BUILD Initiative Blog | Taking Best Advantage of Early Learning S
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

BUILDing Strong Foundations

BUILD Initiative Blog



Sherri Killins, Ed.D
Director of Systems Alignment and Integration, BUILD Initiative

Released this week, Catherine Scott-Little and Kelly Maxwell’s chapter, Improving Systems of Learning Through the Use of Child Standards and Assessments, focuses on the practices of eight Early Learning Challenge states as part of BUILD’s E-Book, Rising to the Challenge: Building Effective Systems for Young Children and Families.

The Early Learning Challenge signaled the federal government’s recognition that early learning standards and formative assessment are essential components of a high quality early learning environment and part of an equitable statewide approach. States responded by creating or enhancing early learning standards and assessments to support clear understanding of what we want children to know and be able to do. 

The proper use of standards and assessments hinges on an array of moving parts that must work in unison.

The Moving Parts

Equitable Systems
Statewide infrastructure is key to successful design and implementation of early learning standards that can be used across the entire early childhood system. This infrastructure is needed to propel communication as well as to align standards and assessment, training and workforce development, and financing. Infrastructure is also important for kindergarten entry assessments, which require coordination with the K-12 public education system in most states.

State early childhood systems have a leadership opportunity to advance equitable design, implementation, support and communication of early learning standards and formative assessment. Children, families and providers benefit from accessible early learning standards and formative assessment that are uniform but that also have flexibility. State systems are well positioned to create inclusive processes for development and refinement of early learning standards and the selection of formative assessments. An inclusive process allows the voice of families, educators and other systems to impact the design and development of standards and assessment tools. Specific consideration should be given to ensuring the tools are not biased and consider children, families and communities of multiple backgrounds.

State early childhood systems have a core responsibility to define basic workforce requirements and to support the implementation of high-quality practices. Finally, states bear a responsibility for financing the cost of implementing evidence-based formative assessment. Addressing equity requires the acknowledgement that while tools and standards may be available in a state, additional resources may be required to ensure parents, families, educators and programs implement them with fidelity for each and every child and within multiple program types.

Family and Community Engagement
Standards and assessment are not just the domain of formal settings. While most states have focused on standards within the formal early learning system, the implementation of early learning standards is key across all early childhood learning and development settings—in health, family support, and informal settings such as libraries and museums.

It is critical that we communicate with parents about early learning standards and results of formative assessment in order to enhance parents’ effectiveness in supporting their children’s growth and learning. Further, effective assessment requires input from and follow-up with families. Having a broad swath of children’s services and organizations working cooperatively on these issues will only increase our success in partnering with families.

Museums and libraries are anchor institutions in the community that play a role in providing early learning and development opportunities for children and families. Many of them have already begun to consider, or be guided by, early learning standards in the design and development of activities and spaces. “No Fail” zones for families are one example. Many of these institutions are small, however, and may need support to ensure diverse families and children have real access.

Museum and library staff often have the skills and knowledge to apply early learning and development standards to interactions with families and their children. Often a bonus is that staff can support local educators to increase competency and effectiveness in supporting young children’s growth and development.

An Informed Workforce
The early childhood workforce needs specific skills and knowledge for assessment and early learning standards to be effective. Professionals must have an understanding of the culture and background of the children with whom they interact as well as of early childhood development and learning. If the best interests of children, teachers and programs are to be served, it is necessary to provide training not only on the concepts and content we want children to know and be able to use, but on the methods of imparting the knowledge and techniques of observing, documenting and analyzing assessment data.

Next Steps
I salute states that are taking up the Challenge. And, as state leaders consider successful utilization of standards and assessment, I also encourage them to create Communities of Practice to support integration of these tools into all the related parts.

Standards and assessments can help children have the best chance at success. Let’s take advantage of them.


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