Assessment in Early Childhood: Special Education

Introduction

Assessments may occur for different objectives and their attributes depend on the planned intention. In the United States, assessment in early childhood settings is described as the practice of collecting information systematically and evaluating it to establish whether anything requires being done in a different way (Reichow, Boyd, Barton, & Odom, 2016). Similarly, McConnell (2000) defines it as the orderly gathering and analysis of data to form a decision. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, assessment is deemed a crucial component of first-rate, early childhood examination programs that facilitate teaching and learning (Rabaah, Doaa, & Asma, 2016).

The moment teachers carry out an assessment, they examine children to discover information concerning what they already know and can do (Chen, Filgueiras, Squires, & Landeira-Fernandez, 2016). Observation and documentation of children’s performance and work in one year enables teachers to build up a trace of their growth and development. With such data, teachers can create a suitable curriculum and valuable individualized instruction for every child (Taylor, 2018). Assessment in early childhood gives teachers an effective approach of sharing with parents to enhance follow-up on their children’s progress at school, comprehend their weaknesses and strengths, and design the best way of extending learning at home (Taylor, 2018).

Importance of Assessment in Early Childhood Education

Assessments in early intervention and childhood special education are done to satisfy federal, regional, state, or regulative needs. Kindergarten entry assessments present lagging pointer details regarding the accomplishment of early childhood activities and are valuable in the evaluation and refinement of such services. Assessment of children assists in the development of effective program plans (Reichow et al., 2016).

Contrary to assessments, early intervention signifies offering specialized support, for example, to children with disabilities, the earliest possible to meet their medical and developmental requirements. The Division for Early Childhood and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) affirm that assessments are essential tools for evaluating the progress of young learners towards the set program objectives.

This is because educators are first given adequate training and preparation on the utilization of assessment tools to acquire valid and trustworthy details concerning the performance and ability of children and assist them to realize their potential (Snow & Van Hemel, 2008). Kindergarten marks a level of entry to the United States and the Saudi Arabian public school system (Hadidi & Al Khateeb, 2015).

Entry assessments are important and designed by classroom educators as they start to comprehend learners’ abilities (Leigh & Du, 2015). In the US, federal financing of competitions in early childhood education was started to guarantee a degree of uniformity around the country (Leigh & Du, 2015). Assessments should be valid, dependable, and suitable for children and their planned objectives (Hadidi & Al Khateeb, 2015). Early childhood teachers affirm that assessments meant for English language learners or children with disabilities give them increased opportunities for success. To ensure the effectiveness of assessments, the US federal government necessitates the implementation of successful programs and school preparedness.

The importance of assessing early learners is founded on the capability to gather information regarding specific areas of student’s knowledge, level of understanding, behavior, personality, and skills to facilitate the making of evaluative choices (Snow & Van Hemel, 2008). Diagnostic and screening tools were designed to ensure that classification and placement choices for every child realize the maximum possible benefits. In early childhood assessment, screening assists in the determination of whether children’s performance is sufficiently different from that of other learners of a similar chronological age to call for more intensive evaluation (McLachlan, Fleer, & Edwards, 2013).

Whenever there is an issue of delay, diagnostic assessment offers more exhaustive details on the exact intensity of the problem (McLachlan et al., 2013). Some screening tools are used to establish whether there is a cause for alarm regarding the language development of a child (McLachlan et al., 2013). In cases where outcomes from such screening confirm the existence of an impediment, a detailed assessment is undertaken to find out the particular form and impact, abilities and weaknesses of children, and suggestions for intervention.

Assessments in early childhood education may be significant in the identification of suitable curricula and teaching methods for each child, over and above documentation of progress and performance over time. Educators may devise a methodical plan for the documentation of children’s progress in accomplishing tasks and decide on the strategies that may assist them to improve (Reichow et al., 2016). Program evaluation in early childhood assessment is important because it gives useful comparisons of the performance of a group of learners prior to and following the provision of instruction (Reichow et al., 2016).

Educators may collect information on children’s literacy and language activities at the commencement of schooling, before learning takes place, and at the end of the year. Early childhood assessment is imperative as it gives parents, family members, and teachers helpful information regarding the growth and development of a child. Additionally, the assessment provides documentation of improvement in every developmental stage, for instance, motor, cognitive, social, language, emotional, and learning abilities (Grodberg, Siper, Jamison, Buxbaum, & Kolevzon, 2016). This enables teachers to plan individualized instruction for children or a group of learners who are at a given level of learning (Grodberg et al., 2016).

Assessments ensure that children are effectively prepared to proceed to higher grades. Curriculum standards identify what learners should be taught and what they should accomplish in a given content area (Aljabreen & Lash, 2016).

Standards offer guidance to educators and direct their instruction and assessment questions (Rabaah et al., 2016). Educators may utilize curriculum standards in the assessment of concepts that require reinforcement or being taught again (Aljabreen & Lash, 2016). Curriculum developers organize standards by the level of learners for teachers to establish what they should be taught at a given time and facilitate the development of appropriate teaching strategies and assessments (Rabaah et al., 2016).

How Early Childhood Teachers Use Assessment in the USA and Saudi Arabia

This study identified a gap in the deficiency of studies regarding the use of assessment in early childhood education in Saudi Arabia. Attributable to the information about children acquired through assessments and recommendations by teachers, the United States’ early childhood education has adopted numerous changes such as the use of technology in the classroom (Alotaibi, Dimitriadi, & Kemp, 2016). Recently, different states have started the process of reforming early childhood education systems in reaction to federal grant challenges, ensuring great attention to assessment and responsibility for learning programs (Alotaibi et al., 2016).

The evaluation of early learners is fraught with problems; psychometricians and policymakers in the field of education should join hands with other early childhood stakeholders to create suitable tools (Reichow et al., 2016). In the US and Saudi Arabia, early childhood teachers use assessment to establish a strong connection between theory and practice in education for enhanced knowledge acquisition (Rabaah et al., 2016). In Saudi Arabia, the practice of selecting the best assessment tool differs for every early childhood education program (Rabaah et al., 2016). To employ assessments effectively, teachers should ensure that they have a pre-existing connection with children. Ideally, the teacher also acts as the assessor (Taylor, 2018).

Assessments for early childhood learners are designed and done in the classroom to reflect what students have been taught. To ensure a comprehensive examination, observations are done at different stages of learning and are continued for some time to fully study a child’s progress for enhanced support where necessary (Taylor, 2018). Additionally, in both the United States and Saudi Arabia, although particular strategies for assessment tools differ, the progression is cyclical (Rabaah et al., 2016).

The sequence enables teachers to develop changes in the program of study to better teach children and meet set goals. The cycle begins with instructing children and proceeds to observe them in different circumstances, analyzing, and evaluating. Assessments are derived from a review of both documentation and evaluation. This is followed by summarizing, planning, and communicating, which establish a child’s particular requirements and future curriculum after which instructions are done and the cycle is repeated (Reichow et al., 2016). In the United States, early childhood education facilitates the application of assessment systems for children in preschool settings to assist teachers in the individualization of instructions and improvement of programs (Taylor, 2018).

Why Early Childhood Teachers Use Assessment in the USA and Saudi Arabia

In the United States and Saudi Arabia, early childhood teachers use assessment to have a direct connection to intervention practices employed in special education. The main purpose of the use of assessment is the development of abilities, skills, and necessary modifications for individual learners and their family members (Rabaah et al., 2016). From the use of assessment, educators recognize whether their efforts and intervention practices are assisting learners as intended.

They also assist parents to understand the progress of their children (McConnell, 2000). The outcome of the assessment enables teachers to inform administrators, financiers, evaluators, and other stakeholders about the effectiveness or drawbacks of the set programs for the necessary action to be undertaken. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, early childhood teachers use assessment as an essential element of the system of learning (Rabaah et al., 2016).

The notion of kindergarten education was started in 1974 with the commencement of preschool happening in 1975 (Aljabreen & Lash, 2016). The number of early childhood learners across the country stood at almost 200,000, of educators at about 23,000, and schools were approximately 2,600 in 2013 (Aljabreen & Lash, 2016).

The application of assessments and tests in early childhood education in Saudi Arabia as instruments of learning practices and strategies is rising (Aljabreen & Lash, 2016). All through the early childhood education period, assessments are utilized to make decisions regarding tracking, identification, promotion, retention, evaluation, and graduation after the successful conclusion of the program of study (Leigh & Du, 2015). In the United States, many educators in early childhood education programs use assessments for the effective identification of learning differences amid learners or for the provision of valuable guidance and instructional planning.

Extensive public concerns to improve standards of learning have directed education stakeholders in Saudi Arabia to employ large-scale achievement assessments progressively as vital instruments of attainment and accountability (Leigh & Du, 2015). Attributable to their dominance in the education sector, it is not startling that the application of tests and assessments has become widespread in early childhood programs where they are administered both individually and in groups. Assessments act as indications of children’s interests in the process of knowing and learning in early childhood education.

In the present early childhood education in the United States, there are several rationales for assessment that include supporting learning, identifying special needs, evaluating programs and examining trends, and offering accountability.

An assessment is a fundamental tool that supports early childhood education, and without which effective learning cannot occur (Spring, 2017). Assessments provide pre-school educators with the understanding that can act as a foundation for instructive and program choices. An assessment presents an effective means of facilitating early learning, identifying the episodic nature of development in children, and discovering enormous variability amid young learners (Spring, 2017). Assessment of early childhood learners is also carried out to evaluate and diagnose surmised emotional, physical, and mental problems that might need special treatment (Spring, 2017). This way, assessments enable the development of crucial policy decisions.

In the United States, the benefit of different forms of assessments in early childhood education is represented by the value gained by individuals and groups of learners. A single assessment approach cannot meet all the set purposes. Therefore, the intended reason for administering an assessment will determine the most appropriate type of test that teachers will use (Reichow et al., 2016). The need for reforms can be identified from the performance of children in their assessments.

Just like other researchers in the field, Lidz (2002) states that the psychometric approach on which assessments have historically been founded makes structured tests susceptible to misconceptions. The purpose of assessing young children is to gather the information that is helpful in the development of crucial choices regarding their educational and developmental needs. In the United States, assessments in early childhood education are administered to facilitate successful development, learning, and growth (Lidz, 2002).

Assessment Tools Used in Early Childhood Education in the US and Saudi Arabia

Although assessment tools are not the ultimate solution to the improvement of children’s development, both formal and informal approaches may assist in the comprehension of a child’s comparative development (Rabaah et al., 2016). Informal assessment is observing students as they learn and appraising them using information obtained. It is contrary to formal assessments because they involve the evaluation of students through an examination or structured test.

In early childhood settings in Saudi Arabia, teachers use informal assessments in special education or speech and language learning (Khoja, 2019). Assessment tools enable early childhood teachers to establish whether learners are progressing well and identify if they are being taught in a way that is practical for their distinctive learning styles (McConnell, 2000). Teachers are recommended to use both formal and informal tools to adequately comprehend and address the needs, problems, and abilities of every child. Both are effective and seek to notify parents and teachers concerning the development of each child.

Conducting natural observations may occur with minimum or no intrusion into the actions of children. Teachers should observe all the aspects of a child’s development encompassing intellectual, physical, linguistic, emotional, and social progress regularly (Jones, Zaslow, Darling-Churchill, & Halle, 2016). Although basic observation might appear like an obvious tool for assessment, teachers should ensure to follow a consistent process while watching and recording the development aspects of early childhood learners. Assessment tools present valuable data on the child’s individual needs, inclinations, rate of development, challenges, and interests (Reichow et al., 2016).

Teachers can check whether learners initiate interactions with their colleagues or have problems with motor skills such as when making crafts. There is a need to document the arising actions and interactions for a long period to create a comprehensive view of the abilities and skills of children instead of trying to evaluate just a single-instance observation (Jones et al., 2016).

The collection of data and learner’s work for portfolios provides a sufficient record of information gathered for a given period (Taylor, 2018). Portfolios portray the course of a child’s development and act as vital tools that help to develop a partnership between parents and educators (Fallucco et al., 2017). Teacher evaluations are useful tools that can enable the appraisal of learners’ language and cognitive abilities, in addition to their emotional and social development (Reichow et al., 2016).

Evaluations may be linked to other assessment tools, for example, standardized tests, to improve their effectiveness. Parent evaluations incorporate mothers, fathers, and guardians into the assessment process to ensure that learners benefit as much as possible. Early childhood educators encourage parents to observe and listen to children while trying to identify and target vital landmarks and actions in their development (Fallucco et al., 2017). Assessment tools should be constantly checked for validity and reliability. Such tools are considered reliable if they are found trustworthy. Effective tools ensure that the same individual acquires consistent scores when the evaluation is done on different occurrences and other varying situations.

Child Assessment Systems

There are two major categories of assessment methods used in early childhood education, which are both utilized to guide decisions regarding learners’ development (Reichow et al., 2016). They include program-developed and published child assessment methods. Program-developed methods are created to align with the intended program’s values and curriculum. Published methods are first researched and examined before their acceptance as reliable resources for application in early childhood education. There are also assessment systems utilized in early childhood education and care programs in the United States (Goldstein & Flake, 2016).

In Massachusetts among other states, the Department of Early Education and Care has recommended the use of HighScope Child Observation Record, Teaching Strategies GOLD, and the Work Sampling System. Under the HighScope Child Observation Record, teachers follow three major steps in assessments. These are observing and recording, scoring, with the help of online Child Observation Record, and sharing of report findings. Teaching Strategies GOLD is a system that focuses its assessment on thirty-eight goals that are vital to early childhood education programs (Goldstein & Flake, 2016). The Work Sampling System is specially constituted so that the combination of learner portfolios, directives, and checklists generates a successful assessment for the teacher.

As a pioneering stride in the improvement of the quality of education and support of Saudi vision 2030, the department of education has established early childhood programs in numerous schools within the country (Alotaibi et al., 2016). The Saudi vision 2030 of early childhood education seeks to accomplish desired educational objectives by ensuring that necessary materials are provided to young learners for the development of their abilities and character-building (“Vision 2030”, n.d.).

Stakeholders in the education system are united in their view that established programs have a tremendous influence on the enhancement of educational and psychological strength of learners in their formative years of development (Alotaibi et al., 2016). In line with vision 2030, the ministry of education has succeeded in the designation of special buildings and the arrangement of crucial facilities in early childhood education centers in conjunction with having adequate staff and resources in an attempt to satisfy learners’ needs (“Vision 2030”, n.d.).

Conclusion

Assessment in early childhood education entails collecting data regarding a child, assessing details, and using such information to plan educational processes that are at a stage that children can comprehend and learn. It gives educators an effective way of sharing with parents to improve follow-up on their children’s progress, to realize their limitations and strengths, and to design an excellent policy of extending learning at home.

Both formal and informal assessment tools may assist in the understanding of a child’s comparative progress. From strategic observation, educators detect patterns and establish how activities and habits may be promoted to satisfy the needs of every learner. The Saudi vision 2030 of early childhood education endeavors to accomplish the desired educational goals by ensuring that advanced learning is offered to young learners to boost their abilities and skills. Assessments support the work of educators in helping learners overcome every arising challenge to gain knowledge and understanding effectively.

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