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High-Quality ECE Child Assessment Tools: What Does the Research Tell Us?

By Anna Marrs | June 10, 2019

Standards, testing, and accountability have become a part of the early education landscape. These principles are seen in federal and state regulations around child assessment tools and have become a part of national conversations about what makes a high-quality early childhood education. The National Council of National Research Academies writes that “well-planned and effective assessment can inform teaching and program improvement, and contribute to better outcomes for children;” however, in order to do so, child assessment must be “implemented effectively” and the data must be “interpreted and used appropriately” (Snow & Hemel, et al., 2008, p. 12).

Given the importance of child assessment tools, what makes a high-quality child assessment tool and how can programs implement child assessment plans successfully?

1. Assessment data should be collected to guide instructional decisions

Child assessment tools can be used for a variety of different purposes, including evaluating program effectiveness and guiding child-level instructional decisions. While these two purposes are not mutually exclusive, the National Council of National Research Academies writes that “using ongoing assessment information to guide instructional decisions is a primary purpose of early childhood assessment and should be a component of a high-quality early childhood program” (Snow & Hemel, et al., 2008, p. 31). Administrators should select a tool that will provide educators with valuable data to support the ongoing development of children.

2. Select a valid and reliable assessment tool that is appropriate for children from a variety of backgrounds

As assessment results are often used to guide decisions, administrators should ensure that the tool that they select has a strong research base. Specifically, administrators should select a tool that is valid and reliable. In addition, the tool should be inclusive and effective for children from a variety of backgrounds including different ethnic, racial, and linguistic backgrounds and for different age groups (NAEYC, 2003).

3. Ensure the assessment examines the whole-child

While examining a child’s literacy and math skills are important, particularly in defining Kindergarten-readiness, research consistently notes that there are additional skills and competencies children should develop at a young age in order to be prepared for success in school. Specifically, administrators should select whole-child assessment tools that examine:

  1. Physical well-being and motor development
  2. Social and emotional development
  3. Approaches to learning
  4. Language and Literacy
  5. Cognitive skills (including math)

(Snow & Hemel, et al., 2008)

4. Include families in the assessment process and results

Families know their child the best, and as such, should be partners in the assessment process. Research consistently indicates the importance of communicating results of assessment with families (NAEYC, 2003) to allow families to continue supporting development at home. Including families also helps to ensure that the findings of child assessment in an educational setting can be connected to additional child assessments conducted by pediatricians and specialists.

5. Select a tool that minimizes the burden on teachers

Research agrees that child assessment should not detract from learning environments and should “require the minimum amount of time to obtain valid results” (Snow & Hemel, et al., 2008, p. 5). Child assessments have the potential to be time-consuming, lengthy processes, so administrators should ensure they select a tool that still allows teachers to maximize their interactions with children.

6. Conduct the assessment in a familiar, realistic context to reduce child anxiety

Authentic assessments are those that are conducted in a setting consistent with the child’s “culture, language, and experiences” (NAEYC, 2003). Due to the familiar nature of this setting, authentic, observation-based assessments are one example of an assessment type that does not cause stress or anxiety in young children, helping to ensure the accuracy of the data collected.

7. Invest in training teachers to administer assessments and reflect on results

As the primary assessors, teachers need training and support with child assessment and administrators should strategically plan for this. In addition to training, research indicates that in order to ensure “the potential value of assessment to improve children’s learning [is] realized”, teachers need time to reflect on the data and results (Snow & Hemel, et al., 2008, p. 32-33). Administrators should be intentional in planning and guiding training, support, and reflection.

High-quality child assessment tools are a powerful way to ensure children are receiving the support they need to grow, develop, and succeed.



National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (2003). Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation [Policy Statement]. Retrieved from:

Snow, Catherine E. and Susan B. Van Hemel, Editors, National Research Council of National Academies (2008). Early Childhood Assessment: Why, What, and How. Retrieved from

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COR Advantage is HighScope’s flagship observation-based assessment. COR Advantage is the leading research-backed assessment for all children from birth to kindergarten. From comprehensive planning tools to dynamic family engagement, COR Advantage offers a complete picture of child growth for schools and families.

About Anna Marrs

Anna Marrs is a former early childhood and elementary literacy curriculum developer for Bridge International Academies and a former 1st grade teacher in North Carolina. She holds a Master in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and now works on the Partnerships team at COR Advantage.