The IELS decided to assess the “whole child” because it is universally agreed among early childhood experts that the child is developing simultaneously in multiple interactive domains. The IELS targets those areas of early learning and development associated with later success in school and beyond. Children's emergent literacy, emergent numeracy, and self-regulation knowledge and skills were measured directly via a play-based assessment presented on a tablet in English during the 2018 Pilot. This assessment also directly assessed social emotional development through the measurement of two skills that underlie the development of empathy: emotional identification and emotional attribution. Parents and teachers rated children's cognitive, behavioral, and social emotional development, providing indirect assessment data. Parents also supplied contextual information on the home environment and the child's experiences with early childhood education and care (ECEC).
Illustration: The Four Early Learning Domains Assess in the Study
In this first pilot cycle, a highly trained assessor provided each child with a tablet to use and worked with each child one-on-one during the session. On the tablet, the child met Tom and Mia, two children their age that wanted to play with them. Together with Tom and Mia, the children moved through the assessment at their own pace, with the assessor providing guidance as needed. Tom, Mia, and a narrator explained the activities in English to the children. Practice activities ensured that children could comfortably work with the tablet before the assessment began. The assessment was administered over two days during which four domains were presented: emergent literacy, emergent numeracy, self-regulation, and empathy (emotional identification and emotional attribution). Children moved through two domains on the first day and the other two domains on the second day. Children could take breaks as needed, but were offered a break between domains. Each day’s session took approximately 30 minutes, depending on how quickly the child moved through the activities on the tablet.
Three skills related to later reading achievement were included in the assessment: listening comprehension, vocabulary, and phonological awareness. As this is an assessment of emergent literacy, no reading was required. A narrator read aloud all the questions and response options, which were distinguished from one another with colorful pictures. The children, along with Mia and Tom, listened to the story and then answered comprehension questions by touching their choice on the tablet. They were also asked to choose the best synonyms for presented words to indicate their vocabulary knowledge. Lastly, the children demonstrated their knowledge of beginning, middle and ending sounds.
Five aspects of emergent numeracy were covered in the assessment: numbers and counting, working with numbers, measurement, shape and space, and patterns. The activities on the tablet were designed for five-year-olds and did not require any formal instruction. For example, in the measurement subdomain, children were not required to measure things, but rather to show understanding of concepts like larger, smaller, more and less. The children interacted with the tablet to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by touching colorful pictures and dragging and dropping objects.
Three basic self-regulation skills were assessed. The first self-regulation game assessed the child's working memory. Working memory involves remembering and manipulating information. The second self-regulation task gauged how well a child can switch rules when playing a game; a skill known as mental flexibility. The final self-regulation task assessed the child's ability to inhibit action. Each of these games took just a few minutes to play and were designed to be fun for the children.
Empathy refers to the ability to understand how others feel. This skill allows us to respond to others in appropriate ways. In an innovative new task based on Strayer's 19931 work, children were presented with different stories and then asked to indicate on the tablet how the characters in the stories feel (emotional identification). Children were also asked to report how they themselves feel about each situation presented in the stories and why (emotional attribution).
Parents and teachers of the children in the study were asked to complete an online survey (Spanish and paper versions were available upon request) to provide information about the child’s family and early childhood education and care (ECEC) background and skills. In this way, an indirect assessment of children’s social emotional skills, such as empathy, trust, and prosocial skills, along with an indirect assessment of children’s early literacy, early numeracy, and self-regulation skills was obtained. Combining the information from the direct child assessment and the indirect assessment provided by adults allows for a more comprehensive picture of the child’s knowledge and skills in a variety of settings.
Parents provided the following demographic and contextual information:
Parents were asked to report on their child's skills and competencies. They were also asked to describe their family's demographic characteristics and home learning activities. They answered questions about their child's early childhood education and care (ECEC) and extra-curricular activities. This information helps us to understand the child's everyday experiences and relate them to their current skills and development.
The first part of the teacher survey was brief and asked the teacher to report on his/her background and professional training. The second part of the survey had to be completed out for each study child. The teacher was asked to rate each study child’s skills and development, using many of the same questions asked of parents to obtain a comprehensive picture of what skills the child evidences in different settings.
1 J. Strayer. (1993). Children’s Concordant Emotions and Cognitions in Response to Observed Emotions. Child Development, 64(1), 188–201