Bridge Event Presents Range of Perspectives, Questions on Early Childhood Assessments
|July 19, 2012|
Boston, MA – On July 19, REL Northeast and Islands’ Early Childhood Education Research Alliance hosted a Bridge Event with 100 early childhood stakeholders across the region to present research, policymaking, and practitioner perspectives on early childhood assessments. This year, the ECEA is building a research agenda focused on standards, practices, and assessment in early childhood education, and the event will inform that work, said Alliance Facilitator Jacqueline Bourassa.
The webinar addressed some of the many questions about how these assessments should be designed, what they should measure, and whether or not they will improve children’s academic outcomes.
Dr. Catherine Scott-Little, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro, noted that kindergarten-entry assessments, or KEAs, should engage multiple domains of early child development—cognitive, social, and gross-motor skills—and involve many data sources, including teacher observations, parent surveys, and data collected directly from children. She said KEAs can serve several purposes—screening for disabilities, high-stakes accountability, instructional improvement—but research shows they are only valid and reliable when used appropriately.
“We always want to make sure that we’re clear on our purpose and that the assessment that we’re using is designed for that purpose,” Scott-Little said.
Part of the growing state interest in KEAs stems from the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge competition, which required states applying for a grant to design early childhood education standards and assessments, including KEAs. As a result, 43 states now either have statewide KEA systems or plans to develop them, Scott said.
In her presentation, Early Education and Care Commissioner Dr. Sherri Killins said Massachusetts is using part of its $50 million RTT-ELC grant to implement a statewide early learning assessment system that encompasses screening and assessment from birth to third grade and introduces a formal assessment process in kindergarten classrooms.
“What we’re trying to do in Massachusetts is train kindergarten teachers to use formative assessment well,” Killins said. “We believe that they’ve been observing and collecting information in all of these learning domains, but what we’re now giving them is a package to organize that data and information in a quality way and with reliability, which will inform instruction and curriculum.”
Rural New Hampshire kindergarten teacher Gerri St. Gelais talked about how she uses free online tools to develop and utilize her own assessments that help her to measure her students’ skills, monitor their progress, and individualize her instruction. (New Hampshire has no statewide KEA.)
“The data that I collect helps me to meet the students at every level,” she said.
Questions posed by the webinar participants included:
- What considerations have been made for students who are English Language Learners?
- How do you determine the reliability and validity of your assessments for young children?
- How do you assess the social-emotional learning that affects the individual child and sometimes the whole class?
- Could or should the KEA be used prior to the fall entry date in order to identify students who may benefit from additional support prior to the start of the school year?
In a follow-up survey, one participant noted that it would be useful to have “some kind of anthology of early childhood tests and assessments, with a brief description of each, to give people a comprehensive sense of what is out there.” Another said she will continue to have “conversations with our local schools and early childhood providers to have a clearer picture of what assessment (if any) they do now and explore the opportunity of collectively using on tool.”