The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) suggests that early childhood educators make ethical, appropriate, valid, and reliable assessment a central part of all early childhood programs. To best assess young children’s strengths, progress, and needs, use assessment methods that are developmentally appropriate, culturally and linguistically responsive, tied to children’s daily activities, supported by professional development, inclusive of families, and connected to specific, beneficial purposes. The purposes of doing assessment are:

  1. making sound decisions about teaching and learning
  2. identifying significant concerns that may require focused intervention for individual children
  3. helping programs improve their educational and developmental interventions.

Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment and Program Evaluation, 2003.

About assessments in early childhood


Authentic assessments in early childhood

Young children learn through play; authentic assessment aims to document a child’s development and progress in a way that is non-intrusive and captures how a child uses his or her skills while engaging with materials, teachers, parents and peers. Authentic assessment involves the teacher as an observer and a researcher – working from a background of solid education and specialized training, collecting data over time, selecting and organizing evidence (the portfolio), preparing a hypothesis that can be tested (the curriculum), sharing conclusions with parents and others to refine what will work best in guiding a child to develop to his or her potential, and developing lesson plans that will help students individually progress toward meeting learning expectations.

Teaching Strategies GOLD

Teaching Strategies GOLD is an authentic, ongoing assessment instrument which can be used with any developmentally appropriate early childhood curriculum birth through kindergarten. It is based on 38 research-based objectives, divided among 4 developmental domains and 6 content areas (including English Language Acquisition).The objectives are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, the Iowa Early Learning Standards, and the Head Start Child Development and Early Learning Framework. This assessment offers a broad picture of development, with information being gathered throughout the year, from a variety of sources including teachers, family members and specialists who might be working with the child. It is not designed to be a screening instrument. Both print and on-line versions of this instrument are available.

The Iowa Department of Education requires that all children served in district funded preschools, regardless of age, be assessed using the GOLD Objectives for Development and Learning. Most Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Iowa also utilize the GOLD for assessment of young children. Any preschool or childcare center in Iowa can take advantage of the State of Iowa discounted rate for the GOLD on-line system. Teachers and childcare providers who are interested in using the GOLD on-line system should begin at the Iowa Department of Education. See an overview of the GOLD system from Teaching Strategies; further information and support in the use of the GOLD on-line assessment system can be provided by your Central Rivers AEA Early Childhood Consultant.

Assessment, evaluation, and programming system for infants and children (AEPS)

The AEPS is a comprehensive system that ties together assessment, goal development, intervention, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation. The results of the evaluation provide educationally relevant, meaningful and functional information that can be used to formulate developmentally appropriate goals/outcomes and objectives/benchmarks for children. It is particularly helpful in the assessment of young children with significant disabilities. The following areas may be assessed (although it is not necessary to assess all areas of development):  fine motor, gross motor, adaptive behaviors, cognitive, social-communication, and social. This is not a norm-referenced or standardized assessment, so IQ or other standardized scores cannot be obtained. Many Central Rivers AEA Early Childhood Special Education providers have been trained in the AEPS and can administer the assessment as needed and/or assist in the interpretation of the instrument. An on-line scoring and interpretation tool, the AEPSi, is also available. Further information can be found on the AEPS website.

Screening instruments

Screening involves brief assessments that are valid, reliable, and evidence-based. They may screen broadly for developmental concerns in younger children or may screen for more specific areas (such as literacy). Screenings are conducted with all children  or targeted groups of children to identify children who may be at risk of developmental delays or future academic failure.  These children are  likely to need additional or alternative forms of instruction and/or support  to supplement what is typically found in the natural environment or in the conventional general education setting.

Developmental screeners

There are multiple developmental screeners available for use in early childhood. Physicians’ offices, in home workers (including Early Head Start and Early ACCESS providers), and preschools may use these instruments in order to gather broad information about children who might need either further assessment or assistance.  One of the most commonly used by educators is the “Ages and Stages Questionnaire” (Brookes Publishing Company). The ASQ is a developmental and social-emotional screening for children from one month to 5 ½ years. It is highly reliable and valid, looking at strengths and trouble spots, educating  parents about developmental milestones, and incorporating parents’ expert knowledge about their children. The ASQ works to assess children to determine if further evaluation is required or to monitor the development of children who are at risk. The questionnaires are answered by parents and can be completed in several minutes. Professional involvement is required to score the questionnaire and provide routine feedback to families of children who are not requiring further assessment.

Universal screeners for literacy


The State of Iowa currently supports the use of screening instruments for literacy in early childhood. (The use of an approved universal literacy screener is required for grades K through 3.) The purpose of these instruments is to help identify children who are at risk for not being proficient in reading by the end of third grade. Two screeners are currently fully supported by the State of Iowa: Individual Growth and Development Indicators (myIGDIS) for children who are 4 years old and the Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST) for school age children.

myIGDIs was developed by Dr. Scott McConnell out of the University of Minnesota and Early Learning Labs, Inc. It includes 5 separate assessments in four domains related to literacy.  In Iowa, the assessment is given individually to each child. Results are available immediately for an individual child and the entire class. Teachers are able to determine whether or not their children are meeting predetermined “benchmarks”, indicating that they demonstrate selected skills which are sufficient to suggest future success in the area of literacy. Training is required in order to administer the instrument. Those interested in training and/or further information about the IGDIs are encouraged to contact their Central Rivers AEA Early Childhood Consultant.

Some teachers wonder if GOLD can be used as a screening instrument or if the IGDIs can be substituted for the GOLD. In fact, these are two different types of assessment, with very different purposes. GOLD and IGDIs…Unique and Complementary examines the comparison between these two instruments.

Why it is important

Screening detects developmental delays in children—and celebrates milestones. Screening young children is an effective, efficient way for professionals to gauge developmental progress and determine meaningful next steps—at a time when action can have its greatest impact: during a child’s first years of life. In fact, intervention prior to kindergarten has huge academic, social, and economic benefits. Studies have shown that children who receive early treatment for developmental delays are more likely to graduate from high school, hold jobs, live independently, and avoid teen pregnancy, delinquency, and violent crime. Similarly, the earlier possible academic difficulties are discerned in school age children, the more positive the outcomes, especially in relationship to literacy.