Building Quality Early Childhood Assessment: What Really Matters?

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Building Quality Early Childhood Assessment: What Really Matters?

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Abstract This research explored the knowledge, skills, and strategies early childhood teachers possess related to implementing curriculum and authentic assessment. Research suggests that early educators rate their knowledge of curriculum and authentic assessment and their implementation of both as excellent. Despite these self-reported, high levels of knowledge, researchers have established that early childhood authentic assessment is implemented inconsistently and often incorrectly. The purpose of this research was to determine what specific curriculum and authentic assessment skills and strategies have the greatest chance of improving the consistent implementation of early childhood authentic assessment. Qualitative and quantitative methods were employed to answer two research questions: (1) What curriculum and assessment skills and strategies influence the successful implementation of assessment within an early childhood educational environment; and (2) What components of the assessment cycle (i.e., observation/data collection; data analysis; data interpretation; hypothesis development; modification/ implementation of individualized instruction based on the assessment data; reporting) are perceived as having a greater likelihood of improving instruction and outcomes for young children? To answer these questions, interviews were conducted with 13 Head Start lead teachers across three different Head Start programs in Minnesota. Twelve of the teachers interviewed chose to participate in one of three different focus groups. The teachers who participated in the focus groups also completed a 19-item, Likert-scale authentic assessment rating scale on the extent to which they used specific authentic assessment skills. The interview and focus group data were analyzed using constant comparative analysis, which aided in identifying themes across the data. Sample means were calculated for each of the 19 items on the authentic assessment rating scale. A total of thirteen themes were identified; nine related to research question one, and four related to research question two stated above. The results of the analysis demonstrate that teachers rated their knowledge of curricula and authentic assessment as high, but also reported that their knowledge of early learning and K-12 standards was lacking. Teachers acknowledged that the professional development they receive from their employer had a greater impact on their assessment practices than information they received in their college classes. All teachers mentioned using small groups to implement the curriculum and individualize instruction. Time and competing priorities are reportedly the greatest barriers to implementing authentic assessment with fidelity. The teachers identified on-site coaching, greater sharing among peers, and additional classroom personnel as the supports most desired. All teachers identified high quality observation as the most important authentic assessment strategy. Teachers differed in the methods by which they collect observational data (e.g., checklists, notebooks, iPads, sticky notes, etc.), but all agreed that observations were the most important. Using the authentic assessment data to individualize instruction was also identified as important to the assessment process. Teachers acknowledged that they rarely, if ever, engaged parents in collecting authentic assessment data. They do, however, regularly share and discuss assessment results. Finally, teachers noted that despite conducting formal authentic assessment three times per school year, they also conduct informal assessments every day and make “in the moment” instructional decisions based on the information they observe during instruction. This research adds to the literature by identifying the specific strategies and skills early childhood providers use when conducting authentic assessment. This information can be used to focus professional development efforts, especially for those providers new to the field. Further research is needed on the assessment skills and strategies used by those in other early care and educational environments to expand these findings.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2017. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: David Johnson. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 153 pages.

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Bailey, Ann. (2017). Building Quality Early Childhood Assessment: What Really Matters?. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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