Assessment, defined as gathering information in order to make informed instructional decisions, is an integral part of most early childhood programs (Meisels, 1995). Assessment is an ongoing process that includes collecting, synthesizing and interpreting information about pupils, the classroom and their instruction. Testing is one form of assessment that, appropriately applied, systematically measures skills such as literacy and numeracy. While it does not provide a complete picture, testing is an important tool, for both its efficiency and ability to measure prescribed bodies of knowledge (Coleman, M.R., Buysse, V., and Neitzel, J. 2006). Alternative or “authentic” forms of assessment can be culturally sensitive and pose an alternative to testing, but they require a larger investment in establishing criteria for judging development and evaluator training. Child assessment has value that goes well beyond measuring progress in children to evaluating programs, identifying staff development needs and planning future instruction. Young children are difficult subjects to assess accurately because of their activity level and distractibility, shorter attention span, wariness of strangers, and inconsistent performance in unfamiliar environments (Benner, 1992). Other factors that may affect a child's performance include cultural differences and language barriers, parents not having books to read to their child and a child's lack of interaction with other children. Consequently, assessment of infants, toddlers, and young children requires sensitivity to the child's background, and knowledge of testing limitations and procedures with young children (Wortham, 1990; Benner, 1992).
Assessment of young children is crucial in meeting a variety of purposes (Goldstein and Sammons, 1997). It provides information with which caregivers and teachers can better understand individual children’s developmental progress and status and how well they are learning, and it can inform care giving, instruction, and provision of needed services (Lord, 1980). It helps early childhood program staff determine how well they are meeting their objectives for the children they serve, and it informs program design and implementation. It provides some of the information needed for program accountability and contributes to advancing knowledge of child development. For younger children, thinking about purpose is equally central. Done well, ongoing assessment can provide invaluable information to parents and educators about how children grow and develop (Goldstein, 2000). Developmentally appropriate assessment systems can provide information to highlight what children know and are able to do. Furthermore, the tools available for assessing young children and their environments have increased vastly in number and variety in recent years. Advances in child development research and demands from educators, evaluation researchers, and policy makers have converged to provide a dizzying array of assessment options—thus enhancing the urgency of providing some guidelines for deciding when and what to assess, choosing and using assessment tools, and interpreting assessment data. Assessments for purposes other than screening and diagnosis have become more and more common for young children (Goldstein and Sammons, 1997, Goldstein, 2000) Some of these assessments are conducted to answer questions about the child (e.g., monitoring progress during instruction or intervention). Other assessments are conducted to provide information about classrooms and programs (e.g., to evaluate a specific curriculum or type of program) or society in general (e.g., to describe the school readiness of children entering kindergarten). Many of the assessments widely in use in educational settings are designed primarily to inform instruction by helping classroom personnel specify how children are learning and developing and where they could usefully adapt and adjust their instructional approaches....
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