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The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) mandates assessment and accountability at all levels of public school, even in early childhood (NAEYC, 1987). Children should be allowed to construct knowledge in experiential, interactive, concrete, and hands-on ways (Bredekamp and Rosegrant, 1992, 1995) rather than through abstract reasoning and paper and pencil activities alone. To learn, young children must touch and manipulate objects, build and create in many media, listen and act out stories and everyday roles, talk and sing, and move and play in various ways and environments. Consequently, the expression of what young children know and can do would best be served in ways other than traditional paper and pencil assessments.
Children develop in four domains; physical, cognitive, social, and emotional and not at the same pace through each. No two children are the same; each child has a unique rate of development. In addition, no two children have the same family, cultural, and experiential backgrounds. Clearly, these variables mean that a "one-size-fits-all" assessment will not meet the needs of most young children (Shepard, et al.).
Classroom assessment includes all the processes involved in making decisions about students learning progress, and is designed to increase learning and motivation. It includes the observation of students' written work, their answers to questions, and their performance during classroom activities. Assessment considers students performances on specific tasks in a variety of settings and contexts to check that the overall objectives were met. In the Preschool environment students are seldom aware that they are being assessed as it is usually a seamless transition within the activity. Traditionally when we hear the term assessment/ test we think of pen- paper, however, at the preschool level students' may simply be asked a series of questions to which they respond orally, do a pictorial representation or they may even be allowed to match/sort items based on the lesson.
One type of assessment commonly used in the early childhood setting is Formative assessments; these are on-going assessments, reviews, and observations done in the classroom throughout the course of a school term. Preschool teachers use formative assessment to improve instructional methods and provide students with regular feedback throughout the teaching and learning process. Referred to as 'educative assessment', it is used to aid learning. The relationship between learning and assessment is very strong, brief assessments provides frequent feedback about learning progress and is more effective than long, infrequent ones, like once-a-term tests.
In this paper we will look at three types of assessments commonly used in preschool such as Traditional test in the form of matching and sorting, Systematic Observations such as checklist, anecdotal notes and recordings. Finally we will discuss briefly some Creative Performances/ Exhibitions assessments like oral presentations, drama, and artwork, as well as the use of portfolios as an assessment tool.
Unlike traditional readiness tests that are intended to predict learning, classroom assessments should support instruction by modelling the dimensions of learning. Although we must allow considerable latitude for children to construct their own understandings, teachers must nonetheless have knowledge of normal development if they are to support children's extensions and next steps. Ordinary classroom tasks can then be used to assess a child's progress in relation to a developmental continuum. An example of a developmental continuum would be that of emergent writing, beginning with scribbles, then moving on to pictures and random letters, and then proceeding to some letter/word correspondences; a second dimension of early writing is a child's ability to invent increasingly elaborated stories when dictating to an adults. (Lorrie A. Shepard 1994).
ASSESSMENTS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
Preschoolers are natural sorters and love to divide objects according to characteristics.
Matching/sorting activities can be used to help children develop their early reasoning skills. Sorting objects or toys according to size helps children develop their intellect. Activities such as alphabet recognition can be given to help preschoolers learn to recognise, write and identify items that begin with each letter. Children can also be taught colours through matching activities using colour strips or any item of varied colours in pairs. They can also match pictures to words using flash cards that have pictures on them, and another set that has the words. These lessons are not only fun, but are building blocks for later learning. Matching and sorting help with problem solving and categorizing skills. The ability to visually recognize patterns is helpful to understand our language patterns in speaking and writing. Sorting, matching and sequencing are ways for children to recognize differences and similarities visually. Matching and sorting activities can be used across the curriculum to help students develop mentally. In language arts students can sort/sequence a story line previously taught; in science they can match items according to some scientific commonality, in math they can match number to value or sort items according to shape, size measurement ect. It is a fun and easy method to assess childrens abilities, knowledge and skills that is also fun and interesting for them.
OBSERVATION AND RECORDINGS
Observation and Recordings has proven to be one of the most appropriate forms of assessments in preschool because it is one of the most accurate ways information could be obtained; by actually watching the child complete any given activity or simply involved in free play. Observation is an important tool that helps you to fill in the gap between theory and practice. This is usually done when students are engaged in any task that the teacher can observes and record his behaviour from a distance without actually disturbing him. Observation records are systematic assessments of children's knowledge and abilities in all areas of development. Each day the teacher writes brief anecdotes that describe significant episodes of the children's behaviour, this information is then complied and analyzed and over time can be used to provide a comprehensive description of each child's development and may also be used to show the progress of the entire group as a whole. An anecdotal observation includes information about developmental milestones and behavioral descriptions over a specified period of time. Checklists are observations of a specific list of items, skills, or behaviours to be performed and generally require a response of yes or no. Developmental checklists allow teachers to consistently monitor and document progress or deficiencies in developmental growth. The Early Childhood Direction Center offers a checklist which identifies milestone markers as well as red flag areas that teachers can use to check off observed behaviours. Although observations has a lot of advantages there are a few disadvantages of using this assessment method; firstly the process is extremely time-consuming, and therefore difficult for a teacher to observe the entire group depending on the amount of children in her care. Unlike countries abroad in Trinidad and Tobago there are classes that consist of 20 students per teacher. Another significant and noteworthy disadvantage to using developmental checklists is that they are limited to the specified traits and behavioral patterns outlined in the statements, which can lead to categorizing children to fit the checklist. This, in turn, can limit the information such a checklist can provide. If a child's behavior is not on the statement list or is caused by a stimulus not considered in the checklist, then the information will not be entirely accurate. One major disadvantage to a child behavior checklist is that it is subject to and reliant on the observer's interpretation of behaviors or events. If the parent, teacher or child is not impartial, then judgment will be skewed, rendering the checklist unreliable. Although anecdotal record are to be filled out without making any judgments in reality this rarely happens and the observation can be used to focus specifically on the behaviors of interest to the observer therefore the assessment may not be accurate.
Performance assessments include what is commonly thought of as students' actual performance such as oral presentation, dance, music, art and physical education. In addition to assessing their performances, student end products such as drawings may also be assessed. Performance assessments is a flexible method that allows educators to document what each child know and can do based on activities they engage in on a daily basis within the classroom. In other words, they permit an individualized approach to assessing abilities and performance. The Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress describes performance assessment as testing that requires a student to create an answer or a product that demonstrates his or her knowledge or skills. Examples of performance assessments include: Group projects; Essays; Experiments; Demonstrations and Portfolios. One key feature of all performance assessments is that they require students to be active participants. One common form of performance assessment used in the early childhood classroom is art work; students are regularly asked to do a pictorial representation of what was taught and this submitted piece of artwork is assessed by the teacher based on the lessons objectives. But how exactly do we judge students' drawings? According to an article by Viktor Lowenfeld on Creative and Mental Growth Drawing Development in Children, there are approximately two stages children between the ages 3-6 go through
The preschematic stage
First conscious creation of form occurs around age three and provides a tangible record of the child's thinking process. The first representational attempt is a person, usually with circle for head and two vertical lines for legs. Later other forms develop, clearly recognizable and often quite complex. Children continually search for new concepts so symbols constantly change.
The schematic stage
The child arrives at a "schema," a definite way of portraying an object, although it will be modified when he needs to portray something important. The schema represents the child's active knowledge of the subject. At this stage, there is definite order in space relationships: everything sits on the base line.
Specific factors in the child's daily work and interactions cue the preschool teacher in assessing developmental achievements.
There are also three main processes involved in performance assessments; these include
1. Getting information
2. Processing the information
3. Using the gathered information to make a product.
The assessment of the student's work should not only look at the final product but should also assess the processes that led to it.
Performance assessments usually include fewer questions and call for a greater degree of subjective judgement than traditional testing methods. Since there are no clear right and wrong answers, teachers have to decide how to grade and what distinguishes an average performance from an excellent one.
One of the most comprehensive on-going assessment techniques is the student portfolio which is a compilation of work done by each student during the course of a term to show the developmental process. A portfolio can be a scrapbook, folder or any other form that allows the teacher to display a child's work so that it may be viewed by parents, principals, other teachers or by the child itself. Portfolios are a method of reporting through using work samples, and are an extension of the traditional report form that is usually issued to students. The collection of these work samples along with the regularly recorded observations of children's interactions and comments serve to show children's progress over time and in a variety of situations.
Examples of work samples that can be put into a students portfolio are:
art work collected periodically throughout the year
work samples such as at writing their name on a picture or attempting to write sentences based on classroom discussions. These should cover all learning areas if possible.
Photographs of a child's block tower or completed floor puzzle with a written description to accompany it.
Checklists - try to find simple ones that parents can understand or make up your own.
Oral recounts - when you do something special with the children, have them do a verbal recall of it and write their words for them. You can do this with any activity and it helps the child to describe what they experienced and learned.
Child's Selected Work - allow children to choose paintings or pieces of their own work they wish to put into the portfolio and ask them to describe why they chose it. Put their description in there also
Portfolios require a large amount of time to compile, organize and evaluate the contents and like all informal assessments; portfolios may lack reliability and validity. Some people view the portfolio as a less reliable or fair method than more quantitative evaluations such as test scores. If goals and criteria are not clear, the portfolio can be just a miscellaneous collection of artefacts that don't show patterns of growth or achievement. And finally, like any other form of qualitative data, data from portfolio assessments can be difficult to analyze or aggregate to show change or development.
Developing a rubric to score the portfolio is also very subjective in favor of the person conducting the assessment, and the student has little room for an appeal or say in the matter.