Assessments in early childhood education involve “a process of gathering information about a child, reviewing the information, and then using the same data to plan educational activities that are at a level the child can understand and is able to learn from” (WGBH Educational Foundation, 2014, p. 2). There are different types of assessment methods used in early childhood education. The most common ones include observations, portfolios, educator ratings, parents ratings, and standardized tests (WGBH Educational Foundation, 2014).
It is important to undertake assessments in early childhood education because they help to provide teachers, parents, and educators with important information concerning a child’s development (WGBH Educational Foundation, 2014). They also aid in developing a database of reliable records of assessing growth in different developmental areas of early childhood education development and a platform to develop individualized learning instructions (Bagnato, McLean, Macy, & Neisworth, 2011).
Although many people understand the importance of undertaking assessments, teachers often experience difficulties undertaking these assessments (Darling-Churchill & Lippman, 2016). For example, they are affected by the lack of family support from parents or guardians who do not understand their importance (Darling-Churchill & Lippman, 2016). In certain under-resourced nations, the lack of adequate funds to carry out effective assessment procedures also affects the effectiveness of implementing them (Reichow et al., 2016). Lastly, the lack of proper teacher training methods to undertake assessments also undermine their effectiveness (Banerjee & Luckner, 2014; Fellowes & Oakley, 2011).
Relative to the above assertions, some researchers have advocated for the need to transcend traditional review approaches for new ones that are more authentic (Bagnato, Goins, Pretti-Frontczak, & Neisworth, 2014; Bohart & Procopio, 2018). This view stems from institution-based observations, which suggest that authentic assessments could provide higher quality appraisals compared to conventional ones. To support this view, researchers such as Bagnato et al. (2014) reveal that more than 1,500 professional responses about authentic assessments indicate a higher quality of findings compared to conventional ones. In light of the above findings, Waterman, McDermott, Fantuzzo, and Gadsden (2012) add to this conversation by saying that effective assessments should have reasonable variations across different cohorts of children. In other words, children’s individual differences should always be included as part of the assessment.
Teachers’ Views on Assessments
Although there are many techniques available for use in assessment, teachers often have different perceptions about them. Most of the works of literature coming from the United States (US) suggest that teachers have a favorable view of assessments (Reichow, Boyd, Barton, & Odom, 2016; Alasuutari, Markström, & Vallberg-Roth, 2014). Their approvals have a positive bearing on the manner they undertake assessments (Reichow et al., 2016). In Saudi Arabia, there is more skepticism regarding early childhood assessments, compared to the US, due to the lack of a proper understanding (among some teachers and parents) regarding what they care about and an inadequate capacity of educational institutions to implement them (Algahtani, 2018; Aldabas, 2015).
Assessments in early childhood education in the US are different from many other countries around the world because of the multiplicity of departments involved in developing legislative frameworks to oversee the process. For example, states have a bigger say in how assessments are undertaken in the US compared to the federal government (Daily, Burkhauser, & Halle, 2010). This structural design stems from the immense powers that states have in making education policy decisions within their jurisdictions (Daily et al., 2010). The US also abides by “common laws” that regulate early childhood education, such as the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and No Child Left behind Act (High-Level Practices in Special Education, 2018; Bagnato, Neisworth, & Pretti-Frontczak, 2010), while some jurisdictions do not.
US-based early learning centers use assessment plans just like many other countries around the world. Particularly, they use them to identify children who require additional learning support, formulate individualized learning instructions for selected groups of students, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of different educational programs (Bagnato et al., 2011). The biggest body for early childhood professionals, known as has National Association for the Education of Young Children (2019), provides support to educators in determining the main tenets of evaluation that should guide the creation of early childhood development programs. These tenets include relationships, curriculum, teaching, children’s progress reviews, health staff competencies, family involvement, community relationships, physical environment, and leadership (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2019).
Saudi Arabia has borrowed many assessment techniques from the US. It uses them in the same manner as the North American nation does. However, the role of families and culture is more poignant in the Middle East nation because the need to include all stakeholders in evaluation is highly valued in the kingdom (Aldabas, 2015). In addition, Saudi Arabia is a religious state; therefore, most evaluation processes have to be sharia-compliant. Assessments in early childhood education in Saudi Arabia stem from a common background of early childhood education procedures in the kingdom, which suggests that policies have to be designed within the broader meaning of “education” in the Arabic context (Algahtani, 2018; Aldabas, 2015). In other words, every aspect of assessment is shaped by Islamic principles. Within this context of understanding, most assessment procedures in Saudi Arabia are aligned with social and religious teachings of Islam, such as helping children to become helpful members of the society, teaching them to acquire constructive behaviors, and inculcating Islamic values in the daily practices (Algahtani, 2018; Aldabas, 2015). This implementation approach is unlike those adopted in western countries because these nations do not base their assessment procedures on religious teachings.
Many of the researchers who have reviewed assessment procedures in early childhood education have undertaken their research using surveys and observations. Observations have mostly been linked with research studies that evaluate the efficacy of specific educational programs (Waterman, McDermott, Fantuzzo, & Gadsden, 2012). Therefore, associated tests are designed to identify areas of improvement or correction for future assessments. Nonetheless, surveys are the most commonly used techniques in studies that have explored early childhood education, and teachers or parents have been the main target populations (Waterman et al., 2012; Furby & Catlow, 2016).
Here, it is important to point out that most assessment processes highlighted above are generic. Therefore, they are insensitive to context-specific factors that would affect their design or implementation patterns. This problem stems from the proliferation of western-based studies regarding early childhood assessments. Consequently, there has been little interest in how other countries undertake assessments or how their local social, economic, and political dynamics affect their implementation. Therefore, the research positionality that guides this investigation is pivoted on the need to understand early childhood assessment processes in a non-western country such as Saudi Arabia.
The Gap in Early Childhood Special Education in Saudi Arabia
Based on a review of early childhood practices in Saudi Arabia, there is no proper understanding of how the kingdom conducts evaluations among children with special needs. This challenge stems from the difficulty of using the same evaluation standards for children who have and do not have special needs. Therefore, there is a need to undertake further research in identifying how to evaluate children who have special needs and those who do not. More importantly, it is essential to identify the key considerations for undertaking evaluations among children who have special needs in Saudi Arabia.
One phenomenon that I would wish to investigate more deeply is the point of convergence of western dogma on early childhood education and the religious foundation of early childhood assessment processes in Saudi Arabia. This area of research stems from the understanding that Saudi-based assessment processes are partly borrowed from a western understanding of education practices, which have significant differences with the religious-based education practices used in Saudi Arabia. The Division for Early Childhood (2019) also highlights this concern because it presupposes that community involvement should be considered in the development of early childhood intervention plans and assessments. It strives to achieve this objective through the “Community of Practice,” which is a body of professionals seeking to foster relationships among professionals and community members (Division for Early Childhood, 2019).
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to identify key areas of improvement for Saudi Arabia’s assessment processes. This goal stems from concerns about the effectiveness of Saudi Arabia’s assessment practices to deliver their intended goals. Therefore, identifying the main problematic areas for the assessment process would play a pivotal role in guiding discussions regarding how to improve assessment procedures in the kingdom, viz-a-viz international best practices.
Alasuutari, M., Markström, A., & Vallberg-Roth, A. (2014). Assessment and documentation in early childhood education. London, England: Routledge.
Aldabas, R. (2015). Special education in Saudi Arabia: History and areas for reform. Creative Education, 6(11), 1158-1167.
Algahtani, F. H. (2018). Insight into special education teachers’ practices with preschool children in Saudi Arabia. Global Journal of Health Science, 10(7), 73-86.
Bagnato, S. J., Goins, D. D., Pretti-Frontczak, K., & Neisworth, J. T. (2014). Authentic assessment as “best practice” for early childhood intervention: National consumer social validity research. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 34(2), 116-127.
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