Exploring the Key Principles of Effective Assessment
Assessment processes within the EYFS can, if we’re not careful, be a bit of a minefield. As with many things, the extremes are to be avoided. At one end of the spectrum, too many recorded observations can leave us swamped by information that may not be useful, at the other, a simple tick sheet won’t enable us to convey the complexities and subtle nuances of child development. So, where do we start? Well, if you are looking to improve the processes for effective assessment within your setting, there are some key questions to consider.
What Information Is Useful?
For assessment processes to be effective, all staff will need to have a clear understanding of what information is useful. First, we need to consider what underpins the effectiveness of the learning process. Staff teams will need to observe children’s levels of wellbeing, involvement and the characteristics of effective learning as part of building a holistic picture of each child. It will be crucial here, to gain an in depth understanding of each child as a learner- what motivates and drives their learning, what patterns emerge in their play and in what context do they learn best? Building effective relationships with parents in order that they may contribute to this holistic picture is always valuable.
Next, adults will need to build a clear idea of what significant learning looks like for each child in relation to both the prime and specific areas of learning. A shared understanding of this across the team will be crucial in ensuring effective adult interactions and responses to learning. In terms of assessment processes, consistent staff knowledge about individual children will also prevent time consuming duplication of information.
How will we find out this information?
The EYFS team will need to develop their knowledge of the children in the setting through careful observation and skilful interaction. The focus here needs to be on engaging with the children in a variety of contexts, supporting their learning as appropriate and building strong relationships. It is important to be clear that observational assessment does not mean that all information needs to be recorded. An over reliance on recording and photographing will often distract staff from focussing on the learning that is taking place and how best to support each child. Staff who engage with children, rather than focussing on gathering written observations, tend to develop a more detailed picture of each child as a learner.
Working in this way requires highly skilled, knowledgeable staff with a clear understanding of key developmental milestones. Staff training and moderation across the EYFS team will be required to support all staff in making accurate and consistent judgements.
How will we use this information?
It is crucial that observational assessment is seen as the beginning, not the end of the assessment process. For assessment to be effective, in needs to be seen as part of a cycle which links it to the planning process. This cycle begins with observation and interaction. Staff will then need to discuss and analyse what has been observed. These discussions should then inform what is needed next, such as the planning of enhancements, adult interactions and further support.
To support children’s progress and development effectively, the staff team will need a clear understanding, not just of the developmental stages shown in Development Matters but of each incremental step towards these milestones and what they might look like in practice. Building the team’s understanding of child development in order to achieve this is crucial. As Cathy Nutbrown puts it:
“It is easy to only observe what we want to see and assess only what we understand”
Does the Information that we gain help us to shape our practice, clearly show progress and identify needs?
As we build this picture of children’s development within the setting, it is crucial that we collate this information in order that we can see the bigger picture. Senior leaders will need to be able to strategically view and analyse the progress of groups of children, identifying patterns and trends. For example, if, on entry, children are generally thought to be below age- related expectations in the development of language, then do we have systems in place to show the progress that they have made in this area? Does the information that we gain enable us to make informed judgements about the impact of our practice, what has worked and what needs to be developed further?
As we do look strategically at the information relating to each of the children, it is vital that we are able to pinpoint where the specific needs of our children lie. To be able to do this, we need to be able to consider the importance of age- related information. Children born within the same year, or starting nursery or school at the same time, will still be at very different stages relating to their different ages. Whilst the younger children within any year group will generally be at an earlier stage of development, this does not necessarily mean that they are below where we might expect for their age. Identifying which children, according to their age in months, are at an expected point of development and which children need further support will be key if we are to tailor our practice effectively according to their needs.
So, lots to consider here, not just about observational assessment but how we analyse and use the knowledge our teachers and practitioners develop through building relationships with their children.
Do your assessment processes help you and your team to build a holistic picture of each child as a young learner?
Are the processes you have in place manageable, meaningful and accurate?
In your setting, is assessment seen as an ongoing cycle which leads to discussion and analysis and informs effective planning?
With a much sharper focus on assessment and observation practices in the Revised EYFS, now is a good time for schools and settings to review and develop their existing processes to ensure that they underpin the careful planning of a curriculum that meets the needs of all of our children.