Used correctly, preschool assessment forms are part of a lifecycle that fuels your classroom. First, they provide valuable insight that keeps your staff focused on supporting early childhood learning.
Then, they provide a springboard for fine-tuning curriculum to address the strengths and areas of growth of your class. This helps you preempt potential problems with lesson plans, such as lessons being easier or harder than you initially expected.
Finally, as a more objective form of valuation, they form a cornerstone of parent-staff communication along with other child assessment tools such as developmental portfolios.
When you invest in this lifecycle of preschool assessment forms, your whole program will benefit overall. At each stage, there is the opportunity for improvement and growth — not just for children, but also for your staff, curriculum, and parent-teacher relationships.
Stage 1: Creating a preschool assessment form
The first stage of the lifecycle is creating your assessment forms. To do so, you'll draw from expert guidelines on developmental milestones.
We strongly recommend checking state regulations or guidelines to start. While you want to be sure you are meeting your own state's requirements, take a look at other state materials as well, as they can contain valuable information and tips. Look at resources such as:
- Washington State's Guide to Early Childhood Assessment
- National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) Early Learning Scale
- Massachusetts Department of Early Education's Guide to Early Childhood Assessment
- California's Preschool Learning Foundations
- Georgia Early Learning and Development Standards
Then, identify the primary categories you will assess (e.g., literacy, math, fine motor skills, emotional development) and what criteria you will use to determine a child's stage of development. Put these into a template with a standardized rating system, like the one available for download at the end of this article. And remember to check state guidelines every year — they may change!
Stage 2: Filling out your assessments
Stage two of the lifecycle is conducting assessments of the children in your care. Observe each child over a predetermined period of time to determine whether or not they've reached certain milestones outlined on your assessment forms.
Children's performance will vary from day to day, so administering one “test” may not be indicative of their overall ability. Instead, look for consistent progress by a child to the point where they are regularly meeting the criteria for development. For example, a child that does craft work showing a high level of fine motor skills might meet your highest criteria in fine motor skill mastery.
Also, collect materials for child portfolios while completing preschool assessment forms. This helps build a complete timeline of each child's progress with examples, comprehensive notes, and more objective standards to show growth. Keeping both a portfolio and formal assessment on the same timeline streamlines the way that you evaluate a child's growth.
Stage 3: Using forms to enrich curriculum
As you complete assessments for each child in your care, look over the results as a whole. What similarities do all children in the class share? Are certain skills stronger? Where are the opportunities for growth?
Use these observations to make changes to your preschool curriculum. Where knowledge across a classroom was strong, adopt a more advanced lesson plan or offer more challenging activities. Where you notice gaps in knowledge, pay more attention to those areas. You may want to employ scaffolding techniques to support children in reaching the next level of their abilities, for example.
If only a few children need support or more challenging activities in a certain area, include them in your lesson planning. Be sure that everyone working in your classroom is aware of a child who could benefit from an individualized assignment, and plan for how that may affect classroom dynamics.
You can't always predict the strengths or interests of your classroom, but you can regularly course correct to better support progress and development. A key part of this is looking at your materials at the end of a session and using your historical data to improve your offerings. Keep note of which lessons could be modified to suit faster development and what worked to strengthen a group's less-mastered skills.
Stage 4: Talking to parents about their child's development
The final stage is discussing preschool assessment forms, which is a great way to open a conversation with parents — especially as they become more concerned about kindergarten readiness. Formal assessments provide a more objective benchmark to demonstrate where children are developmentally.
When talking with parents, combine a review of the child's formal assessment with their development portfolio, which will include samples of their work, staff notes and, potentially, even video. This creates a holistic picture of a child's growth. And portfolios can demonstrate some of the skills assessed in your development form, like literacy and writing, fine motor control, and color and shape identification.
Assessments are meant to highlight a child's strengths and areas of growth, which can be sensitive subjects for parents. The factual nature of development criteria can help parents see their child's skills more objectively. If you'd like to suggest supplementing preschool activities at home, these guidelines can show parents how your recommendations support growth. They also show you are attuned to the needs of their child and fully committed to their child's well-being.
Use the lifecycle to your advantage
The assessment cycle builds a natural rhythm into your program planning and provides valuable touch points for parents and staff. Despite the name, preschool assessment forms can be used for more than gauging and recording children's progress; they can play a part in strengthening your curriculum and forging better relationships with parents.
If you are in the process of creating or updating your preschool assessment forms, check out our template here. It includes the five categories of development as outlined by the Georgia Early Learning and Development Standards, and an example of assessment criteria for each. You can easily modify the template to reflect the guidelines you use at your preschool.