Observation, Assessment, Evaluation – Oh My!

Preschoolers are fun to watch – just ask any new mother, father or proud grandparent! A young child’s awkward attempts to try new things or early efforts at conversation can be captivating. Everyone enjoys observing them. Children are charming, creative, active and emotional.

We learn about a child’s development through observing and assessing. The word “assessment” comes from the Latin word meaning “to sit beside and get to know.” It’s the process of observing, recording and documenting children’s growth and behavior.

In a preschool setting, authentic assessments should include observations done over time in play-based situations. This gives us accurate data that we can use to make decisions about children’s education.

Why Do We Assess?

Assessment and evaluation are often used interchangeably, but they are two different processes. Assessment is the process of collecting information or data. Evaluation is the process of reviewing the information and finding value in it.

Information from assessments tells teachers about a child’s developmental needs. This is important for many reasons. It gives teachers insight into the child’s learning style and needs. What are his/her strengths and weaknesses? What is he able to do and where does he struggle? What is her disposition? Where does this child need additional support and how can the teachers best provide it?

The assessment process can also highlight class needs. It can help teachers to better focus their teaching efforts or adjust their methods by identifying the developmental stages and learning needs of their class. Teachers can and should customize their processes to meet their particular students’ needs.

How Do We Assess?

With young children, assessments can be done with formal or informal methods of observation. Formal methods like standardized tests and research instruments help identify developmental milestones (characteristics and behaviors that are considered normal for children in specific age groups).

Preschool teachers usually use informal observation methods to collect data. They’re easy to use, are not stressful for children, and are more appropriate for program planning. Some examples we use at Spanish Schoolhouse include anecdotal records, checklists, and samples of work.

  • An anecdotal record is the simplest form of direct observation. This record is a brief narrative of a specific event which can be recorded in any setting. It’s recorded in a factual, objective manner, and requires a careful eye and quick pencil to capture as many details as possible. The observation is open-ended, continuing until everything is witnessed. It’s like a short story in that it has a beginning, middle, and end. At Spanish Schoolhouse, teachers keep monthly anecdotal records for each student, observing changes and growth over time.
  • Checklists are another type of assessment. They’re designed to record the developmental stage of specific skills or behaviors. They’re easy to use and are especially useful when observing multiple items. Checklists can be designed for physical, social, emotional or cognitive developments.
  • A progress report is a checklist that combines all of these areas. Progress reports are done three times per year at SSH and copies are provided to parents. These assessments are designed to be non-stressful for children and may involve games, conversations, and group observation. They show progress toward the skills that are typically mastered by the end of the school year. At SSH, the skills are at an even higher level since they are all learned in a second language!
  • Collecting samples of children’s work systematically over time is another assessment tool. Samples can include artwork, stories dictated or written, photographs and records of conversations. At SSH, teachers collect these samples and store them in folders or portfolios for comparison. You may see samples of your child’s work at a conference and again at the end of the year when the work is sent home.

Sharing Assessments is How We Grow!

Conferences and progress reports offer formal opportunities for our school to share evaluations with parents, however, they’re only a part of the picture. When parents also share their observations and assessments with teachers, they help us grow as educators. This parent-school partnership plays a critical role in providing the best educational experience for each student. As educators and parents, we all want what is best for our children, and this is one way we achieve it!

SSH parents are always welcome to schedule meetings with teachers to discuss questions or concerns about their children’s progress. Through the ongoing cycle of observation, assessment, and evaluation, we have the tools we need to monitor students’ development and help ensure that their needs are being met.

So, what do you think?