Making time for student assessments in one of the biggest concerns I hear from preschool teachers. It makes sense – they already have a busy day juggling 20 3- and 4-year-old students. This age group in particular requires a lot of hands on teaching through modeling and guidance. They also require a lot of supervision. So direct assessments seem like an additional and daunting task for teachers to complete.
By integrating assessment through student portfolios, teachers can save time. Additionally, in many cases, they can also produce more valid assessment results. Let’s examine this for a moment. When a teacher sits down with a student 1:1 and tests their general ability and knowledge, it is only providing data relevant to that one sitting. This may, or may not, truly capture the student’s abilities. The child may not understand what’s being asked of them. They may feel “put on the spot”, or even just plain nervous about the situation… Especially when the teacher says something like “come with me so we can do some testing”. I’m sure many adults can relate to these feelings too. I know I can.
Explore a different approach
Throughout the school day, we informally ask children to use what they have learned. We ask them to demonstrate their understanding of this information by completing a variety of academic tasks. Whether it’s through whole group read-alouds and follow up questioning, a small group extension activity or independent art, they are demonstrating their abilities in the most authentic way, by doing. Children are building towers in the blocks center… Painting a picture of their family… Acting out stories in dramatic play… Engaging in meaningful play with manipluatives in the math, writing and literacy centers. So, why not use this as authentic assessment?
Portfolios also support a developmentally appropriate approach to assessment procedures. Teachers can review their classroom assessments and appropriately embed specific tasks into their lessons that target specific skills they need to report on. Collecting work sampling data, student projects and anecdotal notes over a period of time, allows teachers and program staff to truly focus on a students strengths by observing what they can do. They are a flexible form of assessment, which is vital when teaching very young students. Why? Because they most likely have not had exposure to formal school based instruction. They are also often functioning at a wide variety of developmental levels.
The social emotional development of a three or four year old child does not support 1:1 assessment approaches for “drilling” the student about the information they know. Due to the varying levels of student development across all domains, students require the opportunity to convey their understanding in ways that are specific to them as an individual. This further supports individualized instruction. For example, a child may lack expressive language skills necessary to tell about a specific detail in a story. Instead, they may be able to draw about the detail that teacher is asking about. They may possibly even tell about what they drew instead as it is more meaningful to them. Perhaps the child cannot retell the story expressively… But they could sequence pictures in a small group activity, demonstrating their understanding of the story’s events.
This evidence of student ability can be placed directly in the student’s portfolio with the date and prompt of the item. “What did the three little pigs use to build their houses?, 9/15/17″ written directly on the student’s work, recorded as an anecdotal note (post-it notes, data log, etc) and/or photographed as evidence (Ryan built a tower and said “This is a tall skyscraper with lots of people inside”). Using a rubber date stamp is an easy way to record the date on student work. Teachers can often teach the children to use it themselves. Being mindful to record the date, setting (whole group, small group, independent play, etc), and aids (with visual model, verbal prompts, etc) is necessary to ensure accurate data.
Determining student growth and relaying progress to parents, the portfolio can be reviewed and used to measure current levels of performance. A good example to demonstrate this is by comparing self portraits. Many preschool programs have children draw their self portrait and attempt to write their name throughout the school year. I love to show parents where their child began at the beginning of the school year and how much they have grown through their work. It’s one thing to tell them, “your son is now writing their name.” But it’s an entirely different thing to say “Look how your son wrote his name when he started school, compared to what he can now”.
Integrating assessments through student portfolios provides teachers and parents with authentic information about children and evidences student growth in a developmentally, individualized approach. Managing the collection of portfolio items can be incorporated into daily classroom practices. This can, in turn, eliminate many of the daunting aspects of classroom assessments… And save teachers precious time and resources.