Every Child Shines: Using Formative Assessment to Reflect on Children’s Knowledge & Skills

[Music] Each fall, early childhood teachers welcome a new group of students. Although these children may share many similarities, they are each growing and developing at their own pace. Young children can change and grow rapidly as they take in the world around them. This development is complex and differs by child. Formative assessment is an effective way for teachers to learn about each child’s skills and abilities. The results can help teachers plan and individualize instruction to support the growth and development of every child. [Music] Formative assessment is a process used by teachers to collect evidence of what a child knows and can do so as to guide and tailor instruction and better support each child’s learning and development. These assessments provide information at the start of school and throughout the year as children develop knowledge and skills. Formative assessments often take place during the regular course of instruction and in authentic settings. For example, teachers may observe students as they play and learn and document their activities, discoveries, behaviors, and needs, or collect samples of students’ drawings or writing. Teachers can focus on one skill or on several aspects of children’s development, from cognitive skills such as language, literacy, and math, to social and emotional skills and children’s approaches to learning. This process provides teachers with essential information about how children are acquiring knowledge and skills. Teachers then reflect on the evidence and use it to plan and individualize instruction and curricula to children’s learning processes, check students’ understanding and gains, pinpoint and target learning gaps, and identify students who may need extra supports or further testing. Formative assessment is a process, not a one-time occurrence. First, teachers determine what they need to know about individual or small groups of children. Next, teachers use relevant measures and methods to collect that information. For example, teachers can observe and document children’s activities, conversations, and behaviors in whole-group, small-group, and individual lessons using anecdotal notes or records; ask open-ended or closed prompts or questions and document children’s responses; use checklists, surveys, and standardized assessments; collect writing and drawing samples; and gather evidence and observations from parents, families, and other educators. Teachers reflect on and analyze the evidence to determine each child’s strengths and needs in relation to set learning goals or measures and domains. Teachers then tailor instruction as appropriate to target those needs and promote learning. The cycle then starts again. Research shows that high-quality formative assessment improves student outcomes, particularly for struggling students, English learner students, and students with disabilities. High-quality formative assessment includes several best practices. It should be ongoing and occur over time. A snapshot is inadequate to inform instruction because young children can develop rapidly. It should be embedded in the regular classroom routine and instruction. It should include varied activities and draw on multiple sources of evidence to provide a picture of the whole child. It should be responsive to students’ cultures, languages, lived experiences, and unique needs. It should be reliable and valid and aligned with academic standards, age-appropriate expectations, and curricula. Last, formative assessment should be part of a comprehensive assessment system that includes screening and diagnostic measures and interim and summative assessments. [Music] Formative assessments can provide a wealth of information, not just for teachers but for families and administrators. Over time, the information from formative assessments can provide a rich record of a child’s progress and growth. Information about a child’s strengths and areas for growth can be shared during parent conferences. Teachers can also share ideas for activities that parents can do at home to support their child’s learning and development. School and district administrators can use long-term formative assessment data at the classroom or school level to align student needs with educator professional development and early learning programs. In summary, formative assessments can be a valuable instructional tool to help early childhood teachers better understand and support each child’s development, learning, and growth. This video is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, or IES, and was developed by the Regional Educational Laboratory, or REL Southwest. REL Southwest works in partnership with educators and policymakers to develop and apply research that improves academic outcomes for students. To learn more about the REL program, visit our website, subscribe to our Twitter feed, and sign up to receive our newsletters and other publications. [Music] [Music] [Music]

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