Good quality assessment in early childhood education includes and values many perspectives. A key element of the socio-cultural approach to early childhood assessment is that the perspectives of children, their parents and whānau, as well as the educators at their service, all contribute to children’s learning and development. This holistic approach to assessment informs the service’s programme, educators’ teaching practices, and supports positive learning outcomes for children.

ERO found that in about two‑thirds of early childhood services assessment policies and structures for assessment practice were working well, and that this reflected the four principles of Te Whāriki. However, the reflection of children’s learning and development in assessment, the use of assessment to inform learning, and the contribution of assessment information to ongoing self review, needed improvement in half of services.

A particular issue was the lack of meaningful participation of children, parents and whānau in assessment of children’s learning and development. In almost two‑thirds of the services children did not contribute to assessment, and in about half of the services, educators did not give children opportunities to revisit and reflect on their learning. Similarly, in about half the services, parents and whānau were not meaningfully involved in assessment practice.

The main factors that underpinned effective assessment practices were high quality professional development involving all educators in the service, supported by sufficient time to allow educators to fully understand the purpose of assessment processes and practices, and to use assessment information effectively in planning and evaluation of programmes.

What contributes to good quality assessment in an early childhood service?

ERO found that the quality of assessment varied within each service and between services and identified factors that contributed to good quality assessment in an early childhood service. These related to the processes and support structures in the service, the shared understanding and practice of educators, and active and meaningful participation in assessment by children, parents, whānau and other educators.

Processes and support structures

A philosophy that focused on learning, supported by processes, policies, and assessment practice developed for, and relevant to, the context of each service, provided a good framework for high quality assessment practice. Good leadership and strategic direction in a service helped develop and promote a shared and appropriate understanding of, and ongoing expectations for, assessment.

Good quality management and resourcing of assessment practice, such as ongoing and targeted professional development, and the provision of non‑contact and meeting times, helped educators to participate in professional discussions about assessment. The promotion of, and time for, reflection allowed educators to consider ways in which assessment information could be used to inform learning in the service. The provision of appropriate ICT helped to reduce educators’ workloads, and also allowed them to involve children, parents, and whānau and make learning visible to them.

Robust and rigorous self review of teaching and assessment practice helped educators make outcomes positive for children. It also helped educators to practise consistently across the service. Good quality self review in these services resulted in positive change in programmes, the environment, and in interactions.

Useful frameworks and strategies minimised the risk of educators leaving the service. Low staff turnover provided time for professional development and new ideas about assessment to be embedded into assessment practice. These contributed to an understanding and consistency of good quality assessment practice and the strategic direction of the service.

Educators and assessment practice

Educators using good quality assessment practice were able to articulate and document significant moments in children’s learning and development. ERO found that this was a result of experience and confidence, a willingness to see and value learning in different ways, and to take risks in their professional discussions with other educators. Educators were able to link their understanding about assessment to practice, and to change their practice if necessary. These educators were part of a learning community, often promoted and developed by their umbrella organisation or management structure.

Assessment was valued and seen not only as a requirement, but also as inherent in the four principles of Te Whāriki. Educators’ understanding of Te Whāriki, linked to their service’s philosophy, guided what they noticed and valued about children’s learning. Professional development and ensuing discussions challenged educators’ beliefs about which learning to value and support. Educators articulated links between children’s learning, the analysis of this learning, and the next steps for children’s learning and development. They were able to convey children’s learning and development meaningfully to parents, whānau, and children. This understanding was linked to educators’ qualifications and professional development.

Participation in assessment

Good quality assessment practice and information incorporated the multiple perspectives of children, parents, whānau, and all educators in the service, as appropriate. Parents and children were visible in assessment: educators valued their contribution and they influenced what was noticed as learning. In services with very good practice, there was recognition of children’s culture in what educators valued and noticed. Parents and children at services with good quality assessment practice had access to assessment information, and children took part in self assessment of their learning.

Rural early childhood services

Of particular concern to ERO was the quality of assessment in rural early childhood services, of which the majority were playcentres. Rural services were less likely to have good quality assessment practice than urban services. Similarly, playcentres were less likely to have good quality assessment practice than kindergartens and education and care services. Factors that contributed to the lack of good quality of rural services, in particular, playcentres included:

  • a lack of participation in professional development, including for Kei Tua o te Pae;
  • a lack of non‑contact and meeting time to plan and evaluate programmes;
  • limited access to ICT to help with assessment processes and practice; and
  • a lack of fully registered, ECE qualified educators.

These factors are important in helping educators develop a shared and appropriate understanding of, and reflective environment for, assessment of children’s learning and development. The absence of these factors in rural services has been detrimental to the quality of assessment in these services.

Developing a professional understanding

ERO found that the early childhood services in this evaluation were at varying stages of professional understanding, particularly about the Ministry of Education’s implementation of Kei Tua o te Pae professional development. Participation in this professional development had a significant influence on assessment practice in early childhood services. Active involvement in professional discussions and communities of learning help educators to reflect on their practices, to reconsider the kind of learning they value and what they choose not to notice, recognise, and respond to.

ERO notes that for the forthcoming 2008/09 year, the Ministry of Education has identified four groups of services for professional development providers to focus on:

  • those with high numbers of Māori and Pacific children;
  • services that have not accessed significant professional development in the past three years;
  • those in rural and remote areas; and
  • those that are facing issues and challenges. [21] The findings of this national evaluation report endorse the Ministry’s strategic approach to professional development for assessment in early childhood education.

This evaluation had highlighted the need for high quality professional development and sufficient time to help educators understand assessment processes and practices and to use assessment information in the planning and evaluation of their programmes.