Today, most teachers are aware of the importance of preventing learning difficulties, and early identification of additional needs that any student might have. That’s what Best Start, the beginning kindergarten assessment, is all about, isn’t it?
I totally believe in such early identification, with one qualification – it needs to start with “screening” – rather than detailed assessments. Once any detailed assessment of a range of skills is given, and evidence is available over several years (sometimes with large numbers of students), that can be used to streamline this process for future years - that would enact formative assessment?
Rather than a long, detailed assessment that may take 45 minutes, evidence from previous years’ data can be used to identify key items that identify students with additional needs. Starting school can be stressful, such streamlining – so that less time is spent on assessment – has the potential to make the start of school much more about relationships, and less about a skills checklist.
For students highlighted by a screening process – THEN more detailed assessments could be completed. Such a process provides snapshots of all students, and detailed assessments for a smaller number – lessening assessment time and increasing learning time at the start of year.
If you want to read more about early identification for the early years, please check out Tim Shanahan’s recent blog post. While American in context, many concepts are similar. Tim provides an overview of the history of early identification – which I would agree with – 25 years ago, identifying a student with additional needs in Year 1 was NOT really acceptable. We’ve come a long way in that time!
At the end of Tim’s blog (scroll or read it), there is a link to a 2018 issue of a journal, Perspectives of Language and Literacy, and this issue is devoted to current research in early identification and prevention – LOTS of additional reading for those who have spare time (Ha! Ha!) or those just passionate about the early years!
I’d actually extend the notion of early identification to way beyond kindergarten, and would suggest that every year, every teacher has a role to play in identifying the needs of their new students. Some needs may be consistent across year, and other needs can vary from year to year.
As students move through the grades, the classroom tasks increase in complexity, as well as length. So, it’s important to provide some snapshot (screening) assessments as you start the year. I know some schools already do this, and that’s great – hopefully it will become commonplace everywhere sometime soon?