New research explores teacher perspectives on assessment in early learning and how assessment practice can be strengthened to improve implementation.
Foundation for Child Development Grants in Action
In a new study from Hunter College at the City University of New York, Authentic Assessment in UPK: Case Studies on Utility, Fidelity, and Applications to Practice, authors Lacey Peters and Sherryl Graves explored the adoption of Authentic Assessment Systems (AAS) that are used to examine children’s learning and development in New York City’s Pre-K for All (PKA). The authors elevate the perspectives of teachers and other key members of PKA learning communities who are “policy enactors” in order to inform future policy decisions and empower teachers to improve instruction and assessment practices.
“Assessments like AAS work when they help teachers be more systematic in their approach to understanding the growth of children, developing individualized teaching strategies, and ultimately achieving their goal — and the ultimate policy goal — of better outcomes for children,” says Peters. “As New York City continues to support early educators through adoption of AAS and other tools, it is critical that educators, as policy enactors, understand the rationale behind changes in policy and how the shifts in their practice will improve early learning for children.”
Teachers’ daily experiences and insights were captured through interviews, participant observations, a collection of classroom artifacts (such as daily schedules and lesson plans), and a survey. Data collected across three years (2016-2019) examined how assessment played a role in teachers’ decision-making and how it helped them understand individual student needs, abilities, and interests. It also revealed how assessment data influenced teachers’ conversations with children’s primary caregivers about their children’s growth and learning. Observation time spent in classrooms shed light on how students’ learning experiences unfolded and how teachers and students interacted throughout the day.
“A big lesson here is that the combination of a common assessment framework, data, professional learning, and collaboration can improve program implementation,” says Graves.
Key findings in the final report can be categorized under the following themes:
AAS can provide a new lens for understanding children’s progress. Teachers reported that AAS helps them to see a broader view of their classroom’s strengths and growth areas. They embraced AAS when they saw it could be used to be more effective as educators. Almost all of the 17 teachers interviewed commented that AAS helped them to see greater nuance in their students’ growth and learning and to refine their teaching accordingly.
The way educators collect student data is an emergent process. Commonly used tactics are observation as well as anecdotal notes and photo documentation. Summative assessment strategies were also employed by meeting individually with students to capture progress on their abilities in different areas, such as alphabet knowledge or math skills.
AAS expands teachers’ assessment literacy. AAS also created shared language around curriculum and assessment. Teachers often mentioned how their assessment practice helped them become more reflective and identify different growth areas. AAS helped teachers to meet students where they are and better individualize instruction, considering what skills are critical for them to learn while also supporting their social and emotional development.
Areas remain where teachers need additional support. The challenges revealed were dependent on teachers’ previous teaching and assessment experiences — many needed support (in the form of training or providing technology needed to implement AAS) to make the process more efficient and consistent and to maximize the benefits of AAS. Teachers found it difficult to balance the demands of assessments with their other responsibilities. Finally, collaboration and dialogue around assessment among co-teachers were often constrained, limiting critical opportunities for discussion about children’s learning, progress, or regression across learning domains.
Other factors also contribute to teachers’ pedagogical decision-making. While teachers use assessment systems to identify growth areas for the children and to make classroom modifications based on their observations, the diverse abilities of students and the need for kindergarten readiness are also key factors behind teacher decision-making.
In summary, the report offers recommendations for strengthening implementation of AAS through specific additional supports for teachers. These recommendations include:
- Providing extended assessment time for teachers;
- Using clear and consistent messaging to describe intent of quality improvement as the rationale for shifts in practice;
- Using data, such as written anecdotes, photos, and work samples, to inform assessment practice and ensuring that teachers have time to carefully review data they collect, as well as discuss observations with others;
- Promote critical reflection on children’s growth and learning by engaging teachers in dialogue around which benchmarks or expectations are appropriate within the context of their learning communities and empowering them to question ideas and reflect on their own practice; and
- Engaging teachers in professional learning and shared decision-making in collaboration with others to collectively enhance assessment practices.
This research was made possible by The New York City Early Childhood Research Network, a unique partnership of researchers from the city’s higher education institutions who work with the New York City Department of Education, New York City Administration for Children’s Services, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity to study the implementation of New York City’s early childhood system and use the knowledge gained to improve instruction and outcomes for all children.
This study was funded by the Foundation for Child Development. The New York City Early Childhood Research Network is a project of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at the City University of New York and is funded by the Early Childhood Partners NYC, the Foundation for Child Development, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation.
Tenured Assistant Professor
Hunter College, City University of New York
695 Park Avenue, W1130
New York, NY 10065
Professor, Acting Senior Associate Dean
Hunter College, City University of New York
695 Park Avenue, W1024
New York, NY 10065
University Dean and Executive Director
New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute
16 Court Street, 31st Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11241