ERIC Identifier: ED407172
Publication Date: 1997-04-00
Author: Katz, Lilian G.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
A Developmental Approach to Assessment of Young Children. ERIC
For more than a decade, early childhood educators have been discussing issues
of curriculum and teaching methods in terms of their developmental
appropriateness. The concept of developmental appropriateness can also be
extended to issues related to the assessment of children during the early years.
THE PURPOSES OF ASSESSMENT
Clarifying the main purpose for
which young children are assessed can help determine what kinds of assessments
would be most appropriate. Assessment of individual children might serve one of
the following purposes: * to determine progress on significant developmental
achievements; * to make placement or promotion decisions; * to diagnose learning
and teaching problems; * to help in instruction and curriculum decisions; * to
serve as a basis for reporting to parents; and * to assist a child with
assessing his or her own progress.
Decisions regarding the purposes of assessment should begin with discussions
among all the stakeholders--parents, educators, and other members of the
community--as appropriate. The group may want to keep in mind that (1) plans,
strategies, and assessment instruments are differentially suited for each of the
potential purposes of assessment; (2) an overall assessment should include the
four categories of educational goals: knowledge, skills, dispositions, and
feelings (Katz, 1995); and (3) assessments made during children's informal work
and play are most likely to minimize the many potential errors of various
THE RISKS OF ASSESSING YOUNG CHILDREN
Young children are
notoriously poor test-takers: perhaps because they are sometimes confused by
being asked questions that they think the tester must already know the answers
to! There is reason to suggest that the younger the child being evaluated,
assessed, or tested, the more errors are made (Shepard, 1994; Ratcliff, 1995).
If this principle is sound, then the younger the children, the greater the risk
of assigning false labels to them. Another principle may also be appropriate:
the longer children live with a label (a true or false one), the more difficult
it may become to discard it.
All methods of assessment make errors: the errors made by formal tests are
different from those made by informal or anecdotal records and documentation
notes; the errors made by specific checklists of behavioral items are different
from those made by holistic impressionistic assessments. Awareness of the
potential errors of each evaluation or assessment strategy can help minimize
errors in interpretation. It is a good idea to strive for a balance between
global or holistic evaluation and detailed specific assessments of young
THE ASSESSMENT OF YOUNG CHILDREN
As they plan assessments
of young children's learning, parents and educators may want to:
RECOGNIZE THE LIMITATIONS OF REPORT CARDS AND GRADES.
several reasons, report cards with letter grades or achievement scores are not
appropriate for children at and below the third grade. First, before third
grade, the differences in developmental timetables and other factors that
contribute to performance are still too unstable, malleable, and varied to
achieve reliability. By third grade, however, children's abilities and aptitudes
are likely to have stabilized and can be assessed with at least minimal
reliability. Second, there is little evidence that grades or scores listed on
the report cards of young children contribute positively to those most in need
of improvement. Third, while teachers need to know how well a young child is
progressing on significant skills and knowledge, and to evaluate such progress,
little is known about how parents use such information.
ASSESS ASPECTS OF CHILDREN'S FUNCTIONING THAT HAVE REAL
MEANING. The items and behaviors assessed should have
demonstrablerelationships to significant human functioning. For example,
thechild's knowledge of the names of shapes or of the calendar at age4 or 5 has
little or no practical significance or meaning beyondtest performance itself. In
addition to assessing young children'ssocial competence, adults should include
the assessment ofindividual children's progress in acquiring desirable
dispositions,feelings, skills, and knowledge.
Documentation is a strategy for recording and presenting such assessments
(see Katz & Chard, 1996).
ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO ASSESS THEIR OWN WORK.
Preschoolers and children in the primary grades can be encouragedto assess
their own work according to specific criteria such as theclarity, inclusiveness,
interest level, comprehensiveness, oraesthetic qualities of the work. They can
also be encouraged toconsider the standards to be met on these criteria.
ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO ASSESS THEIR OWN PROGRESS. From kindergarten on, most
children can be encouraged to assess the general progress of their own learning.
During teacher-child or teacher-parent-child conferences, children can be
encouraged to indicate what mastery and learning they want to focus on during a
given period. From time to time, children can then be asked to judge their own
progress, using three or four categories. For example, each child can be asked
to discuss work she thinks she is making good progress on, what he thinks he
needs to concentrate more on, what she wants help with, and other categories
nominated by the child. Most children will be quite realistic and sensible when
engaging in such self-evaluation. The teacher can help by expressing her own
realistic evaluation in a serious and supportive way. In principle, unless
children are consulted about their own views of their own progress, they cannot
learn to assume some responsibility for it (Katz, 1995).
INVOLVE CHILDREN IN EVALUATING THE CLASS COMMUNITY.
Depending on their ages, children as a group can be encouraged to develop
some criteria concerning what they want their classroom life to be like. These
criteria are not simply lists of classroom rules. Rather they should be a
thoughtful examination of what kind of community the class should be--e.g., the
extent to which it is a caring, cooperative group, respectful of individual
differences; the extent to which it is a helpful community of scholars; and the
extent to which it meets any other dimensions of classroom life the children and
their teacher think are important.
Periodically, the teacher or a child can lead the group in a discussion
concerning how well they are doing on these criteria as a class, and what
additions or modifications of the criteria might be tried. Such discussions
should be directed toward the development of positive and constructive
Whenever a measurement is applied to a group of
people of any age, especially a group that is diverse in background, experience,
aptitude, development, culture, language, and interests, some will rank higher
and some lower than others on any item assessed. All measures yield such
differences, and it is thus statistically impossible for all those subjected to
the same assessment to be above average! However, failure to evaluate and assess
children's progress might mean that some children will be deprived of needed
intervention with special services at a time when these services can do the most
good. While educators cannot be accountable for all children being above average
or for all children being first, they are accountable for applying all teaching
strategies and efforts known to be effective and appropriate for the learning
situation at hand. Assessment procedures should therefore indicate which of the
strategies and resources available and judged appropriate have been employed to
help each individual child.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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Genishi, Celia. (Ed.). (1992). WAYS OF ASSESSING CHILDREN AND CURRICULUM:
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Katz, Lilian G. (1995). TALKS WITH TEACHERS OF YOUNG CHILDREN: A COLLECTION.
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Katz, Lilian G., & Chard, Sylvia. (1989). ENGAGING CHILDREN'S MINDS: THE
PROJECT APPROACH. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Katz, Lilian G., & Chard, Sylvia C. (1996). THE CONTRIBUTION OF
DOCUMENTATION TO THE QUALITY OF EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. ERIC Digest. Urbana,
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