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Assessment in Early Childhood: Literature Review Essay

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Updated: Jul 24th, 2021


Assessments allow teachers to observe and document the learning process of students in primary schools. The main idea behind this technique is that assessments allow educators to track the progress of children and compare their results to the benchmarks appropriate for their age. There are different tools and types of assessments, each dedicated to a specific purpose. This paper aims to examine literature that focuses on assessments in the context of early childhood and explains different types and tools of assessment.

Definition and Specifics

Assessments are an integral part of the education process, which can guide teachers and provide information regarding the success of their efforts. The United States Department of Education (n.d.) provides the following definition of assessments – these are “questions, tools, and processes that are specifically designed to monitor children’s progress … and to guide and improve instructional practice” (para. 13).

Assessments are essential because they allow educators to collect data about their students and the learning progress and compare this information either with previous results or with benchmarks for the specific age group. Alternatively, these methods are used to make decisions regarding the retention or placement of students or to alter the institutional planning strategy (Ackerman, 2018; Goldstein, McCoach, & Yu, 2017; Miller-Bains, Russo, Williford, DeCoster, & Cottone, 2017). Therefore, assessments are essential in the context of early childhood education because teachers can use them as guidelines to alter their practice and ensure the best learning results for children.

Best practices of early childhood assessments in the United States involve are performance-based. According to Russo, Williford, Markowitz, Vitiello, and Bassok (2019), state that schools across the state use a variety of methods to measure the readiness of children, including performance-based observations. Additionally, rating scales and direct measurements can be used as well. Russo et al. (2019) and Sabol and Pianta (2017) argue that the best approach is to use direct observation since this method allows teachers to assess students’ skills across different domains during the day and on a regular basis, which can be used to assess formative data.

However, the main issue with this practice is the difficulties associated with administering scores, which may lead to inaccuracies. In the following section of the paper, different assessment tools used by educators in the United States will be explored.

The difference between an assessment and a test is in the scope of interest. A test is a standardized process during which a student answers a set of questions developed to determine his level of skill or knowledge on a particular subject (Shields, Cook, & Greller, 2016). As such, tests usually target a particular domain of education, for example, math or literature. Assessments, on the other hand, are usually multi-dimensional, meaning that they allow educators to collect data systemically and evaluate skills, knowledge as well as attitudes of the students towards something (Wortham & Hardin, 2019). Tests can be used as an assessment tool to help teachers understand the learning process better. This suggests that the scope of evaluating for assessments is more significant when compared to tests.

An assessment differs from early intervention, although these two processes target the same aspect of learning – possible educational problems. Early intervention is a process of helping children with either learning difficulties or disabilities (Wechsler, Melnick, Maier, & Bishop, 2016; Sabol, & Pianta, 2017; Regenstein, Connors, Romero-Jurado, & Weiner, 2017). The goal is to teach them the skills that other children of their age acquired and enable their further learning. An assessment can help identify a learning issue, while early intervention addresses and aims to resolve the identified problem.

Assessment must be tailored towards the specifics of the age group, in this case, for early childhood. The developmentally appropriate practices involve direct observations. Russo et al. (2019) advise employing Teaching Strategies GOLD (TS GOLD), which tests children’s readiness for further education using standardized methods. The authors mention that nine states already use this approach as a mandatory assessment method in early childhood education, with nine others, either considering or implementing it.

Another assessment essential for this age group is the Kindergarten Readiness Assesment (KRA), which in some cases, uses GOLD as an integral part is adopted in many states across the country (Miller-Bains, Russo, Williford, DeCoster, & Cottone, 2017). This technique is usually applied to measure the readiness level of children before they enter kindergarten.

The pre-referral assessment or process is a method that allows identifying if a student has unique learning needs. The aim is to ensure that a student is provided with the necessary help and resources to learn before they are referred to a unique education facility (Russo et al., 2019). In general, best practices of pre-referral involve an establishment of a team that consists of both educators and other professionals and can incorporate a child’s parents. Through brainstorming and observation, the members try to develop strategies that will be helpful for a particular individual (Wortham & Hardin, 2019). For the age group of early childhood, the described approach is considered to be the best practice for pre-referral as well.

Types of Assessments

Since assessments incorporate a full scope of evaluation methods, there are several distinct types of this approach. Goldstein and Flake (2018) argue that the system of Early Childhood Assessments in the United States is undergoing significant changes, while according to Russo et al. (2019) these alterations should help address the fact that teachers are asked to carry out a variety of assessments, without a substantial research or guidelines that would highlight best practices.

Progress monitoring allows assessing the quality and rate of improvement in a student’s learning process. Moreover, this approach helps evaluate whether the instructions were adequate, which is another element of assessment – they help educators better understand the effectiveness of their approach (Wortham & Hardin, 2019). Standardized achievement testing can be tailored towards a particular subject, for example, math or literature, and allows monitoring the progress across the grade level.

Formative and summative assessment are two types of techniques that aim to determine what the children have learned. The former refers to tests administered over the period of studies, which help examine how this individual is learning (Wortham & Hardin, 2019). The latter aids in evaluating how much a student has learned over the period of his or her studies. Assessment for eligibility is usually multidisciplinary and employs a variety of tools.

For example, a teacher can use tools such as individualized, standardized achievement tests, behavior rating tools, observations, IQ tests, the Battelle, WIAT, Vineland, and others. Next, dynamic assessments are used to evaluate the learning potential of a child, though interactive activities (Wortham & Hardin, 2019). Usually, educators conduct a pre-test, a learning intervention, and a post-test to assess the skills and abilities. Finally, curriculum-based assessments are criterion-referenced tasks that test the materials learned by individuals.

Tools for Assesment

In addition to different types of assessments that educators can use for evaluating the progress of students in early education, there are several tools that can facilitate the process. For instance, portfolios are a way of describing a student’s capabilities, based on a specific goal (Wortham & Hardin, 2019). Although this can be considered as a subjective evaluation, it allows educators to express their view of a student and their learning process. As was mentioned, observation is one of the most commonly employed forms of assessment by the teachers in the United States, which involves a teacher examining the behavior of a student (Russo et al., 2018). Tests, as was described, are an approach to assessment that allows examining specific types of knowledge a student has acquired.

Curriculum-based tests, similarly to curriculum-based assessments, allow examining the exact knowledge that was presented in a classroom. Interviews with children, teachers, parents are a qualitative approach that allows gaining a more comprehensive understanding of what was achieved by an educator (Wortham & Hardin, 2019). Screening tools, unlike regular assessments, are a fast evaluation technique that presents quick results and outlines whether a student requires additional attention.

Formative assessment tools and summative assessment tools examine the success of the learning process and the overall material learned after a course.

Student presentations provide individuals with an opportunity to work independently on a project and present their findings (Wortham & Hardin, 2019). Student writing products and creative student products imply providing students with tasks, either writing or creating something and examining the outcomes. This allows assessing their skills and creativity through direct observation of the process and outcome (Wortham & Hardin, 2019).

Finally, student performance on a skill involves an examination of a student’s behavior in relation to a specific skill necessary for adequate learning. Therefore, teachers can approach learning assessments for early childhood students from different perspectives.


Overall, an assessment is a technique that allows educators to employ a variety of tools to evaluate the progress of school children and improve their professional practice. Unlike tests or other techniques, assessments allow for a comprehensive review of a child’s abilities and provide teachers with a comprehensive evaluation of skills, learning achievements, and attitudes. This paper examined literature that critically evaluates assessments and highlights best practices of use for early childhood education.


Ackerman, D. J. (2018). Real world compromises: Policy and practice impacts of kindergarten entry assessment-related validity and reliability challenges. ETS Research Report Studies, 2018(1), 1-35. Web.

Goldstein, J. & Flake, J.K. (2016). Towards a framework for the validation of early childhood assessment systems. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 28, 273. Web.

Goldstein, J., McCoach, D. B., & Yu, H. (2017). The predictive validity of kindergarten readiness judgments: Lessons from one state. The Journal of Educational Research, 110(1), 50–60. Web.

Miller-Bains, K. L., Russo, J. M., Williford, A. P., DeCoster, J., & Cottone, E. A. (2017). Examining the validity of a multidimensional performance-based assessment at kindergarten entry. AERA Open, 3, 1–16. Web.

Regenstein, E., Connors, M., Romero-Jurado, R., & Weiner, J. (2017). Uses and misuses of kindergarten readiness assessment results. The Ounce, 6, 1–48.

Russo, J. M., Williford, A. P., Markowitz, A. J., Vitiello, V. E., & Bassok, D. (2019). Examining the validity of a widely-used school readiness assessment: Implications for teachers and early childhood programs. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 48, 14–25. Web.

Sabol, T. J., & Pianta, R. C. (2017). The state of young children in the United States: School readiness. In E. Votruba-Drzal, & E. Dearing (Eds.), Handbook of early childhood development programs, practices, and policies (pp. 3–17). West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Shields, K. A., Cook, K. D., & Greller, S. (2016). . Web.

The United States Department of Education (n.d.). . Web.

Wechsler, M., Melnick, H., Maier, A., & Bishop, J. (2016). The building blocks of high-quality early childhood education programs. Palo Alto: Learning Policy Institute.

Wortham, S. C., & Hardin, B. J. (2019). Assessment in early childhood education (8th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

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