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Perspectives on Kindergarten Assessment: Toward a Common Understanding


by Christopher DeLuca, Angela Pyle, Suparna Roy, Agnieszka Chalas & Erica Danniels - 2019

Context: The standards-based movement in U.S. public education has reached as far as kindergarten. Early primary teachers are increasingly required to teach academic standards in core subject areas, while engaging in increased levels of student assessment. In kindergarten, this growing emphasis on academic standards and student assessment is expected to operate alongside longstanding social and personal developmental expectations. However, recent research has identified a significant tension as teachers endeavor to negotiate a balance between traditional developmental programming and new standards-based academic curricula.

Purpose: The purpose of this scoping review is to synthesize research related to three kindergarten traditions—Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori—to develop a common understanding of key tenets for kindergarten assessment that can inform policy and practice in public education contexts.

Research Design: A scoping review methodology was used to analyze research on assessment practices native to three kindergarten traditions—Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori. This methodology followed a five-stage framework: (a) identifying the research question, (b) identifying relevant studies, (c) study selection, (d) charting the data, and (e) summarizing and reporting the results. Guiding the collection of articles was the following research question: “What does the extant literature on practices native to the three focal kindergarten traditions tell us about the assessment of kindergarten (4–6-year-olds) students’ learning?” In total, 80 texts satisfied the inclusion criteria across all traditions and were included in this study.

Conclusions: Empirical and non-empirical literature pertaining to each tradition were analysed and considered in relation to their potential contribution to public education. In comparing across traditions, differences were evident based on their (a) assessment discourses and purposes, (b) reference systems, (c) assessment methods, and (d) uses of assessment information. However, the three traditions also maintained key commonalities leading to the identification of core tenets for kindergarten assessment. Specifically, three core priorities for kindergarten assessment were identified: (a) a commitment to child-centered and developmentally appropriate teaching, (b) a continuous embedded formative assessment approach, and (c) the use of multiple methods for gaining assessment information. In addition to core priority areas, results from this study suggest consistent processes that facilitate assessment practices at the kindergarten level. These four iterative processes are: (a) participation in teaching and learning, (b) reconstruction of teaching and learning, (c) engagement in assessment dialogues, and (d) integration of feedback for enhanced teaching and learning.



The standards-based movement in U.S. public education has now reached as far as kindergarten (Brown, 2011; Goldstein, 2007). Early primary teachers are expected to teach academic standards in core subject areas while engaging in high levels of student assessment and testing (Gullo & ,, 2011; Ohanian, 2002). In particular, kindergarten teachers are now called to conduct diagnostic intake and readiness assessments, integrate formative assessments throughout instruction (i.e., assessments that support student learning to provide ongoing feedback for both students and teachers), and monitor student achievement through periodic summative tasks (i.e., assessments that compare student performance against a standard or benchmark) (McNair, Bhargava, Adams, Edgerton, & Kypros, 2003; Roach, McGrath, Wixson, & Talapatra, 2010; US DOE, 2010). In addition, over the past several years, every state in the United States has instituted standardized testing in kindergarten in addition to mandated teacher-based assessments and rigorous reporting protocols (Jeynes, 2006). Overall, the shift toward standards-based education in the United States has been coupled with accountability mandates that require a chain of assessment evidence related to student ability and achievement from initial intake to kindergarten completion. A similar trend has been observed in other systems of education (e.g., Canada, UK, New Zealand), however, with greater emphasis on teacher-based assessment programs and less implementation of standardized testing in the early years (UK Department of Education, 2014; UK Standards and Testing Agency, 2016; Ontario Ministry of Education, OME, 2016).


The growing emphasis on academic standards and student assessment in kindergarten education is expected to operate alongside longstanding social and personal developmental expectations (Gullo, 2005, 2006; Gullo & Hughes, 2011). As Jeynes (2006, p. 1937) recognized, the addition of academic standards and testing in kindergarten is a “considerable departure” from original conceptions of American kindergarten education, rooted in a Froebel philosophy. Kindergarten was initially premised on the notion that children needed a pre-school program that fostered their development of personality, discipline, and social skills (Graves, 1912; Hyson, 1991; Lascarides & Hinitz, 2000). Froebel compared kindergarten education to a garden, where children could learn and grow together toward their ideal image. Traditional forms of kindergarten were built on this philosophy by offering a student-centered environment with individualized learning expectations taught through developmentally appropriate pedagogies (e.g., play-based teaching and learning) (Gullo, 2005, 2006; Hughes & Gullo, 2010; NAEYC, 2009; Pyle, DeLuca, & Danniels, 2017).


In response to the relatively swift and substantive changes toward assessment-driven standards-based kindergarten education in the United States and elsewhere, recent research has identified a significant tension as teachers endeavor to negotiate a balance between traditional developmental programming and new standards-based academic curricula (Brown, 2011; Gullo & Hughes, 2011; Pyle & DeLuca, 2017). In particular, teachers are challenged to create and justify new assessment practices that measure prescribed academic expectations while maintaining developmentally appropriate practices for kindergarten learners (NAEYC, 2010). As noted by several researchers, what remains largely absent within this changing landscape is a synthesis of kindergarten assessment approaches that responds to both traditional developmental expectations and new academic curricula (Brown, 2011; Pyle & DeLuca, 2017). Furthermore, given the variability in approaches to assessment across kindergarten traditions, there is a need to provide clarity in definitions, language, and practices to enable more purposeful assessments in kindergarten classrooms. Without this synthesis of research, teachers, policymakers, and scholars are limited in their abilities to support current kindergarten mandates that effectively integrate assessments to support early student learning. The purpose of this study is to look across kindergarten traditions, namely Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and Waldorf, to develop a common understanding for kindergarten assessment that can provide guidance and support for policies and practices in public education contexts.


PUBLIC KINDERGARTEN EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES


Public kindergarten education in the United States was originally designed to provide early access to education and introduce young learners to schooling contexts through socialization with teachers and other children (Corbett, 1989). There has been a steady positive trajectory for public kindergarten education across the States: in 1965 only 18 states had public kindergarten education, in 1970, 85% of 5-year-olds attended public kindergarten, and in 2000 all states had provisions for public kindergarten education, with kindergarten nearly universal now for all 5-year-olds in the United States (Kamerman & Gatenio-Gabel, 2007). However, kindergarten programs vary widely both in content (i.e., curriculum and pedagogy) and format (e.g., full-day vs. half-day).


Historically, the focus in kindergarten was on developmental readiness with, assessment in early primary education used to measure developmental targets (Goodman, Ford, Richards, Gatward, & Meltzer, 2000; NAEYC, 2009). However, the landscape of kindergarten has undergone several changes over the years to expand from this predominantly developmental lens. With the growth in pre-kindergarten education in the second half of the 20th century, the purpose of kindergarten was called into question as more students were being socialized into formal schooling at an earlier age (Dombkowski, 2001). In recent decades, the standards and accountability movement in education has pushed for a greater emphasis on academic curricular objectives and an increase in standardized assessment measures of academic competencies in public education (Blaiklock, 2010; Gananathan, 2011; Jeynes, 2006). Research highlighting the importance of early learning for future educational achievement has helped to extend this accountability movement into early years education (Goldstein, McCoach, & Yu, 2017).


In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which provided the impetus for recent reforms to U.S. education (US DOE, 2009). The ARRA made provisions for a $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund, to help improve schooling systems across the country to close the achievement gap and re-secure a prominent global position for U.S. students and citizens as leading in key knowledge domains. Key to this fund initiative were four core reform areas, two of which related directly to assessment:


Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy and

Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction (US DOE, 2009, p. 2).


Further, the Fund demarcated absolute priority areas for development as part of “challenges.” Within the Early Learning Challenge, the first priority area was using early learning and development standards and kindergarten entry assessments to promote school readiness (US DOE, n.d.). Combined, this emphasis on assessment and accountability systems, coupled with early learning and kindergarten entry assessment, led to substantial proliferation of standardized kindergarten assessments across U.S. schools. While many of these assessment protocols measured to some extent developmental readiness, much of the focus was on measuring students’ readiness in core academic subject areas (see, for example, Ohio Department of Education, 2017 or California Department of Education, 2013).


In 2010, standards-based education intensified from a state-specific model to a set of common objectives to be implemented across all states (the Common Core State Standards, CCSS) detailing the skills children were required to learn in language arts and mathematics each year from kindergarten all the way up to grade 12 (Graham & Harris, 2015) with additional standards in other subject areas available. CCSS place an increased emphasis on summative evaluation methods to assess students’ progress in meeting these outlined benchmarks without dictating which strategies are to be employed by educators to achieve these outcomes (Graham & Harris, 2015). A position paper by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO, 2011) outlined several important considerations for kindergarten readiness assessments and CCSS related protocols. They noted that “kindergarten readiness assessments should be used to directly support children’s development and academic achievement to improve educational outcomes” (p. 2). This assessment purpose is in contrast to that of others who have argued that the kindergarten readiness and entry assessment are used to determine whether or not early learning programs, including state-funded programs, provide students with early skills and learning that sufficiently prepares them for later school success (Scott-Little, Bruner, Schultz, & Maxwell, 2013).


By and large, large-scale assessments of children’s learning and readiness in kindergarten have primarily served to descriptively account for students’ learning experiences in publically funded programs (Sabol & Pianta, 2017). As of yet, they have been comparatively lower-stakes than upper years’ state assessments, including those affiliated with accountability system requirements and Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). While classroom environment, class size, and other systemic factors shape QRIS measures for early learning programs, student measures of learning are not yet in the equation (Sabol & Pianta, 2017). Accordingly, there is potentially a need to heed a further recommendation from CCSSO (2011) as the landscape of kindergarten assessment continues to change: “avoid inappropriate use of assessment information, specifically including high-stakes decisions, labeling children, restricting kindergarten entry, and predicting children’s future academic and life success” (p. 6).


As a result of policy reforms toward accountability and standards-based education, teachers in every state are now required to conduct kindergarten entry assessments to assess academic or developmental domains of school readiness, which may include literacy development, cognitive and general knowledge development, social-emotional development, and approaches toward learning (Goldstein et al., 2017). About 30% of public kindergarten teachers from the 2010 cohort of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study reported using standardized assessments at least once per month, 2.6 times more frequently than Grade 1 teachers reported in 1999 (Bassok, Latham, & Rorem, 2016). This shift has been accompanied by an increase in time dedicated to teacher-directed instruction in literacy and math in kindergarten, as well as fewer reported activity centers in classrooms (e.g., dramatic play areas, sensory tables), suggesting an important pedagogical shift in kindergarten instruction occurring during the standards-based movement (Bassok et al., 2016). However, alongside the increased emphasis on academic expectations and standardized assessment, there has been a resurgence of talk about the importance of teaching developmental (i.e., non-academic) skills in the early years (e.g., social skills and self-regulation skills) to promote future educational and occupational success (Garcia, 2014; NAEYC, 2009, 2010). Hence, many public kindergarten contexts aim to blend the traditional kindergarten focus on developmental learning with the current emphasis on academic learning (Gullo & Hughes, 2011; NAEYC, 2010; Ohanian, 2002); yet, few strategies have been provided to teachers regarding the teaching and assessment of developmental skills in conjunction with academic expectations (Garcia, 2014).


While standardized forms of assessment do play a dominant role in kindergarten education programs in the United States and elsewhere, they are largely used as diagnostic indicators or as summative benchmarks of student development (e.g., Brookhart, 2013). Rarely are standardized tests described across the literature as serving formative or pedagogical functions to support ongoing kindergarten teaching and learning. Approaches for classroom-level (i.e., teacher-based and non-standardized) formative assessment exist, largely drawn from upper years contexts. While diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments have traditionally been used to guide teachers’ classroom assessment practices, more contemporary conceptions of assessment for learning (i.e., most closely aligned with formative) and assessment of learning (i.e., summative) have emerged as a set of strategies that involve students in using and understanding assessment data to support and guide learning (Earl, 2003). Specifically, assessment for learning involves actively engaging students in monitoring their learning through self-, peer-, and instructor-based feedback (Assessment Reform Group, 2002), with the aim of not only supporting academic content learning but also learner independence through metacognitive and self-regulation development. Supporting independence through assessment is a critical benefit in early years learning, as one of the fundamental aims of kindergarten is to begin students on a path to independence (Corter, Janmohamed, & Pelletier, 2012).


As practical guidance for teachers aiming to balance developmental and academic assessment approaches, Gullo and Hughes (2011) identified three principles for kindergarten assessment: (a) assessment of student learning should be a continuous process in classrooms (i.e., assessment for learning), (b) assessment should engage multiple formats (e.g., observation, testing, conversations) appropriate for diverse learners, and (c) assessment should reflect students’ learning toward academic standards and developmental targets. While these three principles provide general guidance on kindergarten assessment, practical and specific guidance as well as empirical research on classroom assessment within the early primary public educational context is rare, with the field only recently providing an initial empirical base for understanding contemporary K–3 classroom assessment practices (Blaiklock, 2010; Ebbeck, Teo, Tan, & Goh, 2014; Gullo & Hughes, 2011; Roach et al., 2010).


PURPOSE


The purpose of this scoping review is to synthesize research related to three kindergarten traditions—Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori—to develop a common understanding of key tenets for kindergarten assessment that can inform policy and practice in public education contexts. These three traditions were purposefully selected because they have well-established philosophies, discourses, and practices related to kindergarten teaching, learning, and assessment.


The Reggio Emilia approach to education was established in 1945 in Italy, and has since spread throughout the world, with close to 100 schools across nearly every state in the United States that explicitly use the Reggio approach as noted by the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (2017). Unlike the other two traditions—Waldorf and Montessori—Reggio Emilia represents an approach to education that can be adopted within any school context (i.e., a school does not need to be a “Reggio Emilia” certified school). The Reggio Emilia approach is characterized by community-supported early-primary education that focuses on student relationships, social contributions, and student agency.


Waldorf education began in the early part of the 20th century in Stuttgart, Germany. Currently, there are more than 1,000 Waldorf schools (including elementary and secondary level schools) and 2,000 Waldorf-based kindergarten programs in 60 countries. The United States has more than 125 Waldorf schools across most states (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2015). Waldorf education involves a child-centered, artistic approach to learning that nurtures children’s individuality while cultivating a sense of social responsibility.


Montessori is perhaps the most widely known of these three traditions, with more than 4,000 schools in the United States and nearly double that around the world (North America Montessori Teachers’ Association, 2017). Montessori aims to promote children’s development, self-discipline, and social collaboration through a pedagogy that emphasizes student choice, practical play, and independence.


Each of these traditions has a longstanding history with an established philosophy toward teaching and learning, discursive context, and educator practices. However, their long history has also led to significant cross-influences in which each tradition has offered perspective to the other and to public education contexts. Accordingly, the presence of these three traditions within U.S. schools, and schools across the world, is complex. For this reason, we assert that these three traditions have the potential to offer important insights toward developmentally appropriate assessment practices that can be adapted (not directly applied) to standards-based, public education contexts. Hence, the overarching aim in synthesizing research from these various early education traditions was to identify consistent tenets for assessment at the kindergarten level that were not bound to any one tradition but that could inform policy and practice for public education contexts. Accordingly, this scoping review study concludes with a set of priorities and processes for kindergarten assessment that can work within standards-based education contexts and with related implications for research, policy, and practice.


METHOD


This research employed a scoping review methodology (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Jesson, Matheson, & Lacey, 2011) to analyze research on assessment practices native to three kindergarten traditions—Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori. This methodology followed a five-stage framework: (a) identifying the research question, (b) identifying relevant studies, (c) study selection, (d) charting the data, and (e) summarizing and reporting the results (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005).


SCOPING REVIEW RESEARCH QUESTION


The research question that guided the parameters of this review was: “What does the extant literature on practices native to the three focal kindergarten traditions (i.e., Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori) tell us about the assessment of kindergarten (4–6-year-olds) students’ learning?” A broad concept of “assessment” guided the research in order to include the selection and creation of any evidence of students’ developmental or academic growth. The focus of this review was on programs serving kindergarten-aged students (4–6-year-olds) that employed techniques from any of the three focal traditions (including both specialized kindergarten programs and public education classrooms employing techniques from one or more of the three traditions). Following the recommendations from Arksey and O’Malley (2005), a wide approach to the search criteria was adopted in the initial stages, and decisions regarding the filtering of articles were made once the scope of the retrieved articles was examined.


IDENTIFICATION OF RELEVANT STUDIES


Literature searches were conducted from the Education Source database (including EBSCOhost and ERIC) as this database offers the world’s largest and most complete collection of international full-text education journals (Concordia University Library, n.d.). The researchers’ university library catalog was also searched for additional texts on assessment and kindergarten education related to the three traditions of interest. The search terms used for this review were combinations and derivatives of the terms “assessment” (including related terms of assessment approaches, assessment techniques, and assessment practices) and “documentation” with kindergarten, early primary education, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf (Table 1). The terms were entered in non-specified fields (i.e., title, abstract, body) to generate the largest possible number of relevant articles. In order to include articles published in regions where an alternative name is given to kindergarten education, the terms “kindergarten” and “early years” were used as alternate keywords. Similarly, the terms “documentation” and “assessment” were both used when searching Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf, as “documentation” is often used instead of the term “assessment” in these traditions. These keyword searches generated a total of 1668 references (including duplicate articles found across multiple searches). All searches were conducted to include all sources (peer-reviewed, empirical, non-empirical, books, articles, and reports), except for the two broadest searches (i.e., assessment* + [kindergarten OR early years] and assessment* + early primary education), which were limited to peer-reviewed articles.



Table 1. Initial Scoping Review Search Results

Database

Search terms

Search limiters

Search results

Education Source (including EBSCOhost and ERIC)

Assessment* (including related terms of assessment approaches, assessment techniques, and assessment practices) and kindergarten*

Peer-reviewed

sources only

1433

Assessment* (including related terms of assessment approaches, assessment techniques, and assessment practices) and early primary education

Peer-reviewed

sources only

23

Assessment* (including related terms of assessment approaches, assessment techniques, and assessment practices) and Montessori*

All sources;

no limiters

78

Assessment* (including related terms of assessment approaches, assessment techniques, and assessment practices) and Reggio Emilia

All sources;

no limiters

35

Assessment* (including related terms of assessment approaches, assessment techniques, and assessment practices) and Waldorf*

All sources;

no limiters

17

Documentation* (including related terms of assessment approaches, assessment techniques, and assessment practices) and Montessori*

All sources;

no limiters

67

Documentation* (including related terms of assessment approaches, assessment techniques, and assessment practices) and Reggio Emilia

All sources;

no limiters

15

Documentation* (including related terms of assessment approaches, assessment techniques, and assessment practices) and Waldorf*

All sources;

no limiters

0



STUDY SELECTION


All retrieved abstracts were inspected to ensure relevance to the current topic. If insufficient information was presented in the abstract to assess the relevance of the paper, the full text was inspected. The selection criteria for sources related to assessment approaches native to Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf traditions were as follows:


Books or journal articles accessible through the primary researchers’ institutional library collection or the Education Source online database,

Contained information or empirical research on teachers’ assessment practices native to one or more of the three focal traditions, and

Focused exclusively on kindergarten contexts and kindergarten-aged children (ages 4–6).


An article was excluded from review if it met one of the following exclusion criteria:


A full-text copy of the article was not available online;

The article was in a language other than English; or

The article focused on assessment knowledge or practices of pre-service teachers.


We recognize that these selection criteria focus and limit the articles for inclusion in this study, and potentially limit valuable sources of information. For example, studies focused on assessment practices occurring in late pre-school contexts, which could be used with kindergarten-aged children, were not included in this study. The inclusion and exclusion criteria were selected to maintain a coherent focus and high relevance of source on kindergarten education. In total, 80 sources met the above criteria across all traditions. Additionally, general texts on assessment and early primary education were used to provide contextual and historical information on kindergarten assessment across traditions.


CHARTING THE DATA


Once the selection process was finished, the next stage involved “charting” the data, or sorting the included articles by key themes (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005). In this case, the sources were first organized in relation to the three focal traditions (i.e., Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori) and additionally classified as “public education” if the article focused on the use of assessment practices from one of the focal traditions in a public kindergarten setting. The articles were then charted based on the content focus of the source: (a) empirically based, or (b) non-empirical (including theoretical or descriptive) (Appendix A). Of the 80 included sources, 36 related to the Reggio Emilia approach to assessment (19 empirical and 17 non-empirical), 23 related to the Waldorf approach (8 empirical and 15 non-empirical), and 25 related to the Montessori approach (15 empirical and 10 non-empirical). Three retrieved articles (Cox & Rowlands, 2000; DeLuca & Hughes, 2014; Roth & Månsson, 2011) discussed multiple kindergarten traditions and so were counted within more than one section total but counted only once within the grand total. For each source, summary descriptions were generated that identified content related to: (a) overall tradition orientation and description, (b) description of study context and method (if applicable), (c) description of key findings or key contribution, and (d) description of assessment practices (if applicable). Two researchers reviewed each summary in relation to the original source to ensure accuracy of data and reporting of results. In cases where there were disagreements, the researchers discussed the article until consensus was reached.


RESULTS


Research on assessment practices used within each of the three kindergarten traditions (Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori) has been conducted both within specialized kindergarten settings following one of these kindergarten approaches as well as within research on public kindergarten settings. However, educators have reported both strengths and challenges with respect to integrating assessment approaches from other traditions within the current assessment context of public education. First, results addressing each kindergarten tradition will be presented, including an overview of each approach, a description of the retrieved research addressing assessment practices within each tradition, and a description of the retrieved research on the use of these assessment practices within public kindergarten education. Second, an overall synthesis is presented of the differences and commonalities in perspectives on assessment among the three traditions. These identified commonalities articulate common understandings that can help to guide teachers’ assessment practices at the kindergarten level.


REGGIO EMILIA


Overview


In total, 36 sources were identified that described Reggio Emilia kindergarten education and that focused on assessment approaches in this tradition. The Reggio Emilia tradition was originated by Malaguzzi in Emilia Romagna after the second world war (Smidt, 2013) in response to the deleterious conditions (i.e., hunger, poverty, oppression). Malaguzzi suggested a radical system where education could be a catalyst for community change (Gandini, 2012a; Smidt, 2013). Reggio Emilia education embodied a pedagogy of interpersonal relations, parental and community participation, emotional well-being, aesthetic attention, pedagogical documentation, and cultural consciousness (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 2012). In this tradition, the child is viewed as a protagonist who is competent and capable of constructing his/her own learning by shaping their own experiences (Cadwell, 1997; Smidt, 2013; Thornton & Brunton, 2014).


The Reggio Emilia approach emphasizes group work and collaboration involving all members of the learning community (Cadwell, 1997). Parents, teachers, and community members collaborate to gather, exchange, and form common ideas (Hawkins, 2012). An atmosphere of respect, fostered through supportive peer and adult interactions, augments a child’s sense of identity, self-confidence, and sense of belonging (Smidt, 2013). Pedagogically, teachers use multimodal learning, known as the 100 languages of children, to make students’ thinking visible (Cadwell, 1997). Open-ended resources, space, and time to develop ideas and explore materials through long-term projects as well as exposure to a variety of experiences are key features in schools following the Reggio Emilia approach (Thornton & Brunton, 2014). There is no predetermined curriculum with planned units and tests (Gandini, 2012a; Smidt, 2013); instead, children enter a classroom space resembling a marketplace of activity stalls with which they engage to develop their own strategies and learning (Smidt, 2013). Teachers develop plans that are serviceable to the children’s emergent strategies (Smidt, 2013) and, as such, the process of creating is emphasized over the end product (Krechevsky, Mardell, Rivard, & Wilson, 2013).


Assessment in Reggio Emilia


In the Reggio Emilia approach, documentation is central and is used instead of the language of assessment. According to Rinaldi (2012), documentation is assessment as the act of choosing something to document automatically transfers value to the experience as meaningful. Documentation in this tradition refers to the collection of artifacts and evidence on student activity and learning, which provides the stimulus for understanding student learning (and the learning environment). Teachers constantly document a child’s learning through methods like note-taking, photography, and videography—the outputs of which are forms of “visible listening” (Giamminuti, 2011; Smidt, 2013). All members of the community, including children, parents, educators, and community citizens may partake in emergent discussions and negotiations that comprise this open and democratic assessment process (Dahlberg, 2012). During collaborative group sessions involving educators, reflection evokes new perspectives on children’s learning (Smidt, 2013) and on how to craft opportunities for the following day’s instruction (Thornton & Brunton, 2014). The discussions elicit critical reflections on missed opportunities or approaches used by teachers to guide children through moments of cognitive disequilibrium (Edwards, 2012; Goldstein, 2013). The documentation process is further enhanced by parents as they become involved in meetings, conferences, and work sessions (Gandini, 2012b; Moran, Desrochers, & Cavicchi, 2007).


To investigate current assessment practices, Roth and Månsson (2011) examined assessment plans used in Reggio Emilia-affiliated preschools in Sweden serving 4–6-year-olds. Although preschool educators in Sweden are required to implement an individual development plan with their students, the templates used in these preschools were geared toward profile-based content and included sections such as “child’s influence,” “this is how I learn,” and “treasured moments.” Although these templates are semi-standardized, extensive variation and input from the child to formulate learning objectives is possible. While other preschool traditions in Sweden emphasize the use of rating scales to assess young children in comparison to objectively measurable standards, the emphasis on pedagogical documentation in Reggio Emilia-inspired schools is to foster conversation and meaningful creation between students and teachers. Hence, there is still a focus on evaluation and assessment, but it is based on different terms and conditions than rating scales and other summative assessment tools.  


Several studies point to empirical benefits of Reggio-based assessment practices (e.g., Buldu, 2010; Giamminuti, 2011; Goldhaber & Smith, 1997; Fawcett & Hay, 2004; Katz & Galbraith, 2006; Lyon & Donahue, 2009; Moran et al., 2007). Goldhaber and Smith (1997) examined the perspectives of three teachers working in a university-affiliated childcare center in Vermont who incorporated pedagogical documentation into their practice. The researchers found that the process of documentation promoted staff development and collaboration, created a climate of inquiry, established lines of communication between children and families, invited meaningful dialogue, and provided a basis for child advocacy. Further, the teachers posited that documentation gave children a voice as it validated play as an activity worthy of adult attention and presented children as competent individuals “working on a lot more than just being cute” (p. 9). Similarly, Fawcett and Hay (2004) argued that pedagogical documentation increased respect for and confidence in children’s abilities on the part of the community members. In a Florida-based study, Salmon (2008) examined the process of students re-visiting documented work and making thinking “visible” in two Reggio-inspired schools. By inviting children to revisit the documented work, the researcher proposed that students practiced metacognitive and critical thinking skills, making them more alert to situations that required thinking. In line with this argument, Rinaldi (2006) suggested that documentation allows children to revisit their own thought processes and self-correct when comparing their achievements to those of others.


The benefits to children aside, Goldhaber and Smith (1997) also found benefits of pedagogical documentation on staff development and the culture of observation and inquiry created through this approach. Studies centered on the collaborative processes between educators engaged in pedagogical documentation demonstrate the benefits of this approach on teaching practice (Fawcett & Hay, 2004; Goldhaber, 2007; Parnell, 2011). These studies suggest that documentation stimulates reflection about what teachers have learned about the children in their communities (Goldhaber, 2007; Parnell, 2011) and efforts to refine their own practices for supporting learning more effectively (Fawcett & Hay, 2004). Documentation has also been linked to the concept of “teacher as researcher,” as teachers begin seeing documentation as a process of making meaning with children and increasing their abilities to observe, listen, and collaborate with children, parents, and their peers to better understanding child development and pedagogy (Lyon & Donahue, 2009).


Use in Public Education


Ten retrieved articles discussed the use of Reggio Emilia-inspired approaches to assessment in public education settings. Five of these studies described intervention projects aimed at implementing pedagogical documentation in kindergarten classrooms or educating teachers on this approach. In a 2007 study, MacDonald introduced a style of pedagogical documentation to five kindergarten teachers working in the New Westminster school district in British Columbia, Canada. Through observations and interviews, she examined the effects of the intervention on both teachers’ short and long-term assessment practices. Interviews held with the 5 teachers and 25 parents one year after the close of the project revealed positive responses to pedagogical documentation. Not only did the teachers describe it as a useful method of formative assessment, but parents also perceived the strategy as helping them to better understand and talk about their children’s learning. Despite this, only one of the five teachers continued to use the documentation process after the project ended (MacDonald, 2007), highlighting a gap between pedagogical documentation and previous approaches to assessment used in that district. Tarr, Bjartveit, Kostiuk, and McCowan (2009) described a collaborative approach involving three teachers representing preschool, kindergarten, and grade 2, along with a university professor, to implement pedagogical documentation in Canadian classrooms. This study found that pedagogical documentation shifted teachers’ focus from measuring curriculum objectives to understanding child engagement and discovery more broadly. The curriculum continued to be addressed through this assessment; however, the documentation approach enabled more holistic observation of children’s emotional, social, and intellectual engagement.


In a study conducted in the United Arab Emirates, Buldu (2010) used participant observation, semi-structured interviews, focus group interviews, and parent questionnaires to highlight various benefits of pedagogical documentation adopted in six kindergarten classrooms. Documentation was perceived by teachers as a valuable formative assessment method that helped to scaffold children’s learning, create a community of learners, increase children’s participation and interest in learning, and increase children’s self-awareness. Unique to this study was the finding that pedagogical documentation was perceived to increase students’ ability to self-assess their own learning—a conclusion supported by several proponents of this and other similar methods (Seitz & Bartholomew, 2008; Laski, 2013).


In an intervention study conducted by Wong (2009), six childcare practitioners studied pedagogical documentation with the researcher in weekly hour-long sessions that lasted eight weeks. During these sessions, participants examined documentation pieces created by Reggio Emilia-inspired educators and discussed perceptions regarding what children were learning in the documentation and how the process could be related to their own personal classroom experiences. While the participants reported it as a valuable learning experience that could inform classroom practices, they reported the need for additional support from their school in order to fully adopt this assessment style. Last, Katz and Galbraith (2006) observed two inclusive early years classrooms and the role of documentation in making social interactions visible. These researchers documented day-to-day classroom activities and then introduced the teachers to the documentation process, which supported these teachers’ formative assessment practices. Specifically, documentation promoted teachers’ assessment of children’s social development by examining different types of interactions in play, the roles the children performed, and their use of different materials and equipment. However, these researchers did not follow up with educators in regard to their continued use of documentation after the study was completed.


Two retrieved studies examined teachers’ use of e-portfolios in kindergarten, a tool for digitally documenting students’ work and activities that can be easily accessed by teachers, parents, and the students themselves (Goodman & Cherrington, 2017; Hooker, 2017). Goodman and Cherrington (2017) examined students, teachers, and parents in a kindergarten class in New Zealand who had been using e-portfolios for one year. Tablets were provided in the reading corner so that the students could freely access and refer to their work. Students were observed to make connections between their e-portfolios and classroom activities, with more than half of the students revisiting an activity after reading about it in their portfolio (Goodman & Cherrington, 2017). Parents reported feeling more connected to their child’s learning and feeling more confident in sharing comments or stories from home. However, the level of parental engagement in the portfolios ranged from actively reading and contributing to not viewing the portfolio at all (Goodman & Cherrington, 2017). This highlighted the important role of the teacher in supporting parents to engage with their child’s e-portfolio. The teachers reported that the process allowed them to increase their collaboration with students, set goals, revisit previous learning, and support students’ learning interests. However, the teachers also expressed the need for greater support and training in implementing e-portfolios to extend and challenge their current practice (Goodman & Cherrington, 2017).


In a similar study that looked at the use of e-portfolios in a New Zealand kindergarten classroom, Hooker (2017) examined how the implementation of this new technology increased teachers’ formative assessment practices and “assessment for learning.” These researchers found that after the e-portfolios were introduced, teachers updated the portfolios more frequently, displayed more detailed observational notes (“learning stories”) to complement the documentation of student work, and increased collaboration with other teachers in the classroom. The parents responded favorably to these changes, commenting positively on the addition of pictures and videos to the learning stories. One of the teachers reported that her knowledge around formative assessment practices greatly improved after the e-portfolios were introduced thanks to the increased opportunities they provided to recognize student learning and the discussions they prompted regarding ways to support or extend the learning that was documented (Hooker, 2017).


In one quantitative examination of classroom behaviors, Rintakorpi and Reunamo (2017) systematically sampled students from 194 kindergartens and preschools in Finland to examine correlations between the amount of pedagogical documentation and students’ observed classroom activities. Children were rated to extensively document their own activities in only 1.7% of the groups, and only 4.3% of all educator teams reported using documentation often in lesson planning and development (Rintakorpi & Reunamo, 2017). However, higher uses of documentation were positively correlated with positive observed emotions in students (r = .126), higher levels of creative play (r = .363), and educator involvement in supporting and enriching students’ play (r = .288). Last, educators who used documentation less frequently tended to report that the improvement and development of their own work should be strengthened (r = -.184) (Rintakorpi & Reunamo, 2017). Overall, the study highlighted connections between the use of documentation and a more comprehensive approach to early education and development. Continued training and education related to documentation was recommended (Rintakorpi & Reunamo, 2017).


In a study that examined teachers’ current approaches to assessment in Ontario, DeLuca and Hughes (2014) conducted interviews and classroom observations with 12 public kindergarten teachers. Within this context, teachers are required to follow play-based learning pedagogies to achieve both developmental learning outcomes and prescriptive academic standards. These researchers found that teachers used a variety of strategies to assess students’ developmental progression and academic learning. Traditional strategies—structured observations and one-on-one testing—were among the most commonly used. However, teachers also reported using more ongoing methods including pedagogical documentation. Documentation walls in the classrooms were often made up of photographs of students at play and focused on different aspects of students’ academic learning. However, a number of challenges with using visual data were communicated by these teachers, including the need for parental consent, the time-consuming nature of reviewing photographs, and not being able to convert the photographs into valuable assessment data (DeLuca & Hughes, 2014). Overall, the retrieved articles addressing the implementation of Reggio Emilia-inspired approaches to assessment highlighted positive student outcomes and positive reactions from educators but also some practical challenges with using this approach in current public kindergarten classrooms.


WALDORF


Overview


The scoping review procedures resulted in a total of 23 sources related to assessment in Waldorf kindergarten contexts. These sources described the origins and practices affiliated with Waldorf education and specific assessment practices used in Waldorf classrooms. The majority of these sources were non-empirical (n=15); hence were largely based on descriptions of practices in this tradition rather than empirical data. Waldorf education began after the first world war when Rudolph Steiner campaigned for social renewal through the education of children (Burnett, 2011; Mitchell, 1992; Nicol & Taplin, 2012; Steiner, 2003). In Steiner’s schools, popularly known as Waldorf schools, teachers were encouraged to respect students’ individuality and self-development (de Bilde, Van Damme, Lamote, & De Fraine, 2013; Nicol & Taplin, 2012) while learning about communal feelings in diverse, mixed-aged environments (Drummond, Rees, Klaar, Fielding, & Parsons, 2011; Jenkinson, 2011a).


Pedagogically, Waldorf schools endorse student development through child-initiated free play, nourishment of the senses, the development of healthy will and activity, and the provision of opportunities for imitation and creative and artistic experiences (Nicol & Taplin, 2012). Specifically, in early Waldorf schooling, children learn by imitating adults occupied in purposeful (mostly domestic) activities and by engaging in imaginative play (Burnett, 2011; Nicol, 2007; Parker-Rees & Rees, 2011; Oldfield, 2001). No instruction is given: rather, children are encouraged to do as the teacher does in order to cultivate good habits and orderliness through daily routines (de Bilde et al., 2013; Drummond, 2011; Larrison, Daly, & VanVooren, 2012; Oldfield, 2001; Nicol, 2007). Imaginative play of 3- to 5-year-olds is viewed as a product of children’s need to integrate and assimilate life experiences in a way that makes them fully their own (Nicholson, 2000; Oldfield, 2001). Although a kindergarten environment rich in imaginative play does not guarantee specific learning (e.g., oral narrative skills, numeracy skills, reading skills), imaginative play has been found to provide children with opportunities to develop empathy (Nicholson, 2000; Suggate, Schaughency, & Reese, 2011; Waite & Rees, 2011), awaken self-consciousness (Oldfield, 2001), early literacies (Cunningham & Carroll, 2011), and foster a greater capacity for imaginative thinking (Cox & Rowlands, 2000).


Assessment in Waldorf


The purpose of assessment in Waldorf schools is to understand the child through documentation and to use that understanding to build strong teacher-child relationships (Nicol & Taplin, 2012; Waite & Rees, 2011). Steiner described the child as a riddle that the teacher constantly works to solve, with assessment documentation and teacher reflection as key to this process (Nicol & Taplin, 2012). Assessment in Waldorf kindergarten contexts are based on a focused “child study” for each student, drawing on collected documentation and evidence (Dahlin, 2010; Nicol, 2007). Documentation involves the collection of observational evidence including notes and photographs along with qualitative data collected through formal interviews with parents. Because prompting questions are believed to pull children out of their individual consciousness and disrupt the child’s progress toward their personal goals (Oldfield, 2001; Waite & Rees, 2014), unobtrusive observations are generally made as the teacher works quietly nearby (Nicol & Taplin, 2012). While observing, teachers refrain from making evaluative judgments, to allow children to internalize appraisal rather than be dependent on external measurements (Dahlin, 2010; Waite & Rees, 2011). Within the child study process, observational evidence is used to develop child-specific schemas with close attention to specific learning (e.g., how they walk, how they laugh, how they eat, or the coherence of their storytelling) (Jenkinson, 2011b; Nicol & Taplin, 2012). A child observation schema might be subdivided into categories such as physical appearance, movement, speech, thinking, feeling, and will, with each section comprising questions guiding further observations (Nicol & Taplin, 2012). When assessing students, teachers also look for the moments when developmental milestones are reached (Jenkinson, 2011a).


The child study process involves all adults connected to the child at school and at home coming together to share extensive observational data (Nicol, 2007; Nicol & Taplin, 2012). The process typically begins with a specially selected Steiner verse or short meditation to mark the occasion (Nicol & Taplin, 2012). After the observations are shared, all of the adults are left to think about the observations of others, often leading to a change in child-adult relationships (Nicol, 2007). Each child study, already a rich history, serves as a provisional setting with an understanding that the future may bring dynamic changes as the child matures (Nicol & Taplin, 2012). Student learning is shared in an ongoing way between teacher and parents. For example, parent workshops and evening sessions occur to display and discuss student learning (Schwartz, 2009). Ultimately, the intention of assessment in the Waldorf tradition is to use a chronology of evidence (i.e., documentation, observations, and conversations) to create meaningful relationships between teacher, parents, and students that enable joint support for students to reach their unique full potential.


In terms of empirical examinations of Waldorf kindergarten education, one review paper examined the extant data on Waldorf schools in the United States available from online resources (Larrison et al., 2012). Student outcomes on standardized tests revealed that Waldorf students in the early grades fell below district averages in California; however, by grade 8 the scores of Waldorf students were on par with some of the top schools in the state. In addition, qualitative content analysis of parent comments on a national website regarding Waldorf schools revealed a higher frequency of responses emphasizing a holistic perspective on early education compared to parent comments on demographically similar public schools. However, some parent comments reflected concerns over a lack of state-mandated standards in these schools, indicating some tension between practices in Waldorf education and the standards-based movement.


DeLuca and Hughes (2014) empirically examined the assessment practices of two Waldorf educators as part of a sample of 12 teachers in Ontario spanning several early education traditions (including public education, Waldorf, and Montessori). The two participants from the Waldorf tradition used the metaphor of breathing in and out to describe student learning, where in-breath activities are ones that require students to take in information from the teacher (such as listening to a story) and out-breath activities are ones that encourage students to create and express themselves (such as playing and exploring). The Waldorf kindergarten teacher described the practice of child-study observation, where staff across the entire school observe a student for two weeks without judgment. The faculty then meet to discuss their observations of the student and come up with a “helping question,” worded from the child’s perspective, to further their understanding of the individual’s learning needs (DeLuca & Hughes, 2014). When examining all 12 teachers in the study, these researchers found that although the specific ways they negotiated a balance between academic expectations and students’ developmental readiness varied depending on their curricular orientation, the fundamental commitments that underpinned their assessment approaches remained consistent regardless of tradition. Namely, the majority of the early primary educators maintained commitments to (a) student-centered assessments, (b) knowing children through a practice of observation, and (c) the teaching of academic knowledge and skills (DeLuca & Hughes, 2014).


Use in Public Education


Only one study was retrieved that examined the use of Waldorf-inspired approaches to assessment in public kindergarten contexts. In this study, researchers collected both quantitative and qualitative data across two years on a public elementary school in California to examine the viability of integrating the Waldorf approach in a public education setting (Friedlaender, Beckham, Zheng, & Darling-Hammond, 2015). Although the assessment practices of educators at the kindergarten level were not addressed in detail, the study uncovered some potential challenges to the direct implementation of a Waldorf assessment approach within public schools. First, due to increased accountability pressures, the focal school had to shift toward incorporating mainstream assessment practices such as benchmark assessments to be used each trimester by grade-level teachers. Second, the Waldorf model of education was designed to support student learning with a low student-to-teacher ratio, and the focal school was required to follow the district guidelines of 31 to 33 students per teacher (Friedlaender et al., 2015). The large class sizes within many public school settings make the amount of time required to extensively document each child’s learning journey a challenging feat. In general, the requirement to meet with parents and other faculty members regularly to gather in-depth observational information about each student may be difficult in public education settings given the large class sizes and misalignment with public school policies. Many policy documents concerning assessment do not fully address the gathering of information from parents but rather discuss the dissemination of assessment criteria and student progress to parents (e.g., California Department of Education, 2013; Ohio Department of Education, 2017). The focus of Waldorf on small teacher-student ratios and frequent communication among parents and multiple faculty members is a substantial departure from current public school policies, and this may contribute to the lack of research addressing the integration of these practices within public kindergarten education.


MONTESSORI


In total, 25 sources were identified that described the Montessori approach and history with some mention of assessment within this tradition. In 1901, Dr. Maria Montessori received national acclaim when her students with developmental delays passed state educational tests (Lillard, 2005). Shocked at the poor test performance of students without developmental delays, Montessori then focused on developing a child-centered curriculum that encouraged student choice and freedom, with a driving aim toward developing happy and contributing members of society (Montessori, 1914; Wentworth & Wentworth, 1999). Her program allowed students to self-select among learning materials and activities in order to cultivate their inherent interests, independence, and inner discipline (Ervin, Wash, & Mecca, 2010).


The Montessori environment, called a “children’s house,” had all the functionalities of a real house but with equipment and furniture sized for children (Montessori, 1914). The Montessori materials, each carefully designed to develop sensory and motor functions concurrently with mathematical reasoning and language acquisition (Lillard, 2008), were prepared and placed in the house to enable movement and children’s choice-making (Isaacs, 2015). Children were provided with the time and freedom to contemplate the activities and figure out how things work (Ervin et al., 2010). Current Montessori-inspired programs emphasize a child-centered approach to learning and the idea of the “self-learning child” (Roth & Månsson, 2011). Children are viewed as self-motivated individuals capable of extended periods of concentration who enjoy freedom of movement and choice and prefer purposeful activities to play (Isaacs, 2015; Vaughn, 2002). Emphasis is placed on the exploration and development of both motor and sensory functions from nursery school up to kindergarten, in order to acquaint children with the environment and build intelligence (Montessori, 1914). The tradition calls attention to the phases or “sensitive periods” that children experience when they are open to acquiring particular skills. For example, there is a focus on children’s sensitivity to vocabulary acquisition during the first five years of life (Lillard, 2005).


Several researchers have empirically examined the Montessori approach on student outcomes and reported positive results (e.g., Ansari & Winsler, 2014; Cossentino, 2007; Dohrmann, Nishida, Gartner, Lipsky, & Grimm, 2007; Ervin et al., 2010; Hanson, 1998; Juanga, & Ressureccion, 2015; Kayili, & Ari, 2011; Krafft, & Berk, 1998; Lillard, & Else-Quest, 2006; Lopata, Wallace, & Finn, 2005; Scott, 1999; Vaughn, 2002). In a study involving 23 former Montessori elementary students, 19 high school teachers, and 24 parents, Hanson (1998) found that students from Montessori elementary schools in Minnesota rated above average on measures related to organizational skills, consistent best effort, and respect for teachers and other students. Similarly, Hamilton and Gordon (1978) noted, through observing 28 children in four American Montessori classrooms, that a lack of teacher criticism and interference are associated with high task behavior. Ervin and colleagues (2010), in a three-year study focused on the self-regulation of 127 students in a South Carolina Montessori classroom and 129 students in a non-Montessori classroom, demonstrated that Montessori practices foster positive work habits and internal motivation during kindergarten, first, and second grades. In her yearlong study of three Midwestern Montessori classrooms with nine teachers in total, Vaughn (2002) expanded the concept of self-regulation to address the creation of a community of empowerment by showing how Montessori students regulate their behavior to support a community ethic rather than to please the teacher.  


ASSESSMENT IN MONTESSORI


In a Montessori school, assessment is characterized through careful unobtrusive observations of children’s work, needs, and interests, and developmental scales chart students’ progress in relation to milestone benchmarks (Isaacs, 2015). These observations are used by teachers to inform the selection of future materials and learning activities that help scaffold children to greater independence (Feez, 2009). Montessori materials are accompanied by portfolios of lesson plans and objectives that aim to contribute to the holistic development of each child (Isaacs, 2015). Teachers’ observations also stimulate and inform the process of record keeping, planning for the child’s sensitive periods, and setting individualized learning goals (Isaacs, 2015).


Montessori activities and materials are designed to be self-correcting (Wright, 2010). As such, the materials themselves provide children with the evidence they need to continuously self-assess as they strive to master an activity. Children may notice and correct their own mistakes through repetition (Montessori, 1914). Through the process of self-correction, children train themselves to observe, compare, and make judgments and decisions. Each Montessori activity includes a checklist that can be individualized (Wright, 2010). In addition to the checklist, teachers converse with children about the creative thinking they observed during the activity in order to promote vocabulary comprehension (Isaacs, 2015; Montessori, 1914). A child’s level of engagement and concentration are tracked and combined with tools like Leuven’s Five Levels of Well-being and Involvement Scale (Isaacs, 2015). Observational documents including checklists, brief or extended narratives, and photos contribute to a portfolio of assessments that is shared with parents. Parents are also encouraged to describe their child’s home experiences in order to augment class-based activities and portfolio artifacts (Isaacs, 2015). Assessments are conducted with minimum interference to the child in order to promote student self-regulation (Wentworth & Wentworth, 1999). Teachers provide support only when needed and to initiate children’s learning of new activities (Montessori, 1914; Wentworth & Wentworth, 1999).


With respect to empirical examinations of assessment practices, Roth and Månsson (2011) examined measures of assessment used in Montessori-inspired preschools serving 4–6-year-olds in Sweden. Individual development plans from these schools included 25 pages of learning objectives detailing subject-specific objectives for both academic and developmental learning areas, including math, language, culture (history, geography, and music), practical content (motor, environmental, and personal learning), sensory content, and social development. The Montessori teacher records in the individual development plan whether the child has “mastered” or is still “practicing” each skill. This approach aligns with current perspectives on assessment focused on clear learning objectives and tests of pre-defined skills that are seen in education systems in the United States, Canada, France, and Ireland (Roth & Månsson, 2011). However, these researchers reported that several child-centered ideas from the Montessori tradition have also permeated preschools in Sweden, including individualized instruction, a more relaxed teacher role, self-teaching materials, freedom of movement, and mixed-aged classrooms (Roth & Månsson, 2011).


Use in Public Education


Two articles were retrieved that examined the use of Montessori-related assessment practices in public kindergarten contexts, primarily focused on the use of comprehensive student portfolios. Although the creation of portfolios to document student work is also observed in Reggio Emilia- and Waldorf-inspired educational traditions, articles reviewed here focus on the broad perspective of portfolio assessment articulated by the Montessori tradition (e.g., Isaacs, 2015) that include both pedagogical documentation and teacher-driven assessment measures, such as children’s work samples, teacher checklists, standardized tests, lesson plans, learning objectives, and anecdotal notes. Laski (2013) discussed her experience as a former kindergarten teacher in the United States and the strengths of using comprehensive portfolios for assessment. She discussed the difficulties of finding the time to conduct a range of standardized assessments that painted only a limited picture of student learning. The portfolios allowed multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding and included anecdotal notes, formal assessment results, and artifacts selected by the teacher. She gradually transferred responsibility over to the students for selecting pieces to go into their portfolios, and this self-selection process gave children opportunities to develop their metacognitive and vocabulary skills (Laski, 2013). Coleman (1994) visited classrooms in three schools (kindergarten to grade 3) to examine the recent implementation of portfolio assessments and to see if teachers were using them to identify and develop instructional plans. The teachers responded favorably to the portfolios, commenting that although they were time-consuming to prepare, it helped them relay more concrete information to parents about their child’s abilities. Although it was concluded that the portfolios helped to make assessment more relevant to programming, some problems were also discussed such as needing time to train teachers and the challenge of moving from assessment data to instruction (Coleman, 1994).


While Montessori education values individualization and the promotion of self-regulation, it simultaneously recognizes the importance of developmental milestones and benchmarks, balancing both a student-centered orientation with a standardized developmental approach. Hence assessment in Montessori classrooms complements existing public education practices related to assessment for and of learning, with an emphasis on the reporting and communication of student learning. Moreover, Montessori practices directly encourage the development of students’ abilities to assess their own learning (i.e., assessment as learning) and provide them the necessary tools to improve their learning.


COMPARING TRADITIONS


In reviewing the extant literature related to the assessment traditions of Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf kindergarten classrooms, it is apparent how tightly connected assessment approaches are to each educational tradition. While each tradition has a well-established history, there has also been opportunity for practices to be mobilized across contexts, particularly within public education classrooms. Hence, selecting three traditions for examination in this paper provides an initial way to scan and analyze literature; however, given the complex ways these traditions overlap in practice and context, it is important to compare them to look for commonalities in kindergarten assessment.


In this section, we present a composite overview of assessment in each tradition analyzing commonalities and differences. Across the traditions, there is a consistent commitment to child-centered teaching characterized by developmental learning progressions. While each tradition has a unique philosophy guiding pedagogy and perspectives on learning, child play, social interactions, and individual development (i.e., cognitive, emotional, and physical) remain consistent aspects of kindergarten education. Further, teachers are viewed as critical agents in supporting child development, either by providing direct instruction in the case of public education or by facilitating learning opportunities for children to learn through purposeful and playful experiences. Differences are evident when comparing kindergarten traditions based on their (a) assessment discourses and purposes, (b) reference systems, (c) assessment methods, and (d) uses of assessment information.


ASSESSMENT DISCOURSES AND PURPOSES


The four traditions have varying commitments to assessment discourse. For Reggio Emilia and Waldorf kindergarten programs, assessment and evaluation are not dominant terms. In fact, there is often a resistance toward evaluative practices of young children. However, when assessment is viewed more broadly––as the collection of evidence to monitor, reflect on, and report information about student growth and development––it is evident that all traditions use assessment practices. In both Reggio Emilia and Waldorf traditions, “documentation” is commonly used as the term for describing the collection of artifacts to support observations and discussions about student growth and development. The vast majority of assessment practices across kindergarten traditions are to serve formative and informative (i.e., communicative) purposes. While explicit commitment to assessment discourse and assessment purposes varies between traditions, the use of monitoring, feedback, and communication strategies about student development remain consistent.


As recognized in previous literature, public education has an added purpose of assessment characterized by summative indicators of student readiness for future education. Although assessment in public kindergarten contexts values formative and student-based assessments, there is also a growing emphasis on demonstrating student achievement in relation to developmental and academic standards. Interestingly, summative and large-scale assessments are described much more explicitly within public education contexts, suggesting that public education values summative assessment as a key component of kindergarten education. Hence, while public education endorses formative and informational purposes of assessment like the other three traditions, it also maintains the distinct summative function of assessment. Further, prominence of summative assessments within public kindergarten contexts coupled with the washback of accountability mandates from upper grades may influence and alter teachers’ and students’ engagement with formative assessment processes compared with other traditions.


REFERENCE SYSTEM


A second point of comparison relates to the reference system used across kindergarten traditions to assess student growth and development. Public education systems use both academic and development prescribed expectations based on norm-standards to determine students’ growth within a criterion-referenced system of assessment. In contrast, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf traditions describe student development in relation to the child’s individual progress (i.e., individually referenced). Assessment within these traditions focuses on social and relational development with the aim of providing information to contribute to understandings of the whole child. Montessori maintains an individualized approach to assessment; however, there are clear milestone criteria that demarcate child development and academic learning within this tradition. While each tradition maintains a unique orientation to referencing assessments towards student, developmental, or curricular standards, all engage in assessments that relate to some form of learning goals. However, the primary difference is the use of pre-established versus emergent (i.e., child-directed) learning goals and the relative emphasis on academic versus developmental goals.


ASSESSMENT METHODS


A variety of assessment methods are evident across the four traditions. Table 2 provides a complete listing of the diverse assessment practices described across the traditions, demonstrating the versatility of practices for kindergarten assessment. However, while some traditions use a variety of similar practices, the depth and nature of these practices may not be consistent. For example, there is evidence that public education contexts are beginning to use a Reggio inspired form of pedagogical documentation, yet the degree to which this form of documentation authentically and fully reflects documentation as used in schools that use a Reggio approach is unknown. Moreover, especially in the public education context, the variety of practices reflected in Table 2 does not mean that every public education kindergarten classroom uses all of the practices; rather, the practices listed represent potential assessment methods used in that context as based on the research evidence. Hence, Table 2 should be interpreted with the caveat that the quality and nature of implementation of practices across traditions may be variable and inconsistent, and that more practices does not necessarily mean better assessment of student learning.


Overall, there are trends in the assessment methods used within and across traditions. The Reggio Emilia tradition engages in in-depth pedagogical documentation practices to describe teaching and learning experiences. Similarly, Waldorf uses a child-study approach in which information about a child’s growth and development is obtained and shared across teachers and parents through unobtrusive observation, pedagogical documentation, and parent interviews. Within the Montessori tradition, teachers engage in portfolio assessment that collects evidence through observations using checklists of proficiencies, interviews with parents, and artifacts of student work to describe learning toward milestone criteria. Public education has perhaps the most variable description of assessment methods compared to the other traditions ranging from standardized testing to pedagogical documentation. A growing emphasis within public education assessment processes is the use of formative assessment strategies (i.e., assessment as learning) with students through self-, peer-, and teacher-feedback to support students’ metacognitive and self-regulation abilities. Specifically, assessment as learning has emerged as a subset of assessment for learning to denote the use of assessment to support students’ capacity to learn (Earl, 2003). In kindergarten contexts, this role of assessment is key given the longstanding commitments to developmental readiness, autonomy and independence, and self-regulation. It is evident from previous research that there is some “borrowing” of assessment methods from other traditions (e.g., portfolios, learning stories, pedagogical documentation) as well as from upper-years public education contexts (e.g., testing, observation) resulting in varied methods of assessment that are inconsistent across public kindergarten contexts and used for multiple purposes.



Table 2. Listing of assessment practices by tradition

Assessment Practice

Traditions

Public Education

Reggio Emilia

Waldorf

Montessori

Child-directed learning goals

 

X

X

X

Community-involved conferencing

 

X

  

Developmental and behavioral checklists

X

  

X

Documentation walls

X

X

  

Formal testing

X

   

Learning stories/narratives

X

X

X

X

Observation and anecdotal notes (unstructured)

X

X

X

X

Parent documentation

 

X

X

X

Parent/Guardian conferences and sharing

X

X

X

X

Parent/Guardian interviews

 

X

X

X

Pedagogical documentation

X

X

  

Photos

X

X

X

X

Portfolio of work samples

X

X

X

X

Rubrics

X

   

Standardized assessments

(e.g., DRA, PA)

X

   

Structure observation

X

  

X

Student artifacts

X

X

X

X

Student conversations

X

X

X

X

Student interviews (structured)

X

   

Unobtrusive observation

X

X

X

X

Video

X

X

X

X



USES OF ASSESSMENT INFORMATION


A variety of uses of assessment information are evident across the traditions. All traditions use assessment information to engage in communication and dialogue about student development with parents and other educators. Within Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori traditions there is an expectation of high parental involvement either through focused interviews or conferences about child development or through more formalized commitments within Waldorf’s child study process. Further, within the Reggio Emilia tradition there is explicit effort to engage the extended community in the education and monitoring of students’ learning. Conversely, in a public kindergarten setting communication with parents is largely intended to disseminate information about student strengths and needs, rather than to gather information about students that will further inform their teaching and learning. The assessment information gathered in all traditions is intended to provide information about the child’s development and academic abilities. This information is also used to guide sequential instructional opportunities, as is explicitly the case in public education and Montessori traditions. In addition, assessment information is used to make decisions about future educational placement and readiness for the next level of learning.


TOWARD A COMMON UNDERSTANDING


In this final section of the paper, we bring together commonalities from across the four traditions to articulate common understandings toward kindergarten assessment. While we draw on the four traditions here, our intention is not to directly appropriate or prioritize any one tradition; rather, we aim to articulate broader priorities and processes to guide assessment at the kindergarten level. Specifically, three core priorities and four processes for kindergarten assessment appear consistent across the traditions as outlined in Figure 1. The priorities reflect continuous commitments to kindergarten assessment, while the four processes direct teachers’ specific assessment practices. The processes are articulated as a cycle in which each component influences one another in an iterative and ongoing approach to student assessment.


Figure 1. Priorities and processes for kindergarten assessment


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THREE PRIORITIES FOR KINDERGARTEN ASSESSMENT


Consistent across the research reviewed in this paper were three core priorities for kindergarten assessment: (a) a commitment to child-centered and developmentally appropriate teaching, (b) a continuous embedded formative assessment approach, and (c) the use of multiple methods for gaining assessment information. Building on Hughes and Gullo’s (2010) tenets that kindergarten assessment should be a continuous, comprehensive, and integrative process, the assessment priorities identified in this research further articulate that assessment should be child-centered, developmentally appropriate, and pedagogical. While these priorities have a longstanding history in kindergarten education across the traditions, we argue that heeding these priorities during assessment processes will enhance the reliability and validity of assessment information about student growth and learning.


For example, using child-centered and developmentally appropriate assessment practices enables students to access assessment tasks and, in turn, demonstrate their social, personal, emotional, cognitive, and academic learning. Similarly, integrating assessment activities into pedagogical periods through an embedded formative approach allows students to naturally participate in assessments without requiring additional learning about assessment structures or inducing emotional responses to assessment, which could influence score reliability (McMillan, 2011). As evident through the described assessment processes, integrated assessments do not interrupt student learning or engagement within classroom environments but rather work to describe student learning within context in order to facilitate the sharing and discussion of student learning stories. Consistent with good assessment practices at all levels of education, using multiple sources of evidence on student learning collected through diverse assessment methods promotes greater confidence and validity in assessment information (McMillan, 2011). One anomalous assessment practice to this commitment is the use of standardized assessments within public education contexts. These assessments often occur separate from learning periods, taking on a different form from pedagogical activities.


FOUR PROCESSES FOR KINDERGARTEN ASSESSMENT


Our review of kindergarten assessment literature across four traditions suggests that there are consistent processes that facilitate assessment practices at the kindergarten level. These four iterative processes are: (a) participation in teaching and learning, (b) reconstruction of teaching and learning, (c) engagement in assessment dialogues, and (d) integration of feedback for enhanced teaching and learning. Across the traditions, these are differing approaches to the integration of assessments throughout learning periods from unobtrusive observation to direct withdrawal of students for assessment purposes. Drawing on the dominant formative function of assessment and recognizing Hughes and Gullo’s (2010) assertion that assessment be integrated into pedagogical periods, there is a need for teachers to participate in teaching and learning while finding opportunities (either directly or indirectly) to document student responses to learning opportunities.


Evident across the traditions is the growing emphasis on noticing and assessing changes in student learning behavior during learning periods through pedagogical documentation, observation, and evidence collection. In this way, teachers participate in teaching and learning through the dual role of teacher and assessor. For example, in the Montessori tradition, effective observations of thinking patterns and material manipulation during learning periods, accompanied by checklists and documentation of student skill mastery contributes to teachers’ understanding of student learning and the effectiveness of the pedagogical environment. Similarly, in the Reggio Emilia tradition, teacher observations focus on moments of disequilibrium or conflict to inform the selection and development of pedagogical activities for students. By collecting evidence on both student learning (i.e., changing student behavior within learning contexts) as well as evidence of the learning environment (i.e., learning opportunities within classroom context), teachers develop the foundation for the reconstructing of teaching and learning.


As evident from across the traditions, evidence can be collected in various forms to make learning visible, including video, observational notes, behavioral checklists, rubrics, photographs, work samples, as well as interviews with parents, students, and the student’s classmates. To draw on the Waldorf tradition, the purpose is to create a chronology of evidence through documentation, observations, and conversations. Interestingly, the emphasis across the traditions is largely on qualitative data sources that focus on describing the learner (both developmentally and academically) and the classroom (and at times home) learning environment. Depending upon the educational tradition, evidence of student learning and the learning environment may be referenced to pre-established academic or development standards, as is the case with public education, or to students’ individual interests and previous performance.


Reconstructing teaching and learning works to enable evidence-based assessment dialogues by describing student learning in relation to the classroom pedagogical environment and learning standards. Whether through portfolios, learning stories, child studies, brief or extended narratives, or reports, the process of narrating teaching and learning with attention to students’ individual and group responses to learning opportunities serves as fodder for assessment dialogues. Reconstructing teaching and learning ultimately involves data synthesis—teachers need to mine the collected evidence to identify patterns and trends in students’ development in relation to learning goals (personal or state). This stage involves organizing and selecting key pieces of evidence to articulate child-specific schemas, chronologies of student development, lesson plans and intentions, and changes in the learning environment (i.e., new pedagogies and activities). In this way, the reconstruction accounts not only for child development and learning but also for the environmental and pedagogical influences that supported learning.


Across the traditions there is consistent emphasis on teachers’ developing relationships with students and parents through the sharing of information about student progress (i.e., sharing teachers’ reconstruction of teaching and learning). By engaging in assessment dialogues with students, parents, other educators, and in some cases, community members, all stakeholders can discuss the evidence of student learning to facilitate greater understanding of students’ development in relation to learning expectations and environments. Across the traditions, assessment dialogues occur through various methods including parent-teacher interviews and conferences in Waldorf and Montessori contexts, traditional written assessment and reporting in public education, or Reggio Emilia’s community forums that encourage a wider dialogue about education and student learning. Interestingly, the purposes of assessment dialogues differ slightly between the traditions, with public education and Montessori contexts predominantly serving to report student learning to parents and to address parental concerns. In contrast, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf assessment dialogues work to engage parents and others in joint interpretation of assessment data leading to new perspectives about teaching, student learning, and next steps. Ultimately, the opportunity to engage in assessment dialogues has been shown to promote relationships among stakeholders and encourage teachers, parents, and students to reflect on their own responsibilities to enhance the students’ learning experience (Earl, 2003; Hattie, 2009).


The final process in the assessment cycle is the integration of feedback from assessment dialogues for enhanced teaching and learning. As evident across all traditions, assessment-based dialogues lead to responsive teaching and learning environments that address specific student needs. Such a recursive view of assessment, which is inherent in all traditions, positions assessment as a valuable component of kindergarten education where assessment is derived from and remains responsive to pedagogy and learning. Further, drawn from the Waldorf tradition, it is evident that assessment dialogues can intentionally support teachers’ professional self-reflection, contributing to growth in both teachers and students. Taken together, these four processes represent a cycle of assessment that not only recognizes learning from individual students but also accounts for teacher actions and the learning environment. Collectively, these consistent priorities and processes from across traditions see assessment as interwoven with pedagogy, learning, and curriculum and as a means for sharing classroom experiences across teachers, students, parents, and the community and, most important, feeding back into teaching to provide enriched kindergarten learning.


IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE, POLICY, AND FUTURE RESEARCH


By synthesizing the extant literature on assessment practices native to three different approaches to kindergarten education (Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori), three core priorities and four processes for kindergarten assessment were identified across the traditions. This synthesis marks an important contribution to the field, as few studies have looked beyond a single educational tradition to analyze consistent approaches for kindergarten assessment. Accordingly, the set of articulated priorities and processes derived from this analysis has implications for teacher practice, educational policy, and future research.  


TEACHER PRACTICE


First, the set of priorities and processes articulated through this scoping review provide a sequence for assessment activities in kindergarten teachers’ classrooms that is predicated on various philosophical traditions and supported through the extant literature. While many teachers will already be engaging in several of the processes, there may be stages or strategies articulated through the various traditions that could be used to augment or strengthen existing practices in standards-based educational contexts. Moreover, this scoping review has resulted in a set of specific practices that teachers can begin to integrate into their practice in order to develop new ways to assess student learning (see Table 2). As research has repeatedly identified that teachers in early primary contexts predominantly rely on observational assessment protocols, this listing of strategies is useful in diversifying assessments and more fully capturing student development. Most important, as this is one of the first attempts to compile current research on kindergarten assessment practices and articulate practices that serve both developmental and academic learning aims, this study provides teachers with confidence that they can negotiate both traditional developmental and current academic expectations.


EDUCATIONAL POLICY


This research presents several implications for the development of comprehensive assessment policies for kindergarten education. First, this research points to the complexity of assessment in kindergarten contexts where there is increased pressure to teach and measure academic outcomes while remaining committed to developmental learning. Accordingly, we argue that assessment policies are required specifically for this level of education. We suggest the following tenets when constructing policies for kindergarten assessment:


Articulate commitments to core priorities of kindergarten education: (a) a commitment to child-centered and developmentally appropriate teaching, (b) a continuous embedded formative assessment approach, and (c) use of multiple methods for gaining assessment information.

Understand assessment as a multi-stakeholder (teacher, parents, students, and community) cycle focused on documenting and reflecting on the learner and learning environment.

Enable teacher and student choice in assessment evidence as related to both developmental and academic outcomes.

Value qualitative evidence (i.e., observation, video, photographs, learning stories, etc.) as key indicators of student growth in relation to standards-based curricula, and use qualitative indicators to interpret standardized assessment results.

Recognize the negotiated balance of developmental and academic learning within kindergarten classrooms and the role of students’ developmental learning trajectories as mediating academic progress.

Use evidence of students’ learning to support teacher professional development and enhancements to teacher practice.


Ultimately, while assessment policies need to respond to accountability and standards-based mandates, they also need to recognize the unique developmental context of kindergarten education. Accordingly, we assert that drawing on evidence and practices from across kindergarten traditions to articulate a comprehensive policy will serve both developmental and academic priorities within current kindergarten contexts of public education.


FUTURE RESEARCH


The growing body of empirical work in kindergarten education and the recent emphasis on standards-based education suggest the need to support teachers as they negotiate traditional developmental priorities and increasing academic expectations. The rise of academic standards in relation to accountability-driven education sees a changing assessment landscape, as readiness and benchmark assessments continue to grow within public kindergarten contexts. Understanding how assessment traditions are maintained and integrated in the face of this change remains a crucial area of future research, and the priorities and processes articulated in the current paper can serve as a framework to empirically investigate teachers’ assessment practices in kindergarten classrooms in relation to diverse curricular and pedagogical mandates. Future studies should focus on effective models for teacher learning in kindergarten assessment, specifically as they try to develop a repertoire of assessment practices and understand them in relation to changing curricular priorities. Through continued work in this area, researchers can aim to promote purposeful and productive assessments within standards-based kindergarten classrooms.



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APPENDIX A



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 3, 2019, p. 1-58
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22591, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 6:41:45 PM

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  • Christopher DeLuca
    Queen's University
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOPHER DELUCA is an Associate Professor in Educational Assessment at the Faculty of Education, Queen’s University. His research examines the complex intersections of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment as operating within evolving frameworks of educational accountability and standards-based teaching and learning. His work focuses primarily on developing and enhancing educators’ assessment capacity to better support positive student learning experiences and outcomes. His work has appeared in publications including The Journal of Educational Research and Educational Assessment.
  • Angela Pyle
    University of Toronto
    E-mail Author
    ANGELA PYLE is an Assistant Professor in the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study of the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Her research examines the negotiated balance between academic learning and developmentally appropriate practices in kindergarten classrooms with a specific focus on the implementation of play-based pedagogies. Her work has appeared in Review of Education and Early Education & Development.
  • Suparna Roy
    Queen's University
    E-mail Author
    SUPARNA ROY is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. Her research focuses on cultivating selflessness in students through service- and inquiry-based pedagogies.
  • Agnieszka Chalas
    Queen's University
    E-mail Author
    AGNIESZKA CHALAS is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. Her research interests lie in examining evaluation capacity in museums and education sector non-profits as a necessary first step in improving such organizations’ evaluation practices through targeted capacity building efforts.
  • Erica Danniels
    University of Toronto
    E-mail Author
    ERICA DANNIELS is a PhD candidate in the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study of the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Her primary research interests address the integration of children with disabilities in kindergarten classrooms, the role of play, and the use of play-based learning strategies with this population.
 
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