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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 3, Lesson 2

Informal and Authentic Assessment

Professionals who work with young children particularly infants and toddlers with disabilities need to be aware of informal assessment instruments and strategies. Norm referenced or standardized instruments measure a child's relative standing compared to a large population of children of the same age. This type of measure is valuable for eligibility decisions, but has little value in measuring change and how the child is developing over time. Thus early intervention personnel rely on other forms of assessment to determine goals and objectives as well as to monitor child progress. Next we will discuss more informal and authentic instruments and strategies. Strategies such as observation, portfolios, criterion referenced assessment, curriculum based assessment, and play based assessment will be highlighted.

Criterion Referenced Tests compare the performance of a child to a given criterion and or skill mastery criteria. Criterion referenced tests (CRT) typically are made up of items selected because of their importance in function and in mastering a developmental sequence. Because of the importance of the items, they frequently become teaching targets. The information obtained from a CRT indicates a child's ability relative to a set of specific skills and does not compare a child's performance to a norm group. The results focus on a child's strengths and needs. Criterion referenced measures typically do a better job in identifying functional needs than do norm referenced tests. The Early Learning Accomplishment Profile (ELAP) and the Battelle Developmental Inventory, 2nd Edition (BDI-2) are examples of criterion referenced assessments. Either of these may be used by Early Steps professionals in determining the child outcomes on the IFSP.

Curriculum Based Assessment (CBA) is the practice of obtaining direct and frequent measures of a child's performance on a group of sequentially arranged objectives derived from the curriculum used in the classroom or home. Curriculum based assessment links assessment to curriculum and instruction. The foundation is a sequence of developmental objectives or learner outcomes, which constitutes a program's curriculum. This form of assessment traces a child's achievement along a continuum of objectives within a developmentally sequenced curriculum. This approach is based on direct and frequent measures and is a data based approach to monitoring a child's progress. The Hawaii Early Learning Profile for Infants and Toddlers (HELP) and the Assessment, Evaluation, and Programming System for Infants and Children (AEPS) are examples of curriculum based assessments that may be used in Early Steps programs.

Observation's Contribution to the Assessment Process

Mother and baby on bed

Observation is the most direct method of becoming familiar with the developmental strengths and needs of young children. Observation is a valuable tool that provides information that may not be gathered from standardized methods of measurement. It allows the team members to observe patterns of responses over time instead of a one shot interaction. One of the strengths of observation is that it provides team members with opportunities to use natural environments as the context of the assessment. In addition, individuals can focus on the targeted behavior of interest during the assessment process.

Using Observation as a Strategy for Assessment Information Gathering

  • In using observation as a form of assessment, it is important that early intervention personnel be familiar with developmental guidelines for young children. According to Wortham (2005), there are three major purposes of observation: (1) to understand children's behavior; (2) to evaluate children's development and (3) to evaluate progress. With infants and toddlers, particularly those with delays, the three purposes are often intertwined.
  • For young children who have not mastered the use of expressive language and cannot explain the reasons for their behavior, observers gain a great deal of insight by watching and taking detailed notes. A good observer pays attention to the context as well as the frequency of the behavior, facial expressions of children, their actions, and their reactions.
  • While observing, the observer records information about the child's strengths and perhaps areas of skill that have not been attained. Likewise, observation is an excellent tool to determine progress and accomplishment of certain milestones and goals.
  • A danger in this form of assessment is observer bias. The observer may have a preconceived idea of the behavior which can effect the interpretation.
  • Children may be aware that they are being watched and not perform the behavior of interest.


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