One of the general principles of the National Education Goals Panel is that “Assessments should be tailored to a specific purpose and should be reliable, valid and fair for that purpose” (Shepard, L.; Kagan, S.L. and Wurz, E., 1998, page 5). The purpose of the Connecticut Preschool Assessment Framework is to support children’s learning. The State of Connecticut has identified learning goals for preschool children in a comprehensive curriculum framework. The Connecticut Preschool Assessment Framework derives its validity from its direct connection to Connecticut’s Preschool Curriculum Framework(1999). Over 100 early childhood professionals in Connecticut were asked to review the 77 standards in the curriculum framework and select those they considered most important. From this, 30 key performance standards were identified. Where possible, two of the standards from the curriculum framework were combined into one standard for the assessment framework.
The National Education Goals Panel document also distinguishes the reliability requirements of assessment systems used for different purposes.
Reliability and validity requirements for assessments used to support learning are the least stringent of any of the assessment purposes. Over time, teachers’ assessments become reliable and consequential, in the sense that multiple assessment events and occasions yield evidence of patterns or consistencies in a child’s work, but the day-to-day decisions that caregivers and teachers make on the basis of single assessments are low-stakes decisions. If an incorrect decision is made, for example in judging a child’s reading level to help select a book from the library (this book is too easy), that decision is easily changed the next day when new assessment data are available. Because assessments used as part of learning do not have to meet strict standards for technical accuracy, they cannot be used for external purposes, such as school accountability (1998, page 12).
The Connecticut Preschool Assessment Framework is intended for the purpose of supporting learning, not high-stakes accountability. These “high-stakes” purposes require different sorts of assessment tools that meet different criteria. A program evaluation, for example, typically uses assessment tools that have a high degree of inter-rater reliability. This purpose requires a high level of consistency in testing procedures, which are often inconsistent with the NAEYC guidelines for curriculum-embedded classroom assessment. Furthermore, not all children need to be assessed in research or program evaluation projects. A representative sample of children is usually all that is required for a large-scale program evaluation.
In contrast, all children need to be assessed in order to support teaching and learning in the classroom. Therefore, teachers need to use the Connecticut Preschool Assessment Framework to assess all of the children in their class as they are engaged in typical classroom activities. This contextually embedded assessment model is, by necessity, more flexible and accessible so that teachers may use it easily in their classrooms to assess each of the children. The variability in classroom contexts makes such methods less standardized than tools intended for research or other high-stakes purposes. The National Goals Panel suggests that teachers will become more reliable as they become familiar with and use the performance-based assessment instruments in their classrooms.
In summary, the Connecticut Preschool Assessment Framework is consistent with recommendations for early childhood assessment that are primarily intended to be used by classroom teachers to inform their instructional decisions. This assessment framework describes precisely what preschoolers are expected to learn and be able to do, and offers materials that drive a process for connecting assessment, planning and teaching with a common set of learning objectives.