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Roundup Blog Series

View from the classroom: Formative assessments in early childhood education

teacher guiding kids studying

Q&A with Rori Hodges | May 21, 2020

For Part 2 of our blog series from the Southwest Early Childhood Education Research Partnership, REL Southwest invited Oklahoma educator Rori Hodges to discuss her experience using formative assessment in prekindergarten (preK) classrooms. Hodges taught for 10 years at Bridge Creek Early Childhood Center in Blanchard, Oklahoma, and this year became a grade 3 teacher at Bridge Creek Intermediate School.

Teachers use ongoing formative assessments throughout the school year to collect evidence of students’ knowledge and skills. In early childhood settings, formative assessments usually take place during regular classroom instruction and activities. The information collected guides planning for instruction to better support each child’s learning and development. For more on the topic, see Part 1 of this blog series, which features REL Southwest’s video Every Child Shines, an introduction to the use of formative assessment in preK and kindergarten.

REL Southwest: What types of assessment do you use with preK children? How does formative assessment fit into your assessment plan?

Hodges: Our school uses a teacher-created formative assessment to screen incoming preK students to help determine the content and flow of our curriculum for the year. Summative assessments are completed at the end of each nine weeks, just before report cards. The summative assessment is a teacher-created assessment, updated and modified each year as standards and expectations change. Each teacher uses these “standardized,” uniform materials so all students are assessed the same way with the same tools.

I also utilize informal formative assessments daily throughout the school year. Formative assessment is a necessary part of teaching and is actually what my daily/weekly/monthly lesson plans are built around. As I observe and interact with students, I’m able to see which skills and concepts they understand and which ones we need to spend more time with. I’m collecting information regarding that child’s successes, needs, accomplishments, behavior, social skills, interests, and general progress to better support each child’s learning.

REL Southwest: Do you assess all children at the same time, in small groups, individually?

Hodges: I do formative assessments during whole-group instruction and activities, during small-group instruction and center rotations, on the playground during recess, in the cafeteria during lunch, and sometimes I sit with a child individually and work on a skill. It depends on the situation and the child’s personality and social skills. Summative assessments are most always completed individually.

REL Southwest: What strategies do you use to assess children?

Hodges: My formative assessment strategies are very informal. That way I can get an honest, natural response from the child. Very young children learn most effectively through interaction and exploration, not by lecture and memorization. Formative assessment can capitalize on that. And it doesn’t require any special arrangements. That’s the beauty of the process. For example, if we are working on making and counting groups of five, I might observe Taytum putting five pickles on her pretend hamburger at the kitchen center and William matching the number five to a group of five objects at a hands-on math center. I make a mental or anecdotal note of this every time I see it happen. At the end of the nine weeks, when it’s time for summative assessment and report cards, I already know that these students have mastered their understanding of the number five.

REL Southwest: What challenges do you face when implementing formative assessment? How do you address those challenges?

Hodges: One challenge is keeping track of my daily observations for 24 to 28 four-year-old children. It can easily become overwhelming, which is why many teachers simply don’t do it. They never master a system to make it easier. To deal with this challenge I created a notebook for myself. It has a section for each child where I can make notes or mark a checklist, for example. I also created a self-tracking system for my students. At the beginning of the year I share with my students and their parents the tasks and skills that I want them to achieve before moving to kindergarten. We discuss these throughout the year. When it’s time for summative assessments, I discuss with each student which skills they feel they have mastered. If we both feel that they have achieved mastery, they get to color a small picture that represents that skill. My students are invested in their own achievement and they are motivated to get all pictures colored on that self-tracking page.

REL Southwest: What do you do with the data from the assessment? Do you share the results with others? 

Hodges: I maintain the files for each student in my classroom for at least three years. The school doesn’t collect it, but I have it in case future teachers need information. I also create a portfolio of work for each student. I share artifacts from the student portfolios during parent-teacher conferences and use the data to complete progress reports to update families throughout the year. And our teacher teams share data weekly during professional learning community (PLC) sessions.

REL Southwest: What supports are available to help you with formative assessments, either at the district or campus level?

Hodges: I have a full-time assistant in my classroom. She contributes valuable responses and observations for formative assessments. During summative assessments, she takes over the teaching responsibilities so I’m free to work with the children one-on-one. My principal discusses and encourages formative assessment and sometimes attends the weekly PLC and planning sessions where we share the assessment data. The PLC discusses which skills or concepts students are struggling with, shares successful strategies, and develops our short- and long-term lesson plans and student goals. However, at my school, it’s up to the individual teacher or team to figure out how to perform assessments and what works best.

REL Southwest: What additional support and resources do you need or want to help you with formative assessment in the future?

Hodges: We need more definitive guidelines and explicit instruction on how formative assessment looks in the early childhood setting. I wish more teachers and principals recognized its importance. I wish colleges and universities would teach it. Most importantly, we need to help teachers get organized to track student progress and stop assuming they naturally know how to do it. It’s difficult, it’s time consuming, but it’s an achievable goal. The rewards are great for teachers and students. I believe formative assessment is the overall key to student progress—and teacher sanity!

For more information on early childhood education and formative assessments:

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

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Rori Hodges

Teacher | Bridge Creek Intermediate School