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Conversations Regarding Education and Performing Educational Assessments for Children

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In today’s society, there are many conversations regarding education and performing educational assessments for children. One question that is commonly asked is why children need to be assessed and what is the best approach to assessing them? First, we should ask the question what is an assessment? Assessing is about collecting information regarding the student. It includes development, behavior, health as well as academic progress to name a few. It also helps tell us if there is a need for special services for the student (Morrison, 2014).

The purpose of the assessment is to help educators identify what children know, determine appropriate placing and help make decisions on the best way to implement needed learning activities. According to Cindy Jiban, Ph.D., assessments of children must serve to optimize learning and “must demonstrate solid consequential validity: the consequence of the time and resources invested in the assessment should be demonstrably positive for the children assessed” (2013). It is also imperative that the assessments are purposeful and developmentally appropriate as assessment methods can have a huge impact on how students learn making it vital that the method used is appropriate and true to our educational purpose.

There are two different types of assessments. Formal and informal. Formal assessments can include the use of standardized tests. It can be compared to other scores of those children who have formerly taken the assessment. Informal assessment can include observations by a teacher or specialist, a time or work sampling, as well as a portfolio. For example, portfolios are popular among homeschooling families. The portfolio is used as an assessment tool to assure that the student is on target and is progressing in his or her learning.

It is important to point out that though the assessment can be useful, there can also be conceptual and measurement issues. According to the 2016 article by Jones, Zaslow, Darling-Churchill, and Halle, “key conceptual issues include the need to more clearly identify the borders of social and emotional development, those that separate it from other key domains (such as cognitive development), and to more clearly delineate and distinguish the subdomains of social and emotional development (such as emotional competence)”.

Kristen E. Darling and Laura Lippman define social and emotional development as “the emerging ability of young children (ages 0–5) to form close and secure adult and peer relationships; experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways; and explore the environment and learn” (2016). Furthermore, another major concern is that what is being measured during the assessment will be directly what is taught, leaving social, emotional and creative development minimized.

According to the 2014 textbook Fundamentals of Early Childhood Education by George Morrison, there are four steps for effective observation. They are as follows:

1. Plan for observation and set goals.

a. Ask questions such as who, what, when and where. Keep it simple. Goals are to determine if you need to modify what is needed in your classroom and to assess how the students interact with each other

2. Conduct the observation and record the data as you observe it.

a. During an observation, it is important to be objective and that to record the observational data as it is occurring. Do not wait until the end as it is possible to forget something.

3. Interpret the data.

a. This is where the organization of the information recorded will occur and where decisions are made based on those observations. As stated by Morrison, “interpretation forms the foundation for the implementation, necessary adaptations, or modifications in a program or curriculum.

4. Implement a plan.

a. Now that there are results, put together a plan. Changes in the classroom may need to be made a modification to a student plan may be necessary. A student’s failure or success can be determined if a plan is not implemented accordingly.

An important aspect or purpose of observations is to help determine the cognitive, linguistic, physical, social and emotional deployment of a child. It can also be helpful in providing insight for the educator as well as the parents. Additionally, it is important to identify children’s learning interests and style. Many children learn through play or other activities and getting to know the student’s interest only further helps the educator develop appropriate learning activities.

Other advantages of gathering data through observation are enabling professionals to gather the data they need about the child that they may not have gotten from formal observations. Observing a child through play is also a great way to gather data as it helps you assess their social development as well as other developmental standards. Observation also allows educators to reassess more often. Educators can assess a student daily, weekly, or monthly for example.

When presented with differences in culture, ethnicity, home language, age, socioeconomic background, or other issues of individuality, assessments can be beneficial. They can provide guidance as to which method may work best to accommodate those issues. For example, it is important to recognize that every child learns differently. Some develop and learn faster than others making it imperative that the assessment given should be comparable to what is appropriate developmentally for that child’s age.

In the article by the Goal 1 Early Childhood Assessment Resource Group, they reiterate the importance of children’s learning and assessments by stating that “Assessing children in the earliest years of life—from birth to age 8—is difficult because it is the period when young children’s rates of physical, motor, and linguistic development outpace growth rates at all other stages. Growth is rapid, episodic, and highly influenced by environmental supports: nurturing parents, quality caregiving, and the learning setting” (2018).

Educators need to pay close attention when assuring that they are providing effective assessments. Effective assessment indicators include assuring that the assessment being administered is appropriate for the ages of the children being assessed. Assuring that the assessment instruments being used are used for their intended purpose and that they are compliant with professional criteria. Additionally, it is important that ethical principles are being applied during the assessment. It is also imperative that assessments are clearly integrated, and that the curriculum and material being assessed strive to meet and align with current curriculum standards.

Guidelines are helpful for educators when reporting information on assessments to primary caregivers. It is important that educators communicate with primary caregivers to provide information on the progress of the students learning as well as relate school and home activities. This process should be ongoing throughout the student’s academic life.

Open communication with parents is vital in the success of a student. In the 2018 study conducted by Hu, Yang, Wu, Song, and Neitzel, that the quality of teachers, teaching experience, class size, and emotional support were significant factors in parental satisfaction. Proper assessments given allow for teachers to provide a productive learning environment as well as help place students in the appropriate classes to reach the full potential and achieve academic success.

The 2014 textbook Fundamentals of Early Childhood Education by George Morrison provides several guidelines for educators to follow when communicating with the primary caregivers of one of the students:

1. Be honest and realistic. Do not sugarcoat what needs to be reported. Parents need honest assessments. Giving honest assessments will allow the educator to ask caregivers with help in helping the student.

2. Communicate with caregivers so that they understand. Caregivers must have a clear understanding of what is being communicated to them so that they are able to better work alongside educators.

3. Provide ideas to caregivers that will help them to help the student when at home.

The big take away from this should be that following the above guidelines is that caregivers and educators need to be partners in helping students succeed at school and in life.

Educators and primary caregivers are faced with many responsibilities. Whether you are a fan of formal observation or informal observation, it is important to remember that it is vital for educators and caregivers to work together. It is important for caregivers to provide educators with information such as a child’s health, learning style or anything else that may help an educator with their assessment. It is equally as important for educations to be objective when performing assessments as well as being open and honest with caregivers about the student and what the results of the assessments are. With the proper assessment and team effort of caregivers and educators, the goal should be to create a safe, nurturing, and educational environment that creates a lifelong love of learning for the student.

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