Number blocks with quote saying "Not everything that counts can be counted and... not everything that can be counted counts" -William Bruce Cameron
How often do you notice what has your attention? In particular, what has your attention when you are assessing children?

For example, when you are completing a statewide assessment, or collecting day­ to­ day data, what has your attention? Is it whether or not children know their colors? Can count? Can rhyme? How about if they show empathy, are able to self­regulate, or even have a zest for life?

If “what we give our attention to, grows,” and we know that what is on our assessment protocols gets our attention, then we need to be sure our assessments focus on things that will help children grow and thrive in school and in life. Unfortunately, my research, of 100s of early childhood assessments, suggests attention isn’t always where it should be…

Not sure what I mean? Take a look at an assessment you are required to complete. Maybe it is something your state made in a “race to nowhere,” maybe it’s part of a package used in preschool because the rest of the district has bought into a certain publisher, or maybe in a less cynical way, it is something that you and your team created and feel pretty good about.

Regardless of the source or developer, as you look at the items contained in the assessment, what is your impression? Are these things you value? Things you know are critical for children to thrive in school AND in life?

Is anything missing? Are there “hard­to­reach” skills that are hard to measure, seen as “soft,” or that are “not the responsibility” of schools, which you feel should be getting your attention?

I invite you to examine your current assessments, not because I think it will reveal something you don’t already know (i.e., most of us know in our hearts that many of the assessments we administer are not developmentally appropriate and fail to capture all aspects of the child’s abilities), but in an effort to raise awareness of the disconnect, and then offer a solution.

So, if you find that your assessment directs your attention to the wrong things, or at least, your assessment is missing several things you want children to know and do, one solution is to shift our attention. By this, I mean shift the focus from the discrete items on the assessment, and find ways to attend to the things that really matter. A first step, in shifting attention, is becoming aware of what really matters.

To this end, my colleague, Mayra Porrata, and I, have developed what we fondly call the “real” common core, or more formally, the Essence GlossaryTM [­real­common­core]. This glossary contains 32 attributes or features that are an inherent part of each of us…characteristics which underlie our social­emotional intelligence. The glossary, itself, provides both a common language and a simple approach to understanding and supporting the growth and development of all children.

Now, before you tell me there are not enough hours in a day to add more items to your assessment “to­do list,” have a look at our glossary [­real­ common­core] and see if (1) you agree that these attributes matter, and (2) you can easily attend to the attributes during everyday activities.The Real Common Core Http:// Learn How to Educate the Whole Child Essence Glossary

At this point, if I’ve got your attention, but you’re wondering how…how do I assess “zest” or “compassion,” know this, it’s the same as if you were assessing printing the letter “m” or counting sets of objects.

●  Start by defining the attribute (use our glossary and then “google” the term).

●  Next, consider verbal and nonverbal expressions of the attribute.

●  Lastly, generate clear examples of what it would look like when children have opportunities to demonstrate the attribute. Here’s an example using the attribute of self­-regulation:

  1. Start by defining self-­regulation using the Essence Glossary, which defines self­regulation as “showing discretion in one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions.” You can also search the literature. For example, McClelland and Tominey [­Think­Act­Integrating­Self­ Regulation/dp/0415745225] define self­regulation as “The conscious control of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions…the ability to stop, think, and then act.”
  2. Next, create a list of examples of verbal and non-verbal expressions of self­-regulation. Here’s my list:
  • making plans before taking action
  • solving problems
  • taking the perspective of others
  • getting/­keeping/­shifting attention
  • delaying gratification
  • ignoring distractions
  • adapting to change
  • moving and acting deliberately
  • considering alternatives
  • recalling information
  • following directions

3. Lastly, assess children during a variety of daily activities and experiences.For example:

  • When transitioning from circle to centers, determine if children are able to draw or tell about where they are going to play and what they are going to do when they get there.
  • Across the daily routine, watch to see if children demonstrate different levels of activity; for example, quick and loud when playing outside, still and quiet when listening to a story.
  • Ask children to sit on their hands or take a deep breath before raising their hand to be called upon or blurting out a response.
  • When counting sets of objects, see if children can alternate between counting numbers loudly and softly.
  • When common classroom objects have been removed, see if children can figure out what is missing.


Keep in mind, assessment doesn’t have to do with testing whether or not a child has or can perform a given skill. Assessment has to do with sitting beside, getting to know, and keeping our attention on what matters…what we want, eventually, to grow.

Canopy of Trees with "What we give our attention to, grows.- ― Kenneth H. Blanchard, The Heart of a Leader" quote.