what domains to assess, what assessment procedures to adopt, and how to interpret and use the information derived from the assessments. We make the case throughout this report that the selection and use of assessments, in early childhood as elsewhere, should be part of a larger system that specifies the infrastructure for distributing and delivering medical or educational services, maintaining quality, supporting professional development, distributing information, and guiding further planning and decision making. Thus, while in this chapter we focus on the purposes for which one might choose and use an assessment tool, we return to the theme of purpose in thinking about designing the systems for assessment in Part IV.
A wide range of tools can be used to collect information about children, classrooms, homes, or programs, and thinking about mode of assessment along with purpose is crucial. Assessment modes include medical procedures, observation of natural behavior, participant reports using checklists or surveys, performance in structured versions of natural tasks, and performance on standardized tests. Given the challenges of direct assessment with very young children, it is worth first considering less intrusive modes of assessment if they also meet the purposes formulated.
In the following sections we discuss many purposes for which assessment of children’s learning and development is employed, beginning with several purposes associated with determining the level of functioning of individual children, and progressing to the purpose of guiding instruction, and then measuring program or societal performance. After briefly mentioning research uses—employing assessment to learn more about child development—we present guidance to be kept in mind when assessing for individual child-focused or accountability purposes, drawing on the wisdom of many previous reports from organizations interested in promoting the education and welfare of young children.