Contemporary Perspectives on Research in Assessment and Evaluation in Early Childhood Education

reviewed by Katherine Zinsser - August 24, 2017

coverTitle: Contemporary Perspectives on Research in Assessment and Evaluation in Early Childhood Education
Author(s): Olivia Saracho
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681231522, Pages: 466, Year: 2015
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In recent decades, increasing attention has been paid to the quality and effectiveness of and investment in early childhood education. With municipalities such as New York City rapidly expanding their programs’ capacity to guarantee preschool for all children, the need for valid, reliable, and feasible assessments and program evaluation tools are more critical now than ever. In this edited volume, Olivia Saracho pulls together a broad and at times dialectic literature on current and emerging research on the assessment and evaluation of young children, their teachers, and their educational environments. Across seven parts, the authors offer commentary and analysis primarily appropriate for use by researchers, policy makers and analysts, and higher education faculty in teacher preparation programs.

Part One consists of two introductory chapters authored by the volume’s editor which unpack the who, what, how, and why of assessment and evaluation in broad terms. The author acknowledges that “the volume addresses some of the unresolved issues concerning research on assessment and evaluation in early childhood education” (p. 8). Chapter Two further introduces the purpose of program evaluation, but relies heavily on the guidelines and model of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Given the proliferation of Quality Rating Improvement Systems (QRIS; Tout, et al., 2010), this felt like an overly simplified presentation of a complex and ever evolving field.

Part Two dives into the always prevailing topic of assessing school readiness. In Chapter Three, author Dominic Gullo provides a concise summary of the complexity and controversy in defining school readiness, as well as the implications different definitions have on assessment development and implementation. Chapter Four unpacks further depth to the conflicting goals and operationalization approaches to assessment, discussing historical context and the tension teachers face between accurately assessing and building relationships with children. Chapter Five additionally includes a careful differentiation of assessments for and of learning.

Two chapters in Part Three similarly introduce the quickly evolving field of teacher evaluation and professional development. Chapter Six introduces the difference between global assessments of structural and process quality and the associated popular evaluation tools (ECERS-R and CLASS). Notably, the authors of Chapter Seven continue the discussion of these and related evaluation tools, but from a perspective of how derived data can be used to support teacher professional development. They further remark that there are known limitations to such global observation scales, and in the years since the publication of this volume, such critiques have grown considerably (e.g., Gordon et al., 2015).

Part Four constitutes a deeper dive into observational assessments of transactional relationships. Authors Tsao and Howes extend the discussion from the prior section down into infant and toddler rooms, providing rich examples and detailed comparisons of numerous measures. In chapter 9, the venerable Becky Kochenderfer-Ladd and Garry Ladd argue for the importance of and best practices in assessing children’s peer relationships. Finally, Doris Bergen provides a much needed review of the history and future of play-based assessment techniques. She connects child assessment choices to overarching values and priorities of regulatory bodies, lamenting that the less frequent use of play-based assessment is in part due to fact that “programs are not evaluated on whether children have developed good play skills” (p. 236).

Part Five presents four chapters on child assessments of focused content areas. Three chapters address language and literacy and one addresses mathematics. Chapter 11 provides a nice overview of the interrelated and distinct components of oral language and literacy development, and argues for presenting language as an “object of contemplation” (p. 263) through play and experimentation rather than simply a communication tool. In Chapter 12, author Elizabeth Dunphy introduces the assessment of mathematical knowledge in young children, emphasizing the use of interview techniques to evaluate children’s thinking and understanding. Notably, this chapter additionally addresses the skill development of teachers necessary to successfully implement such assessment techniques. The final two chapters in this section both address assessment of children identified as dual language learners, with Chapter 14 outlining best practices for DLL assessment across content areas, and Chapter 13 specifically focusing on their English language acquisition. Although all four chapters in this section provide critical detail, it is notable what areas are not included in these content specific assessment discussions (e.g., science, social-emotional learning, and approaches to learning.).

The final part before the concluding chapters addresses the important emerging field of technology-based assessment in early childhood. Douglas Clements and colleagues argue for the use of technology to periodically and efficiently assess children’s thinking and learning in formative ways. This chapter provides numerous rich examples of such tools in domains such as language and literacy, as well as mathematics and science, including an in-depth description of the IRT based Lens on Science program (Greenfield & Penfield, 2009). Across two chapters, Susan Barns articulates best practices in computer-based assessments. Chapter 16 reviews children’s development of computer related skills and how their physical and psychosocial development may impact their interactions with testing technology. Finally, Chapter 17 provides helpful reviews of how teachers can analyze and utilize STEM assessment data in the classroom.  In some ways, it’s unfortunate that these tips appear in the last chapter before the conclusion, as many of these recommendations and approaches could benefit assessment across domains.

Although not necessarily aimed at an audience of classroom practitioners or program administrators, missing from this edited volume was a discussion of the practicality of different approaches to assessment and evaluation and/or the cost of inadequate implementation or support. In conclusion, Saracho has curated a vital snapshot of our present knowledge and best practices associated with the assessment and evaluation of young children and their learning environments. In the rapidly evolving and at times contentious arena of assessment in early childhood, this text can serve as a solid foundation, introducing readers to both the vital need for such tools as well as the tension around their use and misuse.


Tout, K., Starr, R., Soli, M., Moodie, S., Kirby, G., & Boller, K. (2010). Compendium of Quality Rating Systems and Evaluations: The Child Care Quality Rating System (QRS) Assessment. Administration for Children & Families.

Gordon, R. A., Hofer, K. G., Fujimoto, K. A., Risk, N., Kaestner, R., & Korenman, S. (2015). Identifying high-quality preschool programs: New evidence on the validity of the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale–Revised (ECERS-R) in relation to school readiness goals. Early Education and Development, 26(8), 1086–1110.

Greenfield, D. B., Dominguez, M. X., Fuccillo, J. M., Maier, M. F., Greenberg, A. C., & Penfield, R. (2009). Development of an IRT-based direct assessment of preschool science. In Biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Denver, CO (Vol. 69).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 24, 2017 ID Number: 22143, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 12:18:22 PM

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