Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

In Massachusetts, the third grade MCAS test is the first statewide assessment of children’s progress. Yet we know that the path to mastering reading by the end of third grade begins at birth. In a column in the Ashland Tab, Patricia White, director of the Ashland Preschool Program, makes the case for developmentally appropriate assessments of young children.

“For our youngest students in these formative [early] years, there are still too many early educators making teaching and learning decisions based on what they think is happening instead of what they know is happening,” White writes. “When teachers use a comprehensive curriculum and assessment system effectively, children are well prepared for school and do well academically and socially.”

White offers her view of developmentally appropriate assessment. “In early childhood programs, an assessment program should be observation-based. It would be inappropriate to even consider paper and pencil quizzes or tests to gather evidence of learning,” White writes. “Teachers of young children should observe and engage with children as they go about their daily activities in the classroom, taking note of the process they use, skills, understandings, interests, vocabulary and attitudes toward various tasks.”

White likens a young child’s education to a “journey to new places.” Sometimes a student slows down or misses a turn and veers off course. “The student assessment process,” White writes, “is a way of ensuring that children are making progress and moving forward. Like a compass or map, it helps the student continue in the right direction.”

One look at results of the third grade MCAS underscores the need for earlier assessments. In Massachusetts, 37% of  third graders — including 57% of children from low-income families and 26% who are not low-income — read below grade level. Earlier assessments are crucial to helping ensure that children become proficient readers by the end of third grade, a strong predictor of their chances of success in school and beyond. In addition to informing instruction, a system of developmentally appropriate assessments of younger children would track progress statewide.