The purpose of early childhood assessment is to document the present status of the child with regard to developmental milestones and to identify any developmental areas that require follow-up assessment or follow-along. Assessment of very young children needs to be integral to their daily activities. Children change very rapidly and it is too easy to assume that they have reached developmental milestones in all areas: marked development in one area can distract caregivers and therapists from a deficit or an area in which development is occurring at a slower rate than typical. Recording the developmental progress of children is not an onerous task if it is integrated into the daily routine and becomes a habit. Steps to prepare for this integration of assessment in daily routines includes making recording sheets readily available, review the assessment records weekly, and communicate with other staff and parents on a monthly basis about the observations. An important reason for communicating with others about a young child's performance is that they may exhibit a skill in one area but not in another. That is to say, that a child may successfully demonstrate a skill at home, but not at the play centers, and so on.
When ever possible, it is beneficial to record a child's performance using different media. Paper documentation can be converted to digital form thereby increasing its portability, permanence, and distribution for sharing. Photo images of children's performance can serve the same purpose; for example, when the images are of a child's artwork or block construction or posture when sitting on the floor at circle time, the photo can communicate much more easily the points that a teacher or therapist is making when talking with parents or when consulting with other professionals or specialists. For gross and fine motor activities, the use of videotaping is a tremendous way to record developmental progress -- and to identify any particular areas of development that may be problematic. By recording gross and fine motor development on video, a teacher or therapist can easily view particular parts of the video, repeating the viewing process until they are satisfied that they have accurately evaluated the performance and identified an appropriate intervention, or have reached a wait and see attitude that they can comfortably defend.
It is critically important to incorporate activities, objects, and language that are indicative of children's keenest interests and responsive to their ideas when conducting assessment. In order to obtain maximum effort and performance from a young child, it is most productive to integrate the activities with their typical preferences in any given situation and to align the language with their developmental levels regarding receptive language. These considerations are crucial for the accurate assessment of children with developmental delays whose experiences in new environments may not have been particularly successful, thereby imparting a degree of reticence in their willingness to cooperate with adults who are not their usual caregivers and to participate in the assessment process. Conducting assessments with young children who have developmental delays requires a high degree of patience and remarkable levels of creativity. Very often, a teacher or therapist may need to approach assessment from a sideways position so as to minimize any appearance that the activities are of substance, and to give every indication that the activity is play and playful, rather than a serious attempt to conduct deep and highly accurate assessment.
The instruments used to assess the child during observations include the following: the Developmental Checklists Birth to Five, The Early Childhood Direction Center, and from the Week Three Observation Assignment, the following forms: Running Record or Anecdotal Record and Time Sampling or Event Sampling, as appropriate to the setting and activity.
Background Information Related to Diagnostic Test
Mark Anthony is inconsistent in his stair climbing performance. He scored lowest on the screening instrument on the item about going up and down stairs without support. In several contexts, he capably demonstrates the ability to climb both up and down the stairs. In his home environment, Mark descends the stairs easily but has repeated exhibited difficulty going up the stairs. He characteristically hesitates at each stair step, and persists in looking down with great concentration. Mark's mother has been observed to carry Mark up the stairs when he seems to be stuck in this routine.
The purpose of the diagnostic assessment is to determine if the motivating factor for Mark's hesitancy in stair climbing is a result of the assistance that he obtains from his mother, rather than some underlying physical contributor. It should be noted that Mark exhibits levels of energy, balance, and muscular strength typical of normally developing children his age when he is in the playground environment. Recall that on the playground, Mark does not hesitate on stairs he is climbing, nor does he solicit any help from adults to go up and down stairs.
Diagnostic Test -- Developmental Area of Concern
The diagnostic test will be conducted in the two environments in which Mark has been observed climbing and descending stairs. Discussion with Mark's mother will help to identify an appropriate reward that can be given to Mark when he successfully climbs the stairs in both environments: on the playground where he navigates the steps of the climbing equipment without problems and at home on the stairs where he has shown difficulty and hesitation.
The purpose of providing a reward to Mark in both environmental settings is to establish that he is capable of focusing on the reward to a degree sufficient to ignore other associations with the stairs in the two settings. If Mark successfully focuses on the external reward when he is climbing the steps in the playground setting, then he will have demonstrated sufficient interest in the reward for it to be used in the more challenging setting. Should Mark be sufficiently interested in the reward at the playground, the same reward will be used in the home setting as an incentive to climb the stairs unaided. If Mark fails to exhibit sufficient interest in the reward at the playground setting, then time will be spent in the task of identifying a reward that results in high interest on Mark's part.
At the Playground.
Mark will be told the procedure for receiving the reward in very simple terms. If his receptive language is developmentally appropriate, he should have no difficulty comprehending the possibility of obtaining a reward, and no difficulty understanding the sequence of events that will result in him being rewarded for independent ascent of the stairs. If Mark does exhibit some language delay, particularly receptive language delay, the explanation concerning the activity can be depicted visually by using very simple stick figures in a storyboard fashion that shows first one occurrence and then another. Should this visual support be needed, it will be used in both the playground and home settings, with only minor adjustments to the illustrations.
Mark will be told that first the teacher will give him the reward, and that he gets to climb the stairs again for his mother, after which he will receive a second reward (the expectation is that the same reward will be provided twice). There is insufficient opportunity for Mark to satiate on the reward, so that his motivation for climbing the stairs will remain high -- and his memory of receiving the reward should carry over into the home environment, having been strengthened by the recent successful activity and receipt of the reward in the playground.
The same explanation about the reward and the climbing of stairs will be provided to Mark in the home setting. Again Mark will be helped to understand that the teacher will give him the reward the first time he climbs the stairs and that his mother will give him the reward the second time he climbs the stairs. All extraneous conversation should be avoided during the assessment, except for expressions of encouragement similar to those used at the playground when Mark was going up the steps on the playground equipment. Importantly, no expressions of caution should be used by either the teacher or the mother, and both should strive to achieve neutral facial expressions during this diagnostic activity. Should Mark fail to independently climb the stairs at home in the manner that he does at the playground, he should be told that he can try again another time -- and that the reward will be saved until he is ready to climb the stairs by himself. This aspect of the procedure should be followed, either later in the same session at Mark's house, or another day.
Developmentally Appropriate Instructional Goals
The following instructional goals have been selected for Mark on the basis of his current…