Appropriate ongoing preschool assessment is an important component of any quality early childhood program. Young children should always be assessed in a natural setting while doing the things they do every day. Young children should be assessed throughout the day so that the teacher will be aware of the child's skills in all areas of development.
Teachers observe, write anecdotal notes, and reflect on each child's abilities. They plan according to what they have learned through their observations. If it is apparent that a child never counts past three the teacher knows that she must provide materials and opportunities and guidance for this child to count as often as possible.
Preschool assessment in an early childhood classroom is important because it drives the teacher's lesson plans. This is formative assessment. The assessment also provides information for teacher's to share with parents at conferences etc.
A developmentally appropriate assessment includes observations of the child as he goes about his business. All teaching staff will write anecdotal notes continuously on children that reflect their skills in all areas of development.
Anecdotal notes should only state the facts -not opinions. In other words, it is okay to say "Charlie smiled" but not okay to say "Charlie was happy." The anecdotal notes will tell the date, the time of day (circle time, choice time, etc.), what the child was doing, and a few details. It is alright to use your own shorthand as long as you know what it means.
The teacher takes anecdotal notes regularly as she does observations of the child. She also collects samples of the child's work. The assessment tool gives the teacher guidelines that show her where the child stands in the process of his development. Children develop most skills in a specific order.
For instance when children are learning to write they scribble, then make letter-like symbols, then write letters, and then words and sentences. If Jimmy has been making letter-like symbols, we know he is nearly ready to begin writing letters and later words. So, we offer Jimmy lots of materials, opportunities and guidance that will move him to the next level, writing letters.
This type of assessment is called authentic assessment because the child is not tested. The assessment is done in natural circumstances. The anecdotal notes are not considered accurate unless the teacher observes the same level of functioning in a particular area of development more than once.
Having worked with this type of assessment I know it is not easy at first. It seems overwhelming at times. If you are using a particular early childhood assessment tool for the first time relax. Become familiar with the process and the assessment tool. It takes a long time to know what to look for when you are observing for assessment purposes.
Organizing the method you use for writing anecdotal notes helps you be more effective and efficient as you do your observations. I have seen teachers write anecdotals on sticky notes, index cards, notebook paper, and computer labels. I have seen teachers put materials for note taking in several different spots in the classroom (for easy access).
I am a very visual person myself. I wanted to be able to see at a glance which children I hadn't observed much and which areas of development I was neglecting. I had a larger than legal size paper. It was divided into squares labeled with the various areas of development. I wrote my anecdotals on computer labels and put the labels on each child's sheet in the appropriate area. I could see everything I wanted to see at a glance.
I have also carried index cards and an ink pen in a fanny pack or small tool apron. This works great too. One way to organize index cards of course is in a recipe box with the children's names in order alphabetically.
There are a number of great tools for assessing young children's skills in all areas of development. The HighScope Child Observation Record (COR) and the Creative Curriculum Continuum are two wonderful tools.The Omnibus Guidelines (Meisel's Work Sampling System) is another worth looking into.
Another tool is to digitally record each child at various times during the day. Save these recordings in a folder for each child on your school computer. The advantage to recordingsis that you can watch them over and over in order to see different things. You can look at the recording at one time to observe their fine motor skills, for example. At another viewing you may look for their social interactions with other children.
A few safety measures to consider when using recordings:
Only the classroom approved recorder is used (no recordings should be taken from a teacher's personal equipment, including their cell phones).
All recordings remain physically on school property (either in the camera at school or on the school computer).
Children's personal information (including pictures and recordings) should never leave the school property. There is too much of a risk for it to end up on the internet where parents have not approved their children's images to be.
Some preschool assessment tools are now available online. Assessment tools that are available on CD or online have their advantages. Usually you can type in your anecdotal information and the computer program will organize the information almost any way you want it. Some assessments will even take the recorded information and give you a summary for a parent report.
Even though I have always used authentic assessment I find that it is nearly impossible to collect ALL of the information I would like. Interacting with the children is still the MOST important thing teachers do and preschool assessment serves no purpose without interaction.
Be aware of your purpose for assessing the children. There may be a year end evaluation or progress report that you will need to complete. There are certainly promises made to families in your programs "about us" or "mission" statements. There are many reasons or goals. Here is an article on how to develop those goals.