ERIC Identifier: ED382407
Publication Date: 1995-05-00
Author: Meisels, Samuel J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Performance Assessment in Early Childhood Education: The Work
Sampling System. ERIC Digest.
The pressure to demonstrate effectiveness through children's performance on
standardized tests not only changes how teachers teach and what children study,
but also seems to be changing our very understanding of the nature of learning
and achievement (McGill-Franzen & Allington, 1993).
Group-administered tests focus on the acquisition of simple facts, low-level
skills, superficial memorization, and isolated evidence of achievement. The
tests hold great power, and that power can be abused. Of greatest concern is
that they rob teachers of their sense of judgment about how to help children
develop to their optimal potential.
This loss of judgment is often observed in the use of readiness and early
school achievement tests. The appropriateness of using standardized,
group-administered achievement tests for children below third grade is highly
dubious and questionable. The content of these tests is generally abstract,
verbally mediated, and potentially biased against children unfamiliar or
uncomfortable with test-like activities and with middle class manners and mores
(Stallman & Pearson, 1990). Even more problematic is how little can be
learned from the results of standardized tests administered to young children;
the data may tell us a child's percentile ranking on a subtest, but they cannot
tell us whether the child's performance reflects an inability to follow the
complex test directions or whether the child did not have mastery of the
information or skill.
Performance assessment offers a new approach that documents activities in
which children engage on a daily basis. It is flexible enough to reflect
individual academic achievement and designed to evaluate many elements of
learning and development not captured by standardized tests. It puts assessment
back where it belongs: in the hands of teachers and children, and in the
classrooms in which they work (Meisels, Dorfman, & Steele, 1995).
THE WORK SAMPLING SYSTEM
The Work Sampling System (Meisels,
Jablon, et al., 1995) offers an exemplar of how performance assessment works in
Head Start, early childhood, and the primary years (ages 3 to 11). This
performance assessment system assesses and documents children's skills,
knowledge, behavior, and accomplishments as displayed across a wide variety of
education domains and as manifested on multiple occasions. Work sampling is a
curriculum-embedded assessment, rather than an "on demand" set of tests. It
systematizes teacher observations by guiding those observations with specific
criteria and well-defined procedures. It consists of three complementary
components: (1) Developmental Guidelines and Checklists, (2) Portfolios, and (3)
Summary Reports. Classroom-based and instructionally relevant, these components
involve the child, the child's family, the teacher, and the school
administration in the processes of assessment.
DEVELOPMENTAL GUIDELINES AND CHECKLISTS
Guidelines and Checklists are designed to assist teachers in observing and
documenting individual children's growth and progress. They are intended to
reflect common activities and expectations in classrooms that are structured
around developmentally appropriate activities and are based on national, state,
and local curriculum standards. Teachers should be able to complete the
Checklists without testing their children. Each Checklist covers seven domains:
(1) Personal and social development; (2) Language and literacy; (3) Mathematical
thinking; (4) Scientific thinking; (5) Social studies; (6) The Arts; and (7)
Each domain is divided into functional components, each of which contains
performance indicators that represent important skills, knowledge, behaviors,
and accomplishments. Guidelines accompanying the Checklists enhance the process
of observation, make it more reliable, and help ensure consistency by providing
a rationale and illustrations for each performance indicator. The Checklists and
Guidelines create a profile of children's individualized progress. Because of
the common structure of the Checklists from preschool through grade 5, teachers
can chart children's progress over a wide span of time and development and plan
a curriculum that reflects individual growth and change.
Purposeful collections of children's work that
illustrate their efforts, progress, and achievements, Portfolios are used in The
Work Sampling System to provide rich documentation of each child's experiences
throughout the year. Portfolio collection enables children to become involved
with the process of selecting and judging their own work. Portfolio content
should parallel classroom activities and lead to the development of new
activities based on joint teacher-child assessment of the child's progress and
The Work Sampling System is a relatively structured approach to Portfolio
collection that relies on the identification and collection of two types of
work: Core Items (representations of a particular area of learning within a
domain that are selected three times a year); and Individualized Items (unique
examples of a child's work that capture the child's interests and experiences
and reflect integrated learning across domains). Collecting Portfolio items on
multiple occasions allows the Portfolio to become a tool for documenting,
analyzing, and summarizing the child's growth and development through the entire
Portfolios are powerful instructional tools. They offer children, teachers,
parents, administrators, and policymakers an opportunity to view the sweep and
power of children's growth and development. Above all, they integrate
instruction and assessment.
The final component of The Work Sampling
System is the summary report, completed three times a year for each child. This
report consists of a brief summary of the child's classroom performance and is
based on teacher observations and on records teachers keep as part of The Work
Sampling System. The report contains specific criteria for evaluating children's
performance in each domain of learning and behavior that is emphasized in the
The Summary Report is a means of translating the rich information from
Developmental Checklists and Portfolios into a more easily understood and
interpreted document for parents, teachers, and administrators. Summary reports
are designed to replace report cards. They consist of performance and progress
ratings in each domain, and teachers' reflections and comments about the child's
development, based on the evidence accumulated in the Checklists and Portfolios.
Tests are powerful only if we attach high stakes
to them and relinquish our judgment about how to educate children (Meisels,
1992). Some tests are less informative than others, and some are hopelessly
biased, narrow, or unrealistic; but any test can be misused, just as any idea
can be distorted.
Work Sampling is a powerful substitute for group-administered achievement
tests. Research about The Work Sampling System shows that it provides teachers
with reliable and valid data about children's school performance (Meisels, Liaw,
Dorfman, & Fails, in press) and with a great deal of information and
evidence about children's activities and development that can be used to enhance
instruction and to report to children's parents. It is based on teachers'
perceptions of their children in actual classroom situations. It simultaneously
informs, expands, and structures those perceptions while involving children and
parents in the learning process. The Guidelines and Checklists provide detailed,
observation-based information about the child's skills, accomplishments,
knowledge, and behavior. The Portfolios highlight qualitative aspects of
children's work. The Summary Reports help record, summarize, and aggregate
information on children's overall educational progress.
Performance assessment, of which The Work Sampling System is an example,
allows teachers to record what children can do in the context of their
experience. When children's experience is rich and diverse, invites them to
display their initiative, and engages their curiosity, then performance
assessment promises to help us learn about children as we watch them learn about
Adapted from: Meisels, Samuel J. (1993). Remaking Classroom Assessment with
The Work Sampling System. YOUNG CHILDREN 48(5, July): 34-40. EJ 465 921.
McGill-Franzen, A., and R.L. Allington. (1993).
Flunk 'em or Get Them Classified: The Contamination of Primary Grade
Accountability Data. EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER 22(1, Jan-Feb): 19- 22. EJ 464 906.
Meisels, S.J. (1992). Doing Harm by Doing Good: Iatrogenic Effects of Early
Childhood Enrollment and Promotion Policies. EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY
7(2, June):155-174. EJ 450 523.
Meisels, S.J., A. Dorfman, and D. Steele. (1995). Equity and Excellence in
Group-Administered and Performance-Based Assessments. In M.T. Nettles, and A.L.
Nettles (Eds.), EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATIONAL TESTING AND ASSESSMENT (pp.
243-261). Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Meisels, S.J., J.R. Jablon, D.B. Marsden, M.L. Dichtelmiller, A.B. Dorfman,
and D.M. Steele. (1995). THE WORK SAMPLING SYSTEM: AN OVERVIEW. Ann Arbor: Rebus
Planning Associates, Inc.
Meisels, S.J., F-r. Liaw, A.B. Dorfman, and R. Fails. (In press, 1995). The
Work Sampling System: Reliability and Validity of a Performance Assessment for
Young Children. EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY 10(3, Sep).
Stallman, A.C., and P.D. Pearson. (1990). Formal measures of early literacy.
In L.M. Morrow and J.K. Smith (Eds.), ASSESSMENT FOR INSTRUCTION IN EARLY
LITERACY (pp. 7-44). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. (See ED 324 647 for
original version of this report.)