I am a big believer in whole-child assessment. I have always been dumbfounded when I see a Preschool or Pre-K teacher place a huge emphasis on checking off letters, numbers and shapes that a child can identify for the purpose of assessment. Put in perspective, it doesn’t really matter if they have 26 check marks next to each letter of the alphabet, but rather are they developing the skills as a whole child to be successful. That does include their general language, literacy and math skills, but also more abstractly their problem solving skills, empathy, ability to express themselves when frustrated, fine motor and gross motor skills, approaches to learning and their peer to peer friendships.
Without the invaluable skills that sometimes get pushed to the side in assessment including social emotional skills, skills with relationships, and the big picture, we are not measuring anything about the child other than what they can regurgitate back at us. This promotes the environments of flash cards, worksheets and test taking, which so many know are not the best ways to educate children, yet we still can struggle making this same connection with assessments.
Some researchers suggest that letter grades and report cards that measure in grades or black and white pass/fail are inappropriate for children under 3rd grade because they still are on a sliding developmental continuum. I have always enjoyed and found most useful assessment tools that level each skill (INCLUDING social emotional and physical skills) and provide examples to which a child on each level is expected to demonstrate their skills. This allows them to be successful at their own level, but also demonstrate to parents and teachers where they need extra practice and work.
In my before and after school program, we are still required to do observations and provide assessments of children in our care more than 15 hours per week. In doing so, one important thing we include is a self-assessment. We ask each child to spend a few minutes with a teacher and rate themselves on tasks and skills within our three major areas of development – responsibility, respectfulness and safety. The kids then develop a few goals that they want to work on to become better classmates, students and learners and the teacher commits themselves to helping the child achieve it. I have ALWAYS been blown away by the level to which the children so honestly assess themselves and the thoughtful, mature goals they create for themselves when they are given the chance to be in control of their own growth.