Every child is unique. Children show off their individual personalities, preferences, and skills from the moment they're born. It’s important for families, educators, and caregivers to track a child’s development by ensuring they meet certain physical, emotional, and cognitive benchmarks at certain stages of their lives.
It can be hard to follow a child’s progress — especially if you’re around them every day — so it is important to track their development throughout the year using early childhood assessments. Preschool assessments will provide helpful information about how a child is developing and if they’re hitting the right developmental milestones.
What is a preschool assessment?
Preschool assessments are a great way to track how quickly a child develops key skills and determine school readiness. In addition, tracking their progress throughout the year can give families and educators helpful information on the types of topics and skills they should focus on so the children are on track for developmental progress.
These assessments are also a great tool to check in on curriculum effectiveness. Without these regular check-ins, educators and families may have difficulty determining if their children are developing the right skills for their age.
Don’t worry — these assessments aren’t like the ones you take in high school. Instead of preparing a formal test, administrators should assess children by observing them. This gives the families and educators helpful insights into the child’s skills while also keeping the children far away from any performance-related anxiety.
There are multiple assessment methods that you, as an educator, can use with your children. These methods fall into two categories — informal and formal. Informal assessment methods include observations, portfolios, and educator ratings. They are non-intrusive to the children while allowing you to observe and collect information on their developmental progress.
Formal assessments are standardized, which means they are scored in a “standard” manner. You can use formal assessments to assess children's development. The results of an assessment can support educators and families in discussing the best ways to support a child’s development or make a plan for next steps, such as following up with a developmental specialist.
Why are assessments important?
There are a few developmental milestones educators and other developmental specialists look for to see if a child is learning essential skills at the right pace. Since preschoolers are too young for tests in a traditional testing environment, educators rely on observation during assessments. The information learned during these assessments can help adults:
- Figure out all the different learning strengths and preferences the children in their classroom have. This will help guide them on teaching techniques to use so the children can learn in their preferred style.
- Measure how each child is progressing academically and in other key developmental skill areas. The previous observations will provide helpful information on what skills a child may need extra help with going forward.
- Provide educators with examples for families on how their child is doing in the classroom. These assessments are great for educators to hand out during check-ins with families. Regular check-ins with a child’s caregivers can help you gain their trust and keep everyone in the loop about their child’s progress and needs.
- Provide early identification of children who may benefit from early intervention or other related services. Keep in mind these informal assessments do not replace a professional diagnosis from a medical or developmental specialist. Screening for developmental delays early on is essential as early intervention services (i.e., speech, physical or occupational therapy) can make a difference in the trajectory and outlook of a child’s development.
- Get helpful feedback about an educator’s classroom performance. These assessments can help educators and childcare administrators see how they can better support their children in the classroom and where there may be room for improvement.
How to administer assessments
Preschool assessments should be administered several times throughout the year. Ideally, there should be one at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. Having previous assessments of a child’s skill development will give educators and caregivers a better understanding of their class’s progress and show areas they may need to focus more on in the future.
It’s also important to carefully choose the people assessing the children. For smaller centers, the director may be the one to administer the assessment, observe the children, and make curriculum changes based on the results. If your center has a team of educators, it’s good practice to partner junior educators with more experienced ones until they feel comfortable enough to assess the children accurately.
Most preschool assessments are made to be completed in 10 - 15 minutes. Keep in mind each child will complete it at their own pace since they’re just observational tests. Make sure to keep the environment positive, relaxed, and stress-free for the children as you observe their progress to get the best results.
Types of skills you should assess at your center
There are different types of assessments you can administer depending on the skills you want to observe and track. The most common skills educators and childcare professionals want to keep an eye on throughout the year include:
- Social and emotional skills: Assessments of a child’s social and emotional development will examine their ability to make social connections, self-regulate when upset, and persist when learning new tasks.
- Physical well-being and motor development: These assessments will examine a child’s ability to use fine and gross motor skills to fulfill various physical tasks. These tasks should be simple and could include drawing and painting, playing on playground equipment, or playing with blocks.
- Pre-literacy and pre-writing skills: These assessments will look at skills like a child’s ability to follow and tell a story and how developed their fine motor skills are when drawing.
- Speaking and listening skills: Preschool assessments can help track a child’s expressive language, language comprehension, and auditory development. These observations may look at how well a child can follow a conversation, express their thoughts, and respond in various situations.
- Math skills: Some assessments may observe a child’s basic number comprehension, counting, sorting by shape, color, and size, and comparing and contrasting.
It’s crucial for educators to administer these assessments in the right environment and communicate with families about what a preschool assessment is for, when it will take place, and when the results will be shared with them. Few adults have positive memories of their own experiences with standardized testing during school. They might be a little uneasy about centers giving “tests” to their young children since tests are often associated with stress and anxiety.
You can reassure those family members that your assessments won’t be a stressful experience for their children. Instead of giving the children grades or making an assessment pass/fail, these assessments simply observe a child’s skills and will be used as a conversation starter to share with families about their child’s development.
How preschool assessments can improve the quality of your program
When you start integrating preschool assessments into your childcare program, you’ll quickly see areas of your business improve. Even though you’re observing the children during the assessments, you’re also getting feedback about the effectiveness of your educator’s teaching strategies. This information can help guide you as you or your staff create new lesson plans, add new curriculums, or use different teaching techniques.
Putting together a formal assessment process at your school or childcare center will make sure your observations are helpful for everyone involved. There are four stages to successfully integrating preschool assessments into your program:
- Stage 1: Creating a preschool assessment form
- Stage 2: Filling out your assessments
- Stage 3: Using forms to enrich the curriculum
- Stage 4: Talking to families about their child’s development
Preschool assessment templates
There are tons of ready-to-use informal preschool assessment templates you can download and modify to fit your program.
Speaking and listening skills template
Pre-literacy and math assessment template
Social and emotional skills assessment template
Pre-writing assessment template
Preschool assessment tools and sources
Your state may have its own rules and regulations around child assessments you’ll need to follow, so make sure to check those out before you start. Download our template here, and check out these resources on how to develop your own assessment program:
- 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
Frequently asked questions about preschool assessments
What types of assessments are used in preschools?
There are two types of preschool assessments: formative assessments and summative assessments.
Formative assessments are integrated into daily lessons to collect data about children’s learning progress. Using formative assessments allows educators to adapt their lesson plans to address children's challenges as they arise.
Summative assessments are often completed at the end of the academic year. They summarize children’s comprehension based on a standard or benchmark. Summative assessments are less common than formative assessments in preschool because they are not considered developmentally appropriate assessments for young children.
What are the challenges involved in assessing preschoolers?
Preschoolers have short attention spans, and their classroom performance can vary daily. This can make it difficult to get an accurate, consistent assessment result, especially when testing children over multiple days.
How do I know if an assessment is formal?
Formal assessments are valid and reliable. For an assessment to be valid, it must be developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate for the children. To be reliable, an assessment must provide the same result when administered to a child by two different people or at two different times.
The bottom line
Always remember every child develops and learns at their own speed. Different skills come easier to some children than others — and that’s completely normal. If you’re concerned a child is falling too far behind their peers, there are various strategies and programs to help them catch up. And don’t forget: many children don’t master all of the skills covered in assessments before starting kindergarten. Overall, preschool assessments are a great addition to programs to ensure every child gets the attention and care they need to succeed.
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