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Roundup Blog Series

New video supports formative assessment in early childhood classrooms: Every child shines

teacher teaching kids

By Leslie Nail | February 25, 2020

REL Southwest kicks off a new blog series on using formative assessment in prekindergarten and kindergarten classrooms. The series features the work of our Southwest Early Childhood Education (SWECE) Research Partnership, starting with the new video Every Child Shines: Using Formative Assessment to Reflect on Children’s Individual Knowledge and Skills.

REL Southwest’s latest video provides an introduction to the use of formative assessment in prekindergarten (preK) and kindergarten classrooms. Our Southwest Early Childhood Education (SWECE) Research Partnership, which includes members from the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), developed Every Child Shines to help educators and others recognize formative assessment as an effective way to learn about—and support the development of—each child’s individual knowledge, skills, and abilities. Formative assessment recognizes that young children develop at their own pace as they experience the world around them. This development is complex and differs by child.

What is formative assessment? How is it used in early childhood education settings?

Formative assessment is a process used by teachers in early childhood settings to collect evidence of children’s knowledge and skills in order to guide and tailor instruction and better support each child’s learning and development. These assessments are ongoing and provide information at the start of school and throughout the year as children continue to develop knowledge and new skills. Recent studies suggest that when teachers use formative assessment to tailor classroom instruction, delivery of instruction may be more effective, at-risk children may show improved school readiness, and students may have better outcomes.1

Formative assessments in an early childhood classroom typically take place during the regular course of instruction and in authentic settings, and thus do not take time away from classroom instruction to test students. For example, teachers may observe students as they play and learn and then document students’ activities, discoveries, behaviors, and needs. Teachers may also collect samples of students’ drawings or writing. When teachers use formative assessment they can focus on one skill or on several aspects of children’s development. This can include emotional skills and children’s approaches to learning in addition to cognitive skills such as language, literacy, and math. Because formative assessment is a process, rather than a one-time occurrence, teachers check students’ understanding and gains throughout the year, allowing them to identify students who may need further instruction and/or supports.

REL Southwest and OSDE worked in partnership to develop Every Child Shines with the goal of helping OSDE communicate with preK and kindergarten teachers and administrators across the state about the value of formative assessment. REL Southwest collaborated with OSDE on a communication plan to support their early childhood efforts. The video is a key component of that plan and part of a comprehensive suite of products supporting Oklahoma’s early childhood education program. The video also supports the SWECE partnership’s work with formative assessments that includes piloting an early learning inventory (ELI) .

Who will find the video helpful? How can they use it?

While the primary impetus for the video came from the needs of our Oklahoma partners, the content can be helpful for educators across the United States, including members of the early education community at the classroom, local education agency, and state agency levels. Educators and administrators can use the video at conferences and professional development events. It may serve as an introduction to training, as an icebreaker followed by discussion, or as a tool to help teachers understand the benefits and best practices of formative assessment.

Educators who work with parent coordinators or family engagement programs can share this video to help parents and families understand how formative assessment is used in the classroom to document their child’s progress. Parent-teacher conferences, parent workshops and trainings, or links included in newsletters and emails can provide opportunities to share the video with family members.

Policymakers, state superintendents, and community members may also find the video helpful in understanding what formative assessment is (and is not) and how it benefits the educators and students that they serve and support.

REL Southwest and our OSDE partners’ collaboration continues as we support Oklahoma educators’ understanding and use of formative assessment. And we look forward to sharing our work with a broader audience of early childhood education stakeholders through this blog series from the SWECE Partnership. In the next post we will learn about the experiences of an Oklahoma early childhood teacher using formative assessment.

Resources you may find of interest2

A series of briefs on using ongoing assessment in early childhood to individualize instruction:

Formative assessment tools:

1 Akers, L., Del Grosso, P., Atkins-Burnett, S., Monahan, S., Boller, K., Carta, J., & Wasik, B. A. (2015). Tailored teaching: The need for stronger evidence about early childhood teachers’ use of ongoing assessment to individualize instruction. (Research Brief OPRE Report #2015-59.) Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from https://www.mathematica.org/our-publications-and-findings/publications/brief-tailored-teaching-the-need-for-stronger-evidence-about-early-childhood-teachers-use-of-ongoing

2 These resources were selected to provide examples and further information on formative assessments and do not represent a systematic scan of available resources. Other relevant resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of these resources, but provide them for your information only.


For more information on early childhood education and formative assessment:


This work was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) under contract 91990018C0002, administered by American Institutes for Research. The content of this blog post does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

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Author Information

Leslie Nail

Leslie Nail

Communications Specialist | REL Southwest

lnail@air.org