Using Assessment Information to Guide Planning and Teaching
By John Funk, M.Ed.

Many state and local education agencies, as well as commercial preschool programs, are now applying core educational standards in their preschool settings. While they do an admirable job of employing curriculum standards, a number of programs do not introduce skills in developmental order. Developmental order is essential – for tracking learning and to help each child progress along the educational continuum (POCET, 2005). Without following developmental order, teachers and children can find themselves grappling with gaps in abilities and comprehension.            


In order to successfully support a child’s learning, early child care providers, parents, and preschool programs need to know where that child is functioning according to developmental guidelines. There are a number of factors to consider in order to provide the most support (CCSSO, 2005), including the observation of the child’s work and behavior, using reliable instruments to assess appropriate skills and applying a system which helps teachers both organize the learning environment and plan experiences.


 In 2005, The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Governing Board approved new NAEYC Early Childhood Program Standards and Accreditation Performance Criteria (Young Children, July 2005).  The Accreditation Criteria seeks to guide early childhood settings to serve the needs of children and families, and prepare each child to enter kindergarten. These standards are also used to evaluate programs for their quality and efficiency. The standard measure for assessing the progress of each child reads:


The program is informed by ongoing systematic, formal, and informal assessment approaches to provide information on children’s learning and development. These assessments occur within the

context of reciprocal communications with families and with sensitivity to the cultural contexts in which children develop. Assessment results are used to benefit children by informing sound decisions about children, teaching, and program improvement.


Teachers’ knowledge of each child helps them to plan appropriately challenging curriculum and to tailor instruction that responds to each child’s strengths and needs. Further, systematic assessment is essential for identifying children who may benefit from more intensive instruction or intervention or who may need additional developmental evaluation. This information ensures that the program meets its goals for children’s learning and

developmental progress and also informs program improvement efforts.” (NAEYC accredication criteria, 2005)


Developmental Guidelines  

An early childhood setting should have appropriate developmental guidelines for the group of children that they are serving, as well as identification of how and when the guidelines should be introduced and reinforced at each stage of learning. An organized outline serves as a basis for authentic assessment and anecdotal observations to chart the child’s developmental stages.


Skill Development and Support

The next stage when tracking a child’s progress is providing activities and opportunities for developing each individual skill. Early childhood researchers have found that experiences relevant to the child’s world create the best possible teaching moments (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). It’s important to keep in mind that learning and retention are two different things; a child can learn something for just a few minutes and then lose it forever. For retention to take place, rehearsal or revisiting the skills must occur on a regular basis (Sousa, 2001). Early childhood programs should provide numerous experiences to reinforce each skill. With this in mind, the teacher

can plan meaningful activities that  actually provide support for guideline development. Skilled teachers also create activities based on the interests and requests of the child.


Recording/Tracking Individual Progress  

Each early childhood environment should have an organized way to record developmental milestones, whether created by the individual teacher, school program, or commercially developed. This information should include where each child is functioning and what progress each child makes throughout the year. This tracking system should be in developmental order so a teacher can easily see a continuum of progress and skill acquisition. This will help the teacher answer the question, “Do I need to provide more reinforcement of a previous skill, or is this child ready to progress to the next level?”  The tracking system should be easy for the teacher to maintain and give basic information, at a glance, about the child’s functioning level. For authentic assessment purposes, the system should also include anecdotal records and samples (portfolios) of the child’s work (Gronlund, 1998). This information should be organized in a way that is easy for the teacher to access for planning classroom activities and when guiding discussions.


Formal Assessment

Early childhood programs can and should use formal assessments to chart a child’s skill development for kindergarten readiness (NAEYC, 2005). There are many commercial assessments that focus on preschool skills, and regardless of the assessment chosen or created, care should be taken to insure that the assessment procedure allows the teacher to measure what should be measured (Witt, Elliott, Kramer & Gresham, 1994). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 challenges early childhood programs to monitor progress in language, literacy, and math to monitor school readiness, but this does not mean that formal assessment should be the only measure of a child’s progress. For a true authentic look at each child, many pieces should be assembled, from formal assessment, informal observations, anecdotal notes, and portfolio samples. This will help ou develop a more complete look at each child’s developmental progress and mastery of preschool skills. Developmental screenings for special needs services always require a scientific screener or one that has been researched and published with national assessment results (Meisels & Atkins-Burnett, 2005). These screeners can also be added to authentic information to help create a picture of the whole child.


Creating a Ready Reference 

The next step in tracking the progress of each child is to create a ready reference of the monitoring and assessment results. This type of reference can take the form of a chart or graph (POCET, 2005). The purpose of this instrument is to allow the teacher to have an “at-a-glance” reference for effective planning of activities. It is essential to have a general idea of where the group of children is functioning. A ready reference serves as a foundation for planning appropriate activities and as a starting point for providing more support for individual children within the classroom. This reference should be easy to use and simple for the teacher to update on a regular basis.


Using Data to Inform Instruction  

In order to provide developmentally appropriate activities and to support each child, the teacher must know where the children are functioning. This should be the foundation for organizing and planning classroom activities and will set the stage for individualization and ongoing monitoring. Knowing the general skill level of the entire group should determine the direction taken by the teacher. It is not appropriate for a teacher to assume or estimate what the child or children are capable of doing. Using the Ready Reference (see above), the teacher has an accurate idea of the skill level to begin to plan activities. This also provides an opportunity for teachers to direct children’s interest into appropriate skill level areas. Using this general information does not supersede individualization. After planning activities for the group, the teacher should use the monitoring and assessment information to indicate which children need additional support during that activity. Additional support can take the form of one-on-one instruction for children who are functioning below that skill level or providing activity enhancement for children functioning above that skill level.



An organized and effective early childhood classroom revolves around developmentally appropriate activities on the skills level of each child. In order for this to happen, a teacher must have an organized idea of developmental guidelines, a plan for supporting and providing skill development, a way of tracking individual progress, and a simple formal assessment. When the information is gathered and recorded on a ready reference, it should be used to inform instruction and help the teacher provide developmentally appropriate activities according to the skill level of the preschool children in her care.




John Funk was named “Utah Teacher of the Year” in 1996. He has worked as an early childhood specialist for a large school district and has managed early childhood services for Salt Lake CAP Head Start. Currently, He is the Manager of Educational Programs for Excelligence Learning Corporation, and he teaches courses in children’s literature and early reading at the University of Utah.



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