Child Assessments: Telling Stories with Data
When we hear about Head Start and Early Head Start, we hear stories of children thriving. We hear stories of families and their growth, and stories of providers and their commitment. We also hear about the importance of telling stories, not just to children themselves but to the Head Start and Early Head Start community, and about the strength in this community. So, how can we harness the information we collect from child assessments to tell children’s stories with data? And, ultimately, how can we use child assessments to demonstrate and support children and families to thrive?
Providers can get valuable information through direct assessment, observational measures, checklists, staff and parent reports, and portfolios. These are all popular approaches to understand a child’s growth and development. But not all assessments are equal.
You have a choice in what assessment you use to tell your children’s stories with data.
To make an informed choice, there are several factors to consider, including the purpose and type of assessment you need, who and what you are trying to assess, and the resources you have available. A well-matched child assessment gives you the opportunity to use new data to support continued services for a child and their family, and to share children’s strengths and milestones with others.
Why Do You Need a Child Assessment Tool?
Both developmental screening tools and formative assessments will help you better understand children’s strengths and areas of growth. What you choose depends on what you want to do with the information you collect. You will need to consider your story’s audience and who will receive the data. For example, as infants, toddlers, and preschoolers grow and transition to new learning settings, information about children’s interests, needs, and abilities can help providers prepare children, families, and teachers for the next learning environment they enter.
- Are you looking for a brief snapshot of where a child is in different developmental domains, such as assessing a child’s language skills when they enter your program? If so, you may use a Developmental Screening Tool to identify where a child is in their overall developmental health and well-being at a particular moment in time.
- Are you looking for something related to particular program benchmarks, such as annual assessments to describe a child’s growth on the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework? If so, you may be looking for a Formative Assessment to observe or track the child’s progress on learning goals, through direct assessment or observation of prompted tasks aligned to developmental domains.
What and Who are You Trying to Assess?
Assessments are not all designed or administered the same. Identifying the “what” and the “who” is important to choose an assessment that serves your children and community. Two key questions to ask:
- Are you trying to assess a particular developmental domain (such as social emotional development), age range (infant, toddler, preschool, or transitioning), or subject (child, classroom, or teacher)?
- Are your staff and/or families from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, races, or ethnicities? Do you need a measure offered in one or multiple languages?
NHSA has a self-reflection worksheet available to further support your program in this area.
How do you Find the Best-Fitting Assessment?
It’s important to identify your resources for completing the assessment including cost, time, and technology. Once you have made it to this point, there are many supports you may seek out. The IMPACT Measures Tool, a database of child assessments and related measurement tools, is one unbiased resource that may meet your needs. The EC PRISM team developed this website to provide clear information about different assessments’ cost, usability, cultural relevance, and technical merit. The IMPACT Measures Tool provides measures and educational resources to help address the needs of early childhood and parenting initiatives like Head Start and Early Head Start.
Assessing for Success
No matter where you are in your understanding of child assessment, as the expert in your community and the families you serve, you are already poised with the information you need to tell the stories with data of the children in your care. Your own knowledge and resources will influence the assessments you choose, how they are administered, and your approach to using the data you collect.
Interested in learning more? NHSA partnered the University of Oregon and the Oklahoma University Early Childhood Education Institute to host The What and Why of Child Assessments webinar series:
- Session 1: Child Assessment in Early Head Start
- Session 2: Child Assessment in Head Start
- Session 3: Assessing the Available Assessments: IMPACT Measures Tool
- Session 4: Selecting the Right Assessment: Leadership Team Discussion Guide
By understanding both your community and your assessment choices, you are able to use assessment to the fullest extent to relay data about your community to the Head Start community and beyond. By harnessing information from child assessments to tell a story, you are helping to support your children’s success by creating a clear picture of their strengths and needs. This can help ensure your children receive services that will build on their strengths and help them thrive.
This resource was written by the University of Oregon’s EC PRISM Team IMPACT Research Specialist Dr. Aimée Drouin Duncan.