Executive summary

This report presents the Education Review Office’s findings on the quality of assessment in early childhood education.

ERO evaluated the quality of assessment in 389 early childhood services that ERO reviewed in Terms 3 and 4, 2006. Of the early childhood services reviewed 239 were education and care services, 101 were kindergartens, and 49 were playcentres.

The Ministry of Education is currently supporting the implementation of the early childhood assessment exemplars, Kei Tua o te Pae. ERO’s evaluation took place at the end of the second year of a five-year professional development programme for the implementation of Kei Tua o te Pae. Services were at varying stages in their understanding and implementation of assessment practices, as not all had yet participated in professional development.

The framework for developing these exemplars was based on the four principles ofTe Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum. A key element of this 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. Assessment informs the service’s programme, educators’ teaching practices, and supports positive learning outcomes for children.

ERO found that the quality of assessment varied within each service and between services. In about two‑thirds of early childhood services, policies and structures for assessment were working well, and assessment practices reflected the four principles of Te Whāriki. Factors that contributed to good quality assessment in an early childhood service 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.

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 the services. In these services educators did not give children opportunities to contribute to assessment, or to revisit and reflect on their learning. Similarly, parents and whānau were not meaningfully involved in assessment practice.

This evaluation has highlighted the need for high quality professional development and sufficient time to allow educators to fully understand the purpose of assessment processes and practices, and to use assessment information effectively in the planning and evaluation of programmes.

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. 1

The findings of this national evaluation report endorse the Ministry’s strategic approach to professional development for assessment in early childhood education.

Recommendations for improvement

ERO recommends that early childhood educators:

  • encourage and increase the genuine involvement of children, parents, whānau, and other educators in assessment of children’s learning and development;
  • give children opportunities to revisit and reflect on their learning;
  • identify what learning in their service is valued or privileged, and consider this in relation to the service philosophy and Te Whāriki;
  • strengthen links between assessment and planning, focusing on interactions and teaching practice within the service; and
  • acknowledge and respond to children, and their parents’ and whānau’s cultural background.

ERO recommends that early childhood services management:

  • provide guidance and expectations, both documented and articulated, about assessment to ensure shared understanding and continuity of practice amongst educators;
  • strengthen assessment policies and processes to give educators a sound framework and rationale for assessment practice linked to service philosophy;
  • provide targeted and ongoing high quality professional development, and appropriate non‑contact and meeting time, to enable educators to participate in professional discussions about assessment and children’s learning; and
  • undertake robust and rigorous self review of teaching and assessment practice to improve outcomes for children.

ERO recommends that the Ministry of Education:

  • further support rural and parent‑led services (playcentres) by providing targeted high quality professional development in assessment; and
  • provide targeted support for services to improve the quality of assessment through the development of learning communities and shared professional dialogue.