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What does Assessment mean?

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An interesting article caught my eye this week, based around a mother’s conversion to the EYFS.

There a few things which also raised an eyebrow – “every setting in the country” should be “the majority of settings England”, for example. But the sentence which really intrigued me was that children should be allowed to be children and not “endure a continuous stream of observations and assessments”. The word that was particularly discordant was “endure”. In my experience most young children thoroughly enjoy having an interested and motivated adult watching and taking part in their play. There are many adults who enjoy being a part of children’s lives, which naturally involves noting the children’s likes and dislikes.

So where does the “endure” or suffering come from? One explanation could be that the process of observations and assessment hasn’t been made clear. The dictionary tells us assessment is an evaluation or judgement. This doesn’t mean we restrict children’s freedom or play or natural inquisitiveness. A good practitioner will give the children all these opportunities and then take the lead from them to extend their interests – or evaluate, ‘assess’ their play.

The assessment is not about labelling or pigeon holing children. However, if a practitioner can spot schematic play (for example), then this can help support the child’s interests and learning in a way that is the best for the child. Or, put another way, really understands what makes that child tick. Who wouldn’t want that?

When first looking at the EYFS (2008 and 2012) it may seem to be artificially contrived statements about children just doing what children do best – being themselves. But these have been crafted by skilled and respected educators in the childcare industry, based on some of the most in depth research in Europe (Effective Provision of Preschool Education, 2003). The strength of the document is that it takes the child’s incredibly complex patterns of learning and makes them accessible, makes it look easy, even. This ensures that the ‘assessments’ we make about children are relevant and accurate.

The EYFS (2012) does have many ‘categories’, against which assessments are made, although few than the EYFS 2008. But the fact remains that, somehow, you have to detail how children develop and learn. If you don’t, how do you know if their development is within ‘normal’ limits? How do you evidence Special Educational Needs, for example? Or gifted and talented? Without having this information you may not be providing the very best for the children in your care.

Assessment isn’t about sitting children down to be tested or labelled. It is about taking an interest in their development, and then using this to give them an enjoyable and challenging childhood.

References:
Early Years Foundation Stage, EYFS (2008) DCSF http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/earlyyears
EPPE (2003) http://eppe.ioe.ac.uk/

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