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Assessing Student Growth in Early Childhood

When thinking about assessment one might imagine tests, grades and homework as the primary sources for information about academic development. While those are useful tools used in the older grades at Calhoun, there are myriad ways to assess a young child’s growth and development at the early childhood level. Our small class size and low student-teacher ratio create daily opportunities for close observation of each student. These daily observations, combined with more structured assessment practices, give teachers a deep understanding of each student’s progress and development. Here are some of the formal and informal ways in which we assess three different areas in the early childhood program –– critical thinking, literacy and mathematical thinking.

It is our goal to help students move beyond simply receiving and memorizing information, to developing the ability to think deeply. Heather Jupiter, Kindergarten teacher

Assessing Critical Thinking Skills

Kindergarten teacher Heather Jupiter writes:

Developing critical thinking skills is an integral part of the early childhood experience and foundational in becoming a lifelong learner. It is our goal to help students move beyond simply receiving and memorizing information, to developing the ability to think deeply in order to generate and connect ideas and concepts, drawing from a variety of sources and experiences. We accomplish these goals by taking an inquiry-based approach to learning.  

We are able to assess students' ability to think critically by inviting discussion, asking students to compile prior knowledge, make predictions about outcomes, and reflect on processes and experiences. By looking at the ways students participate in these conversations and activities, what they bring to these experiences, and the ways they are able to talk about, reflect and connect them, we gain an understanding of each child’s ability to think critically. 

Literacy activity in early childood

 

Assessing Children in Literacy

LS-EC Learning Specialist Alison Leveque writes:

Literacy assessment can take many forms and occurs throughout the day in each classroom. Our new phonics program, Fundations, allows kindergarten, first and second-grade teachers to regularly assess students’ phonics skill development. Each week, students have opportunities to read real and “nonsense” words that follow the targeted phonics rule and previously learned rules. Students are also asked to build words with magnetic letter boards and then write dictated sounds and words. During these lessons, teachers are listening to see if students can accurately and fluently apply the rule or if they need additional practice. These Informal assessments allow teachers to check-in frequently and gather data about each student's individual learning (Ex., ‘Did they understand the lesson?  Are they able to independently incorporate concepts into their writing and reading? Do they need additional practice with concepts, or are they ready to move on?)  This is just one example of literacy assessment among the many literacy activities taking place in our classrooms.   

Seeing a student's completed work does not tell us about their journey of how they got to a solution. However, listening to a child’s explanation tells us about how they reason, which can help both the student and the teacher. Molly Cohen, LS–Early Childhood Math Specialist

Assessing Children in Mathematical Thinking

Lower School–Early Childhood Math Specialist Molly Cohen writes:

Students at 74th Street experience math through the lens of an investigative approach. Our first graders just completed a unit called “The Double Decker Bus,” where students read a story about a bus with two decks (something that is very familiar for New York City residents). This unit introduces the Rekenrek as a powerful model and tool to act out the story. Students grew comfortable seeing five and ten as units to support their understanding of larger numbers and gain efficiency with addition strategies.

A Rekenrak tool

A Rekenrek tool, which helps support children's understanding of larger numbers

 

Assessment during units like “The Double Decker Bus” look different each day. For example, when playing games like Passenger Pairs and Passenger Combos teachers are carefully observing students' strategies for composing and decomposing numbers. We can learn a lot from watching a student count the beads; are they “trusting ten” and counting on or counting by ones? Additionally, one activity asked students to find all the configurations of 14 passengers on the bus. Here, teachers are carefully noticing how students are organizing their thinking, utilizing the Rekenrek as a tool, conversing with their partners, and persevering when something feels tricky or uncomfortable. 

While this unit did not end in an independent written assessment for each child, through observations and careful listening, teachers develop a fuller understanding of where students are in their mathematical development. Seeing a student's completed work does not tell us about their journey of how they got to a solution. However, listening to a child’s explanation tells us about how they reason, which can help both the student and the teacher; the student continues to make connections by articulating their thinking and the teacher now has invaluable insight for planning future activities. Lastly, by using the bus context and the Rekenrek as a tool, students begin to make connections to understand big ideas like equivalence – that numbers can be named in many ways – and ultimately extend this understanding to larger numbers beyond 20.