Early childhood education has evolved to meet the needs of the diversity of New Zealand’s children, parents, whānau, and communities. In line with this, the many different types of early childhood services display:

  • structural differences, such as sessional or all-day programmes;
  • different ownership and organisational arrangements - services may be run by private individuals, government organisations, cooperatives, or trusts;
  • different learning environments such as home‑based or centre-based services;
  • a range of different philosophies and cultural identities such as kindergarten, playcentre, Montessori or Rudolf Steiner programmes;
  • learning environments that embrace particular cultural identities such as kōhanga reo or Pacific language nests;
  • a range of ways in which the local community participates; and
  • rural and urban settings.

The range of learning programmes that services offer, and their subsequent assessment practice, reflect the diversity (particularly in philosophy and values) in this sector.[2]

Assessment in early childhood education settings

Te Whāriki, New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum, states that assessment of children’s learning and development provides early childhood educators [3] with information to evaluate and improve the quality of programmes offered to children. [4]

The Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices in New Zealand Early Childhood Services (DOPs) outlines expectations of the standard of education and care provided by early childhood services. DOPs 3 and 4 set out requirements for planning programmes, assessing children’s learning and development, evaluating programmes, and improving the quality of curriculum. Educators in early childhood services are expected to implement assessment practices that:

  • reflect the holistic way that children learn; [5]
  • reflect the reciprocal relationships between the child, people and the learning environment;
  • involve parents/guardians and, where appropriate, whānau; and
  • enhance children’s sense of themselves as capable people and competent learners. [6]

The Ministry of Education is currently supporting the implementation of the early childhood assessment exemplars, Kei Tua o te Pae. The framework for developing these exemplars was based on the four principles of Te Whāriki. 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 new “socio‑cultural” assessment practice, as not all had yet participated in professional development.

Kei Tua o te Pae emphasises socio-cultural assessment practices that embody the four principles of Te Whāriki:

  • family and community: assessment should involve families, whānau and the community;
  • empowerment: assessment of children’s learning should enhance their sense of themselves as capable people and competent learners;
  • relationships: assessment is influenced by the relationships between educators and children, and these relationships should be taken into account during assessment; and
  • holistic development: assessment of children should take place in the same context as activities and relationships, and should encompass all dimensions of children’s learning and development and see the child as a whole.

Educators and parents use assessment information in early childhood settings to “notice, recognise and respond” to children’s learning, strengths and interests. [7]Good assessment practice in early childhood education recognises the child as a competent and confident learner, takes into account the whole child, and involves parents, whānau and educators. This socio‑cultural approach to teaching and learning recognises the influence of the society in which the child lives and of its cultural values on children’s learning and development. [8]

Good quality early childhood assessment reflects and values children’s work. Narrative assessment strategies such as ‘learning stories’ positively describe children’s learning processes and indicate possibilities for ongoing and diverse learning pathways. Children contribute to assessment of their own and others’ learning, and are given feedback about their learning.

Kei Tua o te Pae provides examples of assessment so that children, parents, whānau, and educators can each help to foster children’s learning and development in their own ways. [9]