The Preschool Perspective on Assessment
Is My Child Getting an A for Naptime?
The notion of preschool assessment produces a slew of anxiety-ridden questions: Is my child good enough? Is he showing some deficiency? Is there a chance of retention? Does a negative assessment in preschool mean the beginning of an unhappy educational experience? And, inevitably, "Isn't my child too young to be receiving grades?"
The reality is that assessment in the preschool, when used properly, can serve teachers and parents in carefully viewing children and their educational environments. It helps teachers and parents to see where children are in their various stages of development, where they are likely to go, and how we, as the adults in their lives, can help them to make comfortable transitions.
What Do Preschoolers Learn?
Preschools tend to concentrate on certain areas of development including social skills; fine motor skills (such as drawing, buttoning, and zipping); gross motor skills (such as running, jumping, and catching); prereading skills; prewriting skills; musical abilities; and graphic representation. The levels of development in each of these areas differ from child to child. So much comes into play -- home environments, personalities, sizes, and exposures.
It is not unusual for students to develop quickly in one or more areas, and lag in others. Because of these differences, it becomes difficult for educators to say, "A kindergartener must be able to do this by November, this by February, this by April, and this by June." We can set goals, but every student will reach those goals in different ways and at different times. Instead, a good assessment tool will give "snapshots" of a student and his level of development in many different areas without assigning a judgment to that student's performance. The snapshots show us patterns of development and where we can focus our energies. A child may be artistically ahead of her peers but socially behind; her teachers could use her strengths at the easel to try to bring her into positive contact with her fellow students.
What about Retention?
I encourage the parents to do two things: First, carefully check the assessments to see where the developmental lags occur; and second, go into that class and observe your child firsthand. If a child stands out as develomentally more immature than the rest of the class, and that immaturity is preventing positive interactions in the class, then you should consider retention as a viable option. Parents should not treat retention as a failure (either the child's or theirs). It is simply an attempt to place a child in a better learning situation. This decision can be very difficult, but when appropriate, retention can remove much of the bewilderment and frustration that can occur when a child feels out of place in a classroom.
In most cases, the only sure-fire prescription for development is exposure and time. Preschoolers cannot cram to learn new skills. We can provide wonderfully stimulating environments, but ultimately, they decide when they are ready for the next step.
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