Learning to Use a New Assessment System
Turning the Focus to Curriculum
Getting to Know the New Curriculum
Developing a curriculum to help Head Start teachers ensure the highest
quality education for the young children they serve is an important objective
of our large and diverse program. We offer Head Start for over 750 preschoolers,
and Early Head Start for 95 infants and toddlers, through the Community
Action Agency in Jackson and Hillsdale Counties, Michigan. Preschool program
options include half day, full day, extended day, and full year center-based
The journey to our current curriculum began in 1997, when we decided
we were not satisfied with our curriculum. Like other Head Start programs,
we purchased and used several different curricula over the past ten years.
However, none fully met the needs of our program and families. As we looked
at those available, cost was often a factor as was compatibility with
the Head Start Program Performance Standards. It became
apparent that what we wanted did not exist. We would have to take the
leap and develop our own.
As it turned out, the path to curriculum development was not straightforward.
At the same time we were discussing curriculum, we were also struggling
with priorities related to assessment: how to develop outcomes, collect
data, more fully utilize the Performance Standards and integrate the National
Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation
standards into our program.
Assessment was also a concern among our teachers. They thought that our
assessment system required too much paperwork. They viewed it as an additional
and unnecessary burden. We wanted an assessment approach that met certain
criteria: covers all areas of the curriculum; identifies the skills and
behaviors teachers need to look for; is a child-friendly approach and
can be used during daily classroom activities; and provides information
to help teachers make decisions about what to teach. We decided to begin
the process of change by looking for a new approach to assessment. After
careful review, we concluded that the Work Sampling System
met our criteria and addressed our needs.
Learning to Use a New Assessment System
We phased in the Work Sampling System over a two-year period.
This strategy proved to be cost effective and allowed staff time to become
fully knowledgeable about the assessment system. We believed that by moving
slowly, we would have greater success. Margo Dichtelmiller, one of the
developers of Work Sampling, trained our education staff. Head Start training
dollars and program dollars paid for this training.
The 1998 school year started with staff development focusing on general
assessment principles, observation/documentation methods, and introduction
of the Work Sampling System. The consultant continued to meet with our
educational staff every six weeks. Separate meetings were held with teachers
and teacher assistants. At the beginning of each session, the group reflected
on their successes and challenges using the assessment system and we encouraged
teachers to share solutions to challenges they encountered.
In October 1998, we created a Child Progress Report based on the
Work Sampling System Summary Report and trained staff to use it.
The report includes space for teacher evaluations of a child's performance
and for a short narrative about the child's progress. At the first Parent-Teacher
Conferences in November, teachers shared this report with parents. Staff
and parents liked this new approach to reporting, which used descriptive
language to highlight the child's competencies. Using teacher input, the
progress report form has been revised several times to make it as clear
and informative as possible.
The following spring, the consultant met with each classroom team for
thirty minutes to review their Work Sampling materials. During
these sessions, they examined observation notes, developmental checklists,
and progress reports and discussed questions and concerns. This approach
had several important benefits. First, it allowed staff and consultants
to become acquainted and build a level of trust. Second, it provided a
safe environment to monitor how well teachers were using the Work Sampling
method and to answer questions specific to each classroom. At this point,
we focused on using observation to complete the Work Sampling Developmental
Checklists. Although our staff were always watching and learning from
children, they needed to learn how to make systematic and objective observations
in order to make use of the assessment process and materials.
In 1999, the second year, we made one significant change in the staff
development program in response to staff feedback. Instead of meeting
separately with teachers and assistants, we convened smaller groups of
classroom teams. The same workshop was delivered four times so groups
of 15-20 had ample opportunity to ask questions. We introduced Portfolio
collection, the final piece of the Work Sampling assessment system,
during the 1999-2000 school year, but teachers were not expected to use
Portfolios until the next school year.
Turning the Focus to Curriculum
As teachers became familiar with Portfolio collection, we concentrated
on documenting Language and Literacy goals. This was consistent with the
emphasis in Head Start on emergent literacy skills. However, we soon realized
many teachers were not familiar with the most recent research on emergent
reading and writing. More significantly, they needed concrete ideas for
ways to promote literacy growth through interactions with children in
developmentally appropriate ways. It was apparent that there was a need
to revamp the curriculum for three to five-year olds.
So the new assessment system led us back to curriculum! We developed
a preschool curriculum, Planned Play, that reflects the
assessment goals and meshed with Head Start mandates.
The curriculum addresses the seven domains of child outcomes identified
by the Work Sampling System: Personal and Social Development,
Language and Literacy, Mathematical Thinking, Scientific Thinking, Social
Studies, The Arts, and Physical Development. These domains overlap with
the eight domains included in the Head Start Child Outcomes Framework.
Each curriculum domain has components. For example, Personal and Social
Development has five components:
C) Approach to learning
D) Interaction with others
E) Social problem solving
Within each domain, curricular components are represented by several
indicators for four-year-olds taken from the Work Sampling Developmental
Checklist. These become child objectives.
For each indicator, we have identified specific behavioral expectations
for children, based on the rationale and examples in the Work Sampling
Developmental Guidelines, teacher knowledge, and classroom experience.
Expectations for children are also based on what we expect children to
do by the end of their participation in Head Start, before making the
transition to kindergarten. In some cases, we identified separate expectations
for three-year-olds, where expectations differed significantly from four-year-olds.
For example, in the domain of Language and Literacy, under the component
of Writing, one indicator is: Represents stories through pictures,
dictation, and play.
The expectations for children for this indicator include:
- Understands that pictures can represent objects
- Acts out stories or represents them with flannel board pieces
- Draws a picture and tells a story about it
- Labels pictures with words
- Dictates to teacher a story about their picture
- Uses characters or information from stories in the dramatic play
The curriculum lists teacher behaviors that support this learning,
- Use props in dramatic play that allow children to act out stories
and their own experiences
- Ask children to tell you about their picture and write what they tell
- Give children many open-ended materials to explore and use for representation
- Add props to the block and truck area to encourage representation
In addition to outlining expectations for children and teaching strategies
to support children's development, the Planned Play curriculum
is based on the use of long-term thematic units. Our teachers agreed that
themes are appropriate for young children; they promote in-depth investigation
and reinforce children's interests. Our teachers were also glad to have
more time to inform and involve parents in the longer studies. During
the 2000-2001 school year, teachers will participate in staff development
activities related to the curriculum and use of thematic units.
We have worked hard to dovetail the curriculum with a range of standards
and outcomes we want our preschool Head Start to address. A cover page
for each curriculum domain lists relevant program measures and Head Start
Performance Standards. In addition, the cover page lists the related NAEYC
Accreditation Criteria with examples, plus the agency outcomes developed
by the Community Action Agency for children from birth to five. Ongoing
staff development helps make our standards and outcomes meaningful at
the classroom level.
Getting to Know the New Curriculum
After initial drafts of several domains were completed, a group of teachers
reviewed the curriculum and met as a focus group. They explained what
they believed should be included in a curriculum and how they thought
the curriculum would be received. In response to their input, we added
lists of field trip possibilities and other useful classroom resources.
The curriculum was presented to the teachers during a training session
in August 2000. The entire group reviewed the curriculum introduction.
Each domain was reviewed by a small group of teachers who summarized the
major points and reported to the larger group. The teachers' response
to Planned Play was positive. They appreciated the well-defined
expectations and the examples of what a child should be able to do typically
by the end of Head Start. They made the following comments about the curriculum
- "This is going to make planning easier and more organized."
- "I like having a framework for linking my planning to my assessment
- "I wish something like this would have been available when I was
new to the agency."
We believe that involving the teachers in developing the curriculum and
basing it on the already familiar assessment system, Work Sampling,
diminished resistance to trying something new.
The Policy Council was directly involved in reviewing and providing direction
to the curriculum. Parent input included the development of both an anti-bias
statement and a transition plan from Early Head Start to Head Start. The
Policy Council approved the curriculum in August 2000.
The Planned Play curriculum is a living document. We want to add
input from teachers, such as descriptions of long-term studies and activities
they have used in their classrooms. We also want them to note expectations
that seem too advanced or too easy for preschoolers. Future plans include
writing a parent guide to accompany the curriculum and developing a birth-to-three
curriculum so our program will have a continuous curriculum from infancy
through preschool. We will also be looking at how the curriculum meshes
with the Head Start Outcomes Framework.
The Early Head Start specialists are also piloting a new assessment tool,
the Ounce of Prevention Scale. When it is adopted, we will link
their assessment to curriculum activities, as we did for preschool Head
Start. We hope to have this work completed by September 2001.
Margo Dichtelmiller is an Assistant Professor at Eastern Michigan
University. T: 734-455-2059; E: email@example.com.
Mary Cunningham DeLuca is the Director for Children's Services at
the Community Action Agency in Jackson, Michigan. T: 517-784-4800; E:
Brenda Webster is an Education Specialist with Head Start in Jackson,
Michigan. T: 517-784-4800; E: firstname.lastname@example.org.