Several years ago, we started using the term “performance monitoring” instead of “progress monitoring”.
And while we accept and agree that we can all get caught up in words too often, we also know that words carry a great deal of meaning.
Our words, however, carry our emotions, our dreams, and even our baggage. So our thinking was to broaden the conversation around what was expected of children, providers, programs, states, and even ourselves as we continue our individual journeys of “growth.”
In particular, we have concerns about the phrase progress monitoring and how much it really leads to growth.
When the word progress is used, we tend to see the following practices:
- Greater value placed on vertical learning rather than horizontal learning. Emphasis is on learning the next step, often in a rapid sequence, as opposed to focusing on how to help children apply skills across contexts or in more functional ways.
- Greater emphasis is placed on the acquisition of new skills, which are targeted for an age or grade. Outcomes such as learning standards and standardized test items are prioritized over soft skills and/or forming friendships.
- Greater effort to quantify and increase any and all aspects of growth (i.e., always thinking having more of something is better than having less). For example, pushing children to have more “grit” at all costs even though more of this quality could result in violation of rules or laws if the nuance of this trait is not fully understood.
When thinking about progress monitoring, we’re particularly concerned with an oversimplified view of development. This view is then translated into district, state, and federal policies that guide how children’s unique attributes, skills, and dispositions are measured over time.
We, therefore, have become increasingly worried about some of the assessment measures being developed using Race to the Top dollars as well as how some states are constructing teacher evaluation systems using a traditional approach to progress monitoring.
So what is growth? What is progress?
If a child learns one more skill, is that progress? What about a child who from time one to time two needs less assistance, is that progress? How about a child with a degenerative condition who maintains functional skills over time, is that progress?
In reality, all of these are indicators of progress; however, only changes in scores are likely to be considered as evidence of growth (aka progress).
We also have concerns about how progress is subsequently measured. In particular, we worry about the sensitivity and technical adequacy of available tools; the skills of those who administer the assessments; how data are used for high-stakes decision making, etc. etc.
Critical issues, such as these, are rarely answered and/or addressed. Rather, mandates are made, policies created, and procedures adopted, with little recognition of the idea that garbage in means garbage out.
Before moving into solutions, we share a few things “we know for sure” (to borrow from Oprah Winfrey):
- Development in the early years is highly variable and highly interdependent.
- Development and learning are impacted through transactions (complex interactions between the child, adults/peers/siblings, and the environment), not through bi-directional interactions (just the child and an adult, or just the child and a toy).
- Early learning programs, no matter how high in quality, cannot protect children from all the risk factors they may face (e.g., hunger, poverty, housing insecurity, lack of access to medical care, medical diseases or disabilities, etc.).
- Children’s growth over time should be measured within the context of their daily influences, including all social and physical environmental variables.
- There is a lack of assessments that meet recommended practice standards and which are sensitive to young children’s growth and development over time – even the best measures have limitations and are not the ones typically chosen or mandated.
- Collecting more data that can’t or won’t be used to inform instruction doesn’t improve instruction.
And as we see agencies, districts, and states create and/or revise teacher evaluation systems (at all levels, including institutions of higher education) our collective anxiety rises. We don’t see these known facts being considered as policies and mandates are being created.
That said, don’t misunderstand – we believe in accountability, but we also believe in evaluation efforts that (a) take into account all the variables that influence development and learning, (b) are built upon encouragement and support vs. fear and punishment, and (c) that enhance instruction and do not distract from it.
So what is the SOLUTION? How can each of us be a part of the Solution?
As with anything complex – there isn’t an easy answer. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t an answer. We just need to address the situation from multiple angles and we need to be strong in our advocacy of “What We Know for Sure.”
We can begin by using the phrase performance monitoring instead of progress monitoring. Performance is more in line with authentic assessment, while progress is more in line with standardized testing and/or accountability mandates.
Further, when the word performance is used, we tend to see the following types of practices:
- Vertical and horizontal learning are seen as important (i.e., promotion of learning the next step in a sequence as well as a focus on generalizability and functionality).
- The diversity and variability of early development is acknowledge and valued.
- Quantitative and qualitative data are considered useful in making data-driven instructional decisions.
Second, we have created a few tips with recommendations for major stakeholders (parents, providers, administrators). The tip sheets offer suggestions for initial steps stakeholders can take toward authentic assessment practices and performance monitoring.
Lastly, as you begin to explore and use performance monitoring as a key early childhood assessment, the following resources may prove to be useful:
- Early Childhood Assessment Primer: Educate yourself and others on what different assessment terms mean. The complete primer contains definitions of over 100 common early childhood assessment terms and is free for ECE Solutionary Members. You can begin to educate yourself and others on what 25 different assessment terms mean with a free sampler pack (click here).
- 101 Things You Can Assess Using Blocks (infographic): This is a “simple” solution to the pressure to assess so many skills, for so many children! Get some blocks, dump them on the floor, and guess what? You can assess just about anything you need by playing with blocks.
- Authentic Assessment Procedural Fidelity Measure: Early childhood recommended practices suggest that authentic assessment strategies should be used in gathering information about young children to plan and revise instruction. This tool can be used by teaching teams and administrators to rate the authenticity of early childhood assessment practices.
Wherever you begin and wherever you are in your current practices, we encourage you to be aware of the context and associated issues around measuring progress, or for that matter, performance. We all need to continue to press for answers to difficult questions and solutions to complex issues.
P.S. BONUS RESOURCE
With gratitude to Brookes Publishing for allowing me and my co-authors to share a chapter on performance monitoring from our text, “Assessing Young Children in Inclusive Settings: The Blended Practices Approach.”
Click HERE to download the sample chapter on performance monitoring.