School Entry Assessment: June 1997-Dec 2000

Publication Details

To achieve early success at school, a child needs to link what is being taught with past experiences and existing knowledge, understandings and skills. Teachers help children to make these links by learning about each child through observation and assessment, and by designing programmes that enable the child to use existing understandings and skills as they participate in the classroom programme.

Author(s): Di Davies, Research, Ministry of Eductaion.

Date Published: 2001

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Summary

Building on what children know at five

In the five years before they start school, all children develop their own understandings and skills in oral language, literacy and numeracy. This learning is shaped by family and community, and by early childhood settings such as a kindergarten or early childhood service. However, the understandings and skills of a new entrant child are not necessarily consistent with those required in a school context (McNaughton, 1996).

To achieve early success at school, a child needs to link what is being taught with past experiences and existing knowledge, understandings and skills (Clay, 1993). Teachers help children to make these links by learning about each child through observation and assessment, and by designing programmes that enable the child to use existing understandings and skills as they participate in the classroom programme. "After a child has come to terms, in her own way, with the new place and the new people, the teacher encourages her to share experiences with other members of the

group. A good teacher of new entrants needs this important quality of being able to use the unique background of each pupil so that in time she comes to share common experiences with her learning group" (Clay, 1975).

Assessing to find out what children know

Assessment is a vital tool in establishing successful learning. It allows a teacher to identify the skills and understandings children bring into the classroom, and to determine that children are continuing to learn. Assessment also provides opportunities to observe a child and identify the strategies they use, their individual learning styles and learning dispositions. When programme planning is based on accurate assessment, teachers can be confident that the learning they offer children is linked to and builds on existing understandings and skills (Learning Media, 1999). This helps to sustain children's interest and motivation. It also means that teachers do not lose time re-teaching what is known or introducing concepts that cannot be grasped.

The assessment carried out when a child begins school has even greater significance for both the child and the teacher. Teachers use the information gathered on entry to school to identify the learning steps and strategies they should offer in a teaching programme. Teachers also form expectations of what the child can do that are based on this early assessment. Such judgements and expectations can have a significant impact on a child's progress in their first year and in future years as this baseline data will be referred to and may shape the expectations of future teachers.

It is therefore vital that teachers accurately identify the skills and understandings new entrant children have developed, the way they prefer to work and their past experiences. Given the significance of information gathered at school entry, it is clear that children deserve the best assessment available, based on tasks that are relevant, revealing, supportive of what they know, valid and reliable.

Because each child is different, teachers:

  • Find out what the child already knows and can do;
  • Develop programmes, learning environments in contexts that are meaningful to the child;
  • Plan for literacy as a part of all learning;
  • Implement programmes that extend the child's knowledge and understanding;
  • Employ a wide range of appropriate teaching and learning strategies;
  • Continuously observe, assess and record progress to ensure the child is learning and to provide a basis for future learning;
  • Develop and maintain links with the family and community; and
  • Critically reflect and challenge their thinking and practice, for example, the possible limitations of what is currently expected or assumed (Learning Media, 1999).

The School Entry Assessment (SEA) Kit

The SEA package presents three tasks that help teachers to observe how children operate in literate and numerate ways. The tasks support children so they can demonstrate what they understand and what they can do in three key learning areas—oral language, early literacy and numeracy. The tasks provide a framework to describe children's understanding and skills using a consistent set of criteria that can be added to, depending on the child and the setting. While the tasks are focused around three key learning areas, the assessment also provides a teacher with opportunities to interact with individual children, and to closely observe their approach to learning.

This assessment kit was developed in English as the School Entry Assessment (SEA) kit and in Te Reo Māori as Aro Matawai Urunga-a-Kura (AKA). The number of student summary sheets (for AKA) that were returned to the Ministry of Education between July 1997 and December 2000 was very low. This report, therefore, focuses only on the student summary sheets returned for SEA. To get a better idea of why so few summary record sheets are being returned for AKA, the Ministry commissioned a study to examine views about AKA from teachers in different immersion settings. The researchers carrying out the work have also asked teachers how they used the information from AKA. The results of this study will be published in a report later this year.

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