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Common Mistakes When Using Assessment Tools for Early Childhood Programs

written by: Sylvia Cochran • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 1/5/2012

Using early childhood assessment tools the right way helps preschool teachers and other professionals to adequately understand a child’s abilities and potential. Unfortunately, misunderstanding assessments can render them useless.

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    Assessment Tools and Disability

    While in the past children were classified as being unruly, slow or uncooperative, they may now be assessed -- and frequently diagnosed -- with conditions that contribute to behaviors, which educators deem undesirable. Overcoming mislabeling and improper classification with the help of suitable assessment tools now leads to proper medical attention and corrective action.

    For example, to assess motor skills in early childhood, the Peabody Developmental Motor Scale and its emphasis on the recognition of problems associated with developmental shortfalls is invaluable. Yet even as useful as this assessment tool may be, it has its limitations.

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    Common Mistakes

    Improper conclusions

    The primary reason for assessment tools within the classroom is the empowerment of teachers with respect to teaching decisions. Varying assessments seek to ferret out the skill building that already took place and foreshadow readiness for future skill building experiences that are yet to come. Knowing a child’s learning styles and perhaps concepts that have not yet been fully understood by a student can assist a preschool teacher in tailoring her teaching to each child’s continued learning.

    Problems can arise when improper conclusions about a child’s abilities – or lack thereof – are drawn based upon test results. For example, hypothesizing that a failure to adequately recognize signs and symbols is indicative of missed learning may be true, but there is also the possibility that the child may have bad eyesight.

    Improper tool use

    Assessments are only as good as the tools that are used. Developmental differences cannot be factored in merely by allowing more room for error when scoring the tests.

    In this instance, “normal" and also “gifted children" may nevertheless be classified as being behind the curve, while those lacking certain skill sets may not receive the extra attention required.

    Improper reaction to test results

    Preschool teachers may be surprised when a usually well performing child showcases sudden apparently poor results in one of more developmental domains. Great examples are Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDI) that measure language and social development as well as cognitive and motor skills building. The strength of these tests rests in their repeatability and their use for long-term assessments.

    Failing to take the long-term aspect into consideration, preschool teachers could make presumptions about the child’s overall development – especially when compared to peers – too early in the school year. Although exceedingly rare among seasoned educators, this is a common error the first time teacher needs to be aware of.

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    Using the Tools

    There are ways to ensure that assessment tools are used correctly. The education that early childhood educators undergo is invaluable in this respect and likely to address a good many tips and methods for using, evaluating and communicating results from early childhood assessment tools. Moreover, hands-on training under the tutelage of a seasoned preschool director assists new educators to see the assessments for what they are: snapshots in time of rapidly growing and developing children.

    It is always a good idea for teaching professionals to familiarize themselves with the position statements accompanying the tests put out by various organizations. This helps to put the test, the assessment tools and also the data garnered against a proper backdrop for interpretation, especially if this is an educator’s first time of actually using or administering a given test.

    In some cases, there is additional training a preschool teacher may need to receive. This is the case with the Battelle Developmental Inventory, Child Observation Record and also the Brigance Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills as well as a few other tests. Teachers, who lack the training specified by the governing bodies releasing the tests, must communicate the need for additional training to preschool directors. More often than not, directors will be proactive and schedule in-service training sessions for all educators – new and seasoned alike – to provide the latest training information and also updates to the tests.

    Learning from other teachers – or states – about the use of early childhood assessments is a valuable means of broadening the horizon of educators. Understanding the successes and failures of other school systems assists preschool teachers to put test results into proper perspective and adequately communicate findings and reasons for testing to parents.