In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Assessment in Early Childhood Education

  • Introduction
  • Purposes of Assessment in Early Childhood
  • What Should be Assessed
  • Assessment of, for, and as Learning
  • Formative and Summative Assessment
  • Authenticity of Assessment
  • Fairness, Validity, and Reliability
  • Assessment and Collaboration
  • Assessment and Curriculum Review

Education Assessment in Early Childhood Education
Claire McLachlan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0179


Assessment helps educators learn about children and identifies ways to support their learning and development. It helps educators become aware of children’s strengths and areas of their learning and development in which they may require further support and nurturing. As a relatively new field of study, early childhood teachers and researchers have had to consider whether the methods of assessment that have been used in the compulsory education sector are relevant or appropriate to assessment of children prior to school entry. As a result of reflection on the issues and challenges associated with assessing young children from birth to eight years of age, there has been a movement away from more standardized approaches to assessing children to understanding children’s learning, development and growth within the educational contexts in which they participate. This approach is in part because globalized communities are characterized by variations in socioeconomic and cultural diversity. It can be problematic to use assessments that might only be appropriate for measuring the learning and development of children who have cultural experiences that match what is measured on the test. Contemporary approaches to assessment, primarily drawing on ecological and sociocultural theorizing, are particularly focused on understanding the child-in-context. These approaches have been informed by new theoretical ideas about how children learn and grow, including the importance of participation in social and cultural contexts on learning. This article will examine some of the key issues associated with assessment of children, which include the purpose of assessment; what should be assessed; definitions of assessment of, for and as learning; formative and summative assessment; authenticity; validity and reliability; collaboration in assessment; and the relationship between assessment and curriculum evaluation.

Purposes of Assessment in Early Childhood

Assessment can be defined as the gathering of information in order to make informed instructional decisions (Snow and van Hemel 2008), and this is its key purpose in early childhood education. Assessment has several important purposes, including informing how teachers plan learning experiences, identifying areas of learning and development where children may need support or extension, to make valued learning visible, and integrating learning with curriculum and program provision (National Association for the Education of Young Children 2003; Brassard and Boehm 2007). More broadly assessment can also be connected with evaluating the effectiveness of an early childhood program or school (Bowman, et al. 2001). Assessment can be seen to be in the best interests of the child when involves families and leads to decisions that support children’s learning and social contributions and recognizes children’s strengths, needs, interests and preferences (Bagnato 2007, Nagle 2007). Assessment is also used to collaborate with families and other stakeholders with information about children’s learning and development and help overcome issues related to disadvantage (Drummond 2012; Featherstone 2011; Siraj-Blatchford 2004). The following are useful sources for examining the purpose of assessment in early childhood.

  • Bagnato, S. J. 2007. Authentic assessment for early childhood intervention: Best practices. New York: Guilford.

    States that assessment is critical for families in understanding their children’s progress and that assessment is also crucial for teachers in relation to program planning, monitoring, and evaluation.

  • Bowman, B., S. Donovan, and S. Burns. 2001. Eager to learn: Educating our pre-schoolers. Report of Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy. Commission on Behavioural and Social Sciences and Education National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

    Proposes a fourth reason for assessment: accountability. This purpose means assessments are conducted with children so that early childhood centers can demonstrate how they have been working with children and families to address governmental requirements associated with the provision of early childhood and/or primary education.

  • Brassard, M. R., and A. E. Boehm. 2007. Preschool assessment: Principles and practices. New York: Guilford.

    Examines a range of topics in early childhood assessment, including purpose. Discusses appropriate measures and integrating data from a variety of sources, such as standardized testing, observations of children, parent and teacher interviews, and work samples. Practice guidelines and cases emphasize the importance of collaboration.

  • Drummond, M. J. 2012. Assessing children’s learning. London: David Fulton.

    Drummond considers assessment should help teachers to “appreciate and understand what children learn” (p. 12), know children as individuals, and understand how they differ. Drummond considers assessment a critical aspect of providing quality education. Drummond’s perspective values knowledge of children’s interests, strengths, and needs as the basis for curriculum.

  • Featherstone, S. 2011. Catching them at it: Assessment in the early years. London: A & C Black.

    Suggests teachers need to consider the purpose of assessment, and think about the audience and how to report assessment findings. Featherstone argues that teachers need to consider what the assessment is for and should also consider different approaches, their own beliefs, and the role of assessment in meeting children’s developmental and learning needs.

  • Nagle, R. J. 2007. Issues in preschool assessment. In Psychoeducational assessment of preschool children. Edited by B. A. Bracken and R. J. Nagle, 29–48. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Suggests assessments is used to make decisions about children and should be systematic, multidisciplinary, and regular activities. The scope should be comprehensive, including developmental areas of motor skills, temperament, language, cognition, and social-emotional development. Purposes include eligibility for special programs, placement, screening, and evaluation of programs.

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children. 2003. Early childhood curriculum, assessment and program evaluation. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

    Suggests three reasons why teachers should engage in assessment: to make sound decisions about teaching and learning, to identify concerns that may require focused intervention, and to improve curriculum planning and provision. When teachers know children’s strengths and weaknesses they can plan curriculum that supports learning.

  • Siraj-Blatchford, I. 2004. Educational disadvantage in the early years: How do we overcome it? Some lessons from research. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 12.2: 5–19.

    DOI: 10.1080/13502930485209391

    Argues that effective early childhood provision cannot be achieved without the full participation of families, particularly in the case of boys. Involving families in assessment supports effective learning at home and in the early childhood setting and helps overcome disadvantage and the structural inequalities of SES, gender, and ethnicity.

  • Snow, C. E., and S. B. Van Hemel, eds. 2008. Early childhood assessment: Why, what and how. Report of the Committee on Developmental Outcomes and Assessment for Young Children for the National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academies.

    Proposes that assessment of young children should be evidentially based and be proven to be psychometrically sound, be appropriate to different ages and ethnic groups, and cover a range of domains related to children’s learning.

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