Assessing four-year-old children's learning : New Zealand early childhood teachers' purposes, practices and knowledge : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
Assessment is a core element of quality teaching and learning experiences for all children enrolled in early childhood education settings. This study explored New Zealand early childhood teachers’ purposes, practices and knowledge related to assessing four-year-old children’s learning. Understanding teachers’ beliefs related to the assessment of four-year olds is particularly important for supporting effective transition to school and continuity between early childhood and school contexts.
To investigate teachers’ assessment purposes, practices and knowledge, a mixed methods sequential research design was developed. Phase one involved a nationwide survey of early childhood teachers, while phase two involved 14 key informant interviews with teachers representing nine different service types. Interview questions were derived from the survey results. Interviewees were asked to complete the survey and to share three pieces of assessment documentation. Descriptive statistics and thematic coding were utilised to analyse the data gathered. Findings from both phases were used to answer the study’s research questions. Findings demonstrated that teachers recognised the important role of assessment but their assessment knowledge, purposes and practices varied widely. Teachers favoured informal methods and focussed on sharing information with others as a primary purpose for assessment. Teachers’ knowledge of assessment was predominantly developed through their experiences in the sector, thereby conserving established assessment practices. Learning stories were found to dominate teachers’ assessment practices, which focused on specific aspects of children’s learning. Assessing four-year-old children’s learning was considered to be important in relation to transition to school, though challenges associated with sharing assessment information were repeatedly identified.
The findings of this study, along with those of extant research, are of concern because New Zealand early childhood teachers’ assessment purposes, practices and knowledge in relation to assessing four-year-olds appear to be constrained relative to international recommendations for quality assessment in early childhood. One implication is that teachers need additional support to develop their knowledge of assessment and understand its multiple purposes. The development of a repertoire of assessment tools would further assist the advancement of teachers’ assessment practices. Early childhood and new entrant teachers need support to develop their understandings of each other’s assessment methods, so that methods with appropriate fit for purpose can be used to promote children’s successful transition to school. Continued research, professional development and initial teacher education need to play a key role in challenging current rhetoric and misunderstandings around assessment.