Neglecting to Link Program Elements

Throughout this blog series, I offer what I see as “simple solutions” to the mistakes being made in testing/assessing children in this age of accountability

There at least 5 mistakes being made in early childhood assessment:

  1. Using the wrong tool for the job
  2. Adopting a narrow view of early development
  3. Misusing terms
  4. Engaging in standardized testing
  5. Neglecting to link key program elements

In this final post of the blog series, we will look at the fifth mistake, which is neglecting to link program elements.

Just as children are complex, so, too, are the programs that serve them. Early childhood programs vary in terms of staff, overarching mission, assessment tools used, sources that drive what children should be learning, the adopted curriculum, how progress and performance are measured over time, and the leadership and support providers receive.

Further, each program is governed by different licensing rules, require different teacher certifications, have drastically different budgets, and must follow highly variable rules in terms of who receives services and in what amounts.

While this diversity and variability adds to the complexity, I don’t see them as the problem.

Rather, the underlying problem is that program elements, specifically, assessment tools, standards, and curricula have not been aligned or linked. Key elements need to be linked in order to give programs clear direction, and, ultimately, aide in data interpretation and decision making.

Take for example a teacher in a Head Start program- they are responsible for teaching performance indicators from the following sources, none of which have been created by the same group, for the same reason, nor are all grounded in research.

  • The Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start [HHS/ACF/OHS], 2010)
    Items from a curriculum-based assessment (e.g., Teaching Strategies GOLD: Heroman, Burts, Berke, & Bickart, 2010)
  • State early learning standards
  • District “readiness” checklists
  • Milestones found in the developmentally appropriate practice guidelines
  • Children’s individualized education plan (IEP) goals and objectives

Simple Solutions:

  1. Adopt and implement a curriculum framework designed to link assessment to instructional practices; serve as a foundation for curriculum design in blended early childhood programs; and provide a process for decision making for teachers who teach diverse groups of children.
  2. Don’t confuse stakeholders and providers about expectations by acting as though performance indicators across adopted/mandated tools, state early learning standards, and/or a program’s curriculum align.
  3. Engage in a valid process of aligning or linking key practices such as a program’s curriculum, and/or state early learning standards.

Overall, when we think of early childhood assessment, we should think of young children who are engaged in play, engaged in creative exploration, and engaged in inquiry. Information regarding their knowledge, skills, and behaviors, used for any purpose, should be gathered during these authentic situations. Children should not be subjected to testing demands and situations that are timed, contrived, require practice sessions, or cause stress and lead to a disinterest in learning. Share you thoughts about linking program elements or any of the other topics in the blog series n the comments below or on Twitter using #b2kcoach. I look forward to keeping this conversation going and finding more solutions to these critical challenges we face in early childhood.

Summary of resources mentioned in this blog series:

More In This Series