements, and progress, displayed through authentic samples" (Batzle, p. 60).
There are two major types of portfolios which teachers can use which is process and product portfolio. The process portfolio is used to document each stage of learning which provides a progressive record of student's growth. The product portfolio demonstrates mastery of a learning task or a set of learning objectives and contains only the best work. Teachers use process portfolios to help students identify learning goals, document progress over time, and demonstrate learning mastery... In general, teachers prefer to use process portfolios because they are ideal for documenting the stages that students go through as they learn and progress (Venn, 2000, p. 533).
Student's portfolios can take various physical forms, depending on which one is comfortable for the teacher and the type of child care program offered. They can be boxes, accordion files, folders, three-ring binders, photo albums, and or combinations and similar items can be used as receptacles for proofs of progress. Teachers can have two containers: one for three-dimensional samples of the child's efforts and another for forms and two-dimensional sources of information. Portfolios are an individualized way in assessing students therefore each child should have their own portfolio.
Portfolios can include many items of each child's unique interests, also students needs can be addressed according to what is included in their portfolio. Teachers can use photos, drawings, conversational notes, audio and video recordings and observations.
Photographs are taken of children when they work on tasks that cannot be saved for future reference, like building blocks, moulding clay, bead stringing where at times they string according to pictured patterns, and when they build puzzles without assistance. Samples of the children's work is saved in their portfolios as they are placed each child progress, helps the teacher and parents to gain a better understanding of the student strengths and weakness depending on the age and development level of each child. With this information from the portfolios, teachers are able to plan for future curriculum.
Some advantages of portfolio assessment is where teachers can measure performance based on genuine samples of the children's work, it enables teachers and students to share in the responsibility for setting learning goals and for evaluating their progress toward meeting those goals and portfolios can provide a process for structuring learning in stages. The disadvantages of portfolio assessment could be difficult in gathering all the necessary data and work samples which therefore makes portfolios bulky and difficult to manage, and also to develop a systematic and deliberate management system tends to be difficult, but this step is necessary in order to make them a random collection of students work.
Systematic observations are observations where teachers become very familiar with the interests, needs, and strengths of all of the children in their classrooms. With this type of observation teachers become aware when children exhibit observable patterns of behaviour that indicate they are struggling with learning prior to formal process of learning, as young as age three (Lowenthal, 1998; Steele, 2004). With a tool to target their observations, teachers can use systematic observation as a quick and cost-effective way to determine which children might be struggling with learning and benefit from additional support (Satz & Fletcher, 1988).
With the use of systematic observation the teacher observes the whole class therefore allow him/her to become aware of the students needs whereby the teacher can plan appropriately. This type of observation means that conclusions or interpretations are based on observations of the child over time rather than a one-time assessment of a child's skills and abilities.
Systematic observation is to be done when children, are playing alone, in small groups, in large groups, at various times of day and in various circumstances. Systematic observation must be objective, selective, unobtrusive, and carefully recorded (Bertrand and Cebula, 1980).
Teachers are to observe the children interacting with their environment and with others and document what they see. Some teachers use checklists, inventory, rating scale, anecdotal notes, recordings or other forms to record their observations. This process seems to be natural and appropriate for preschool teachers because "Preschool children demonstrate growth and learning through activity (Worthham, 1994, p. 213).
The checklist or inventory is recording tools which are used for recording student's progress and this process is easier for teachers to work with. Checklist or inventory are to be based on instructional objectives and the development associated with the acquisition of the skills being monitored, thereby these observations should be based on regular activities, not on specially designed or contrived activities. These tools can also include spaces for brief comments, which provide additional information not captured in the checklist.
Rating Scale is used to help teachers and parents gather and share information about young children with specific attention to characteristics that might be early signs of learning disabilities. The rating scale also allows teachers and parents to reflect systematically on their concerns and helps them recognize if the child would benefit from additional support. The information gathered about the students across developmental domains, which are the Perceptual and Motor, Self-Management, Social and Emotional, Early Math, Early Literacy, Receptive Language, and the Expressive Language domain. The results will inform communication and planning among parents, school personnel, and others.
Anecdotal notes are used to record specific observations of individual student behaviours, skills and attitudes, these notes provide cumulative information on student learning, revealing insights about the child's progress when they are reviewed sequentially and provides direction for further instruction. Anecdotal records are also factual, nonjudgmental notes of children's activity (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 1991). They are most useful for recording spontaneous events. The advantages are that the observer does not require special training, and the observation can be used to focus specifically on the behaviours of interest. The disadvantages of this type of assessment are that the results depend upon the memory of the individual observer, and the observer may overlook much crucial behaviour to focus on a specific behaviour.
Systematic observation strengths are that it is used in the natural setting of the child's classroom environment, the teacher can observe what causes the student specific behaviour and places minimal constraints on children's behaviour and activities, allowing them to behave naturally and exhibit their full range of skills and abilities while engaging in activities that hold meaning for them, such as dramatic play activities or block construction (Hills, 1993; Schweinhart, 1993).
Systematic observation also has its weak areas where the teacher/observer may distort information which can make them invalid, some students do not work effectively when they are being watched and they may perform differently.
Traditional assessment (TA) refers to standardized testing that uses questions with a limited number of answer choices. They can be multiple-choice tests, fill-in-the-blanks, true-false, matching, essays and some short answer responses. Students typically select an answer or recall information to complete the assessment. These tests may be standardized or teacher-created, and may be administered locally, state wide, or internationally. Other testing methods, sometimes known as performance-based assessment, alternative assessment or authentic assessment, focus on the process by which a student arrives at an answer in addition to the final response. Most standardized tests are not designed to evaluate the individualized growth and development taking place in your classroom. But there are other assessment tools that do!
Early childhood educators are uncomfortable with the idea of testing the young children they work with. This is because the traditional assessment tools 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 or knowledge.
One of the primary benefits of traditional assessment is the ease in which administrators and admissions professionals can analyze and compare student scores. Standardized testing that relies entirely on quantifiable responses produces an assessment that is easy to score. Test makers can categorize questions to determine which areas students excel in and which they have difficulty with. Students' results are comparable over time and across a large, diverse group of students.
Recently however, new approaches to assessment has been gaining acceptance among early childhood and primary grade teachers. These are known as "performance" or "authentic" assessment; these new tools have many benefits that standardized tests do not, which are, that they systematically document what children know and can do based on activities they engage in on a daily basis in their classrooms. They are flexible enough to allow teachers to evaluate each child's progress using information obtained from ongoing classroom interactions with materials and peers. They are a means for improving instruction, allowing teachers to plan a comprehensive, developmentally oriented curriculum based on their knowledge of each child.
Traditional assessment methods have the disadvantage of lacking real-world context. Students answer questions one by one without the need to apply long-term critical reasoning skills. They also lack chances to demonstrate their reasoning skills despite a lack of knowledge about a question's specific subject matter. Alternative assessment methods allow students to apply their skills and knowledge within a context that more closely resembles problem solving and knowledge application in most jobs or daily tasks.
Traditional assessment also has both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the way educators teach. Traditional assessment forces educators to spend time teaching students how to manage tests, including strategies for selecting correct answers from a listed group. Alternative assessment allows educators to focus on critical reasoning skills, which students will be able to apply naturally to long-form test questions. However, in situations where alternative assessment replaces traditional assessment, this means teachers need to learn new methods of test preparation and schools need to develop alternative forms of performance assessment for their students and teachers.
Assessments are useful, effective tools to aid early childhood professionals in acknowledging and documenting each child's progress. Assessments can be unique to each child and the contents can focus on each child's specific interactions with his or her environment, materials, peers, and teachers. Both parents and children can work together positively. This three-way conferencing and planning method, involving teachers, parents, and children, is a major goal of authentic assessment today (Ryan, p. 2). Assessments are practical and useful for both reporting and planning. The form and format are adaptable to each educational program of young children.