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Data In, Data Out: What is High-Quality Documentation and Why Does It Matter?

By Anna Marrs | March 25, 2019

Observation-based assessment is the most authentic and accurate way to understand young children’s development. But in order for these assessments to provide reliable and actionable data for teachers and administrators, observation-based assessments depend on teachers capturing high-quality observations.

What is High-Quality Documentation?

Consider these two anecdotes:

  1. “Raymond and Stacy put together a puzzle that showed the life cycle of butterflies.”
  2. “Raymond and Stacy made different shape cookies out of play-dough. Stacy used her hands to create cookies in the shapes she knew: a circle and a triangle. Raymond put different shapes together to make new shapes. He said that he could make a house out of a square and a triangle.”

Clearly, the second anecdote provides a richer, fuller picture of learning, but not just because it is longer. The first anecdote tells us the activity the children were engaged in. The second anecdote provides additional information about each child’s learning and development. Specifically, the second anecdote includes:

  1. A connection to learning standards
  2. Indication of a child’s developmental level
  3. Information that can guide a teacher in planning an appropriate follow-up activity

In the second anecdote, we know that Stacy and Raymond demonstrated different levels of development in this observation. Stacy was able to recognize and name basic shapes. Raymond was also able to compose and name a new shape from shapes he already knew. These differences help guide the teacher with what skills each child needs to develop next.

High-quality documentation answers the following questions:

  1. Does it focus on learning or just something a child did?
  2. Which specific developmental goals is it connected to?
  3. Does it promote conversation when shared with families?
  4. Does it suggest next steps for learning?

Why Does High-Quality Documentation Matter?

Reports to measure learning or guide instructional planning are only as good as the data used in those reports. Administrators and teachers depend on authentic, high-quality observations to understand the learning happening in the classroom. Capturing high-quality data is the crucial first step in using data to guide instruction. High-quality documentation allows teachers to plan instruction and activities to meet each child’s specific needs. And while administrators also look at aggregate data across classrooms, they rely on teachers capturing high-quality data to provide them with an accurate and complete view of the learning and development happening in the classroom. 

How to Capture High-Quality Documentation?

1. Plan Purposefully

When planning activities, teachers can anticipate the developmental skills required to complete the activity. And while a teacher may intend to target a few specific skills through an activity, children often demonstrate connected skills. For example, a teacher may plan a science activity in which children draw the life cycle of apple trees to develop children’s understanding of nature and life cycles. But, this activity will also provide children the opportunity to demonstrate their fine motor skills when drawing with markers. By thinking of all connected skills prior to an activity, teachers know specifically what to look for and can be prepared to add all the necessary details to an observation.

2. Include Learning Standards and Assessment Items

Including specific curricular Key Developmental Indicators and specific assessment items helps focus an observation. When shared with families, it provides valuable information so that families understand how the activity a child is engaged in is concretely linked to the child’s learning goals. Including this type of information also helps organize documentation into portfolios for each child so that teachers and administrators can reflect on a child’s developmental progression.


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In partnership with HighScope Educational Research Foundation, the Exploring Early Childhood Newsletter is a twice a month collection of topical research articles, tips for educators, and unique ways COR Advantage can support the documentation and communication of child development.

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About COR Advantage

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.