The Quality of Assessment in Early Childhood Education (November 2007) 01/11/2007

Assessment policies and practice

How well do educators develop and implement assessment policies and practice for the service?
Each early childhood service is required to have a philosophy statement that expresses the beliefs, values and ideals that guide the practice of the service. [15] Although there will be common elements, services may have different approaches to children’s learning and assessment that reflect their philosophy.

Sound policies and practice guide early childhood educators in undertaking assessment of children’s learning and development that reflects the service’s philosophy. Assessment is used to support the provision of good quality learning experiences.

Open communication between early childhood services and parents and whānau ensures that information is shared which can enhance assessment and learning. Discussions between educators and parents can make children’s learning more apparent to parents, and can also explain the purpose of assessment activities.

ERO evaluated how well educators developed and implemented assessment policies and practice for their service in relation to the evidence that:

  • the service’s philosophy was reflected in the assessment practice;
  • there was a shared understanding of the purposes and intent of assessment;
  • assessment practice was based on sound research;
  • assessment practice incorporated input from appropriate people; and
  • effective strategies in the service supported assessment practice.

Philosophy and assessment practice
Assessment practice in early childhood services should be aligned with the individual service’s philosophy.

ERO investigated how well each service’s philosophy was reflected in its assessment practice, and the extent to which educators’ beliefs about learning reflected the service’s philosophy.

In about two‑thirds of services, the focus of the philosophy was strongly reflected in assessment practices. In these services both philosophy and assessment practice emphasised educators’ beliefs about learning, including:

  • learning through play;
  • interactions;
  • parent participation;
  • valuing children’s interests and knowledge;
  • a child-centred approach; and
  • increasing the child’s voice.

In many of these services, the philosophy made direct reference to the importance of educators noticing, recognising, and responding to children’s learning and development. Services’ philosophies recognised that children were actively involved in their own learning and development. Educators responded to children’s interests, strengths, experiences, and conversations, and sought to increase parent participation in assessment. Where this was a particular strength, parents were involved, alongside educators, in reviews of philosophy and assessment practice.

The philosophy stated that children would learn through play, that their interests would be extended and that children would be treated as competent and confident learners. The assessment practices reflected the philosophy, with observations and anecdotal notes of children at play documented and shared by all members of the teaching team each day, in order to challenge and provide ongoing opportunities and experiences for learning. The philosophy of a partnership approach to learning with parents was also evident. Portfolios were sent home as a learning story was completed. Information about children’s interests, strengths, likes and dislikes at the service were shared by the educators and in return parents shared anecdotal information from home, which together created a holistic view of the child’s knowledge, skills and understanding. [16]

For the remaining third of services, assessment practice did not reflect or support their philosophy.

Although most of these services had a stated philosophy that focused on children’s holistic development, learning through play, and partnerships with parents, this philosophy was not always evident in assessment practice. Educators’ observation and assessment of children’s learning was informal, lacked rigour, and did not meaningfully show children’s interests, abilities, and skills. Assessment lacked knowledgeable analysis, and educators’ perception of how and what children learnt did not clearly link to the service’s stated philosophy.

Where ERO found very poor practice, the service’s philosophy did not guide assessment practice in any way. In some services, even the programme, when in action, did not reflect the philosophy. This was the case, particularly, in services where external facilitators, an umbrella organisation, or senior management had developed the philosophy without consultation, and this philosophy was not embedded in the educators’ understanding or practice.

Shared understanding of assessment
When educators have a shared understanding of the purposes and intent of assessment, practice is more likely to be well understood, consistent, and result in positive outcomes for children. ERO investigated the extent to which educators within each service had a shared understanding of, and discussed and reflected on, assessment of children’s learning.

Educators in over half of the services had a shared understanding of the purpose and intent of assessment. In these services there were clear expectations for assessment, including a documented assessment process that was recognised and implemented. Where this was a particular strength, services had an ongoing process for reviewing their planning, assessment, and evaluation practices.

These services provided educators with support such as professional development in assessment, as well as time to discuss and reflect on children’s learning. These meeting times were both formal (regular meetings) and informal (for example, during children’s sleep time). Educators discussed what information they had gathered about children’s learning, and why. They also reflected upon how to achieve positive learning outcomes for children as a response to assessment.

The service had indepth professional development with an external facilitator, which had resulted in changes to its assessment and planning. Assessment practices were meaningful, manageable, and child focused. Analysis of learning was recorded alongside extension ideas. As a result of professional development, educators were developing a collective understanding of assessment and had systems to continue to develop this understanding.

In just under half the services, educators lacked a shared understanding of the purposes and intent of assessment and there was little collaboration on assessment and children’s learning.

Many of these services experienced high staff turnover and had many new or unqualified educators on the team. This meant there was little consistency in assessment. In some services only one or two educators had any knowledge of the purpose of assessment and this was often not shared with the rest of their team.

In other services, educators could articulate some understanding of the purpose and intent of assessment, but this was not demonstrated in assessment records, reflective journals or minutes of meetings. In some services, while an understanding was apparent amongst educators, this was not supported by service-based expectations, assessment policies, and clear guidelines for assessment. A lack of professional development meant that educators were not given help to increase their knowledge and the quality of their own and others’ assessment practice.

Research-informed assessment
A knowledgeable educator in an early childhood education setting is able to assess children’s learning in an informed and reflective way. ERO investigated the extent to which assessment was based on current early childhood theory, using key guiding documents, such as Te Whāriki, the DOPs, and exemplars from Kei Tua o te Pae.

Almost two‑thirds of services had based their assessment practice on the key guiding documents. The intent of these guiding documents was reflected in assessment practice, through making children’s learning visible, acknowledging children’s dispositions, and reflecting the holistic nature of children’s learning and development. [17]

The DOPs and Te Whāriki underpinned the programme, and local and international research was linked to each aspect of the philosophy. Narrative assessment described children’s learning and their developing dispositions. Teachers’ own reflective research was guiding the development of sound assessment practice.

In about three‑quarters of these services, educators had undertaken professional development in assessment that had raised their levels of understanding of the theories and practice inherent in these guiding documents. Where ERO found very good practice, educators had regular and whole-centre professional development. This helped them to stay informed of current theories about assessment, and adjust their practice accordingly.

Just over a third of services had not based, or were only beginning to base, their assessment practice on current theories about assessment.

In most of these services, educators were beginning to use Te Whāriki, the DOPs, and, to a lesser extent, Kei Tua o te Pae exemplars to inform assessment. Although narrative assessment had been implemented this did not consistently illustrate children’s learning. Such narrative often described what teachers did, rather than reflecting on children’s learning. Educators’ perspectives of learning did not adequately recognise children’s learning dispositions, experiences, and interests. Some educators in these services had undertaken professional development in assessment, but this new learning had not yet resulted in effective assessment practice.

In a small number of these services, there was no meaningful link between key guiding documents and assessment practice. There was little theoretical understanding and any references to Te Whāriki were shallow and superficial. Educators made no use of the DOPs and Kei Tua o te Pae exemplars, and made no reference to children’s dispositions. Although some of these services were attempting narrative assessment, often directed by their association or management, there was no professional development to support this, and hence there was little or no understanding of current theories. Assessments were poorly written, mostly describing participation and activities. There was little analysis of children’s learning; instead this was mostly anecdotal comment that did not provide a basis for future learning.

Input from a diversity of people
The socio-cultural approach to teaching and learning recognises and takes into consideration the wider world in which children learn and develop. Educators consider the child as part of a family and community, and acknowledge the influence of society and its cultural values on children’s learning and development. Including the perspectives of children, peers, educators, families and whānau in assessment enhances children’s learning, and establishes links between the service and the home. ERO investigated how well services incorporated input from a diversity of people into assessment practice.

Input from children, parents and whānau, and all educators was well incorporated into assessment practice in just over half the services. Where ERO found particularly good practice, assessment also included the perspectives of other people involved in the children’s lives. There was celebration of children’s cultural background and recognition of whānau aspirations and values.

The voices of children were included in assessment. Educators recorded children’s own narratives, conversations, and explanations about their learning experiences, and those of their peers, supported by photographs and art work. Educators asked children about their learning and recorded this information, and allowed children to select what went into their portfolio or profile. Children developed awareness of their own learning.

Educators had also implemented strategies to include parents’ voices in assessment. These included guiding parents through questions, encouraging them to reflect on their child’s learning, and participating in discussions. Parents were also encouraged to share useful information about language and activities from home. In such ways parents became actively involved and were able to extend and support their child’s learning.

Children, teachers and parents had input into the learning stories. The service had an area for comments where appropriate people could contribute as learning developed. There were also areas for parents’ learning stories. Many parents contributed to these. When children travelled away from the service, parents and children were encouraged to record their learning with other family members, in other geographical areas, or with other cultures.

In most of these services, many educators contributed to assessment. Some children’s portfolios were the responsibility of one educator, but others also contributed their observations to many portfolios and profiles. In a few services, the voices of other people were visible in assessment. This included other children, educators in training, local iwi, teachers from the local school, visitors from the wider community such as dental nurses, fire fighters, police, and the children’s whānau such as grandparents and siblings. These contributions enriched and extended the recording and understanding of children’s learning experiences.

In just under half the services assessment practice did not include contributions from a range of people. The voice of the educators dominated assessment information. Some parent and child voices were captured, but this was limited and not useful enough to contribute to children’s learning or teaching practice. In most services, parents were asked to complete an introduction page about the child’s background and personal information. In some services educators had tried to include parents’ contributions, but often educators had not been able to convey an understanding of assessment so that the parents could understand the importance of their contribution, or provide useful input to learning. Any comments from children were often very descriptive and focused on the enjoyment of activities rather than recording their emerging learning.

Where ERO found very poor practice, the educator ‘voice’ was visible in assessment records, but very rarely did more than one educator comment on a child’s learning. Educators in these services either did not take up the opportunity to contribute to all assessments, or strategies such as non-contact time or meetings, to enable a range of contributions, were limited. Parents and children’s contributions were either limited or not apparent. Assessments were sometimes shared with parents, but there was no expectation that parents or children would contribute.

Strategies for assessment practices
Strategies for regular and inclusive assessment help educators implement and undertake assessment practice. ERO investigated the extent to which services had strategies and systems to support worthwhile assessment practice.

Almost two‑thirds of services had implemented strategies and systems that supported effective assessment practice. These services had expectations for assessment that were reflected in written guidelines for assessment practice. Educators in almost all the services had regular non-contact time, meetings about assessment, and ICT resources to support assessment practice. Services had guidelines to ensure that children’s learning was assessed regularly and that the content reflected the holistic nature of children’s learning and development. Strong professional leadership in these services gave educators robust feedback on their assessment practices.

Meetings allowed educators to reflect and discuss children’s learning. The coordinator encouraged educators to develop their own styles within certain criteria. This had resulted in more personalised learning stories and indepth observations of children’s learning. The reading, sharing, and discussion of learning stories were recorded in the planning journal. A set of guidelines and questions focused these discussions.

Systems to share assessment information amongst educators and with parents were highly evident and implemented effectively. Regular meetings and daily discussions gave educators opportunities to share observations and reflect on assessment. Where ERO found very good practice, services had folders that included examples of good assessment as guides. Profiles and portfolios were accessible to parents and they were able to take these home. Many services had daily communication notebooks in which educators and parents regularly entered information and feedback. Some services held presentations and information evenings to inform parents about children’s learning.

Conversely, over a third of services lacked strategies and systems to support assessment practice.

In most of these services, systems to guide educators were informal or, if written, lacked clarity. Although a few services did some recording of children’s learning, their assessment guidelines were not based on current good practice. Children were assessed as a group rather than as individuals, and assessment was not undertaken regularly. A few of these services had informal systems to share assessment information amongst educators and with parents, but these systems were often ineffective or not followed.

ERO found poor leadership in many of these services and a lack of higher‑level professional discussion. A few of these services did not have non-contact time or meetings for educators to discuss assessment, and thus relied on educators to record assessments of children’s learning in their own time. The services did not have effective strategies to ensure the regularity, content, format, or sharing of assessment information.

Overall quality of assessment policies and practice
Figure 1 shows that overall, assessment policies and practice in a fifth of services (20 percent) were well developed and implemented. Assessment policies and practice were developed and implemented in 41 percent. In 34 percent of services assessment policies and practice were partially developed and implemented, and in five percent of services these were not developed.

Figure 1: Assessment policies and practice

Figure 1: Assessment policies and practice

ERO found that regular and ongoing professional development and low staff turnover were key factors in educators’ development and implementation of assessment policies and practices. Where educators had participated in whole-staff professional development about assessment they were more likely to have an understanding of assessment of children’s learning. In services where educators had not undertaken professional development, or only one or two educators had, there was often a lack of shared understanding of assessment. This led to poor practice and limited strategies for assessing children’s learning and development. Low staff turnover contributed positively to consistency and understanding of assessment practice.

Figure 2 shows that 60 percent of education and care services, 37 percent of playcentres, and 76 percent of kindergartens had developed and implemented sound assessment policies and practices.

Figure 2: Assessment policies and practice by service type

Figure 2: Assessment policies and practice by service type


Ministry of Education, “Revised Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices for Chartered Early Childhood Services in New Zealand” in The New Zealand Gazette, (Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs, 3 October 1996).


For a definition of portfolios and profiles please see the glossary in Appendix One.


For a definition of dispositions please see the glossary in Appendix One.

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