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Assessing Young Children in Inclusive Settings

Assessing Young Children in Inclusive Settings

The Blended Practices Approach
Authors: Jennifer Grisham-Brown Ed.D., Kristie Pretti-Frontczak Ph.D.   Foreword Author: Stephen J. Bagnato Ed.D., NCSP   Invited Contributors: Teresa L. Brown M.Ed., Anna H. Hall Ph.D., Sarah R. Hawkins Ed.D, Sophia Hubbell, Ashley N. Lyons M.Ed., Lydia Moore M.Ed., Carrie Pfeiffer-Fiala M.Ed., Sandra Hess Robbins M.Ed., Julie Harp Rutland M.S., Nicole R. Shannon M.Ed., Whitney Stevenson M.Ed.

ISBN: 978-1-59857-057-1
Pages: 288
Copyright: 2011
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Stock Number:  70571
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To ensure the best possible outcomes for young children with and without disabilities, early childhood educators must enter the classroom ready to conduct all types of early childhood assessment—including determining if children need additional services, planning and monitoring instruction, and determining program effectiveness. They'll get the preparation they need with this comprehensive textbook, an in-depth blueprint for high-quality assessment in today's age of inclusion, standards-based education, and accountability.

Developed by prominent early childhood special education experts Jennifer Grisham-Brown and Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, this book is a natural followup to the bestselling, widely adopted Blended Practices for Teaching Young Children in Inclusive Settings. Future educators of young children will get the research and recommended practices they need to

  • conduct authentic assessment during children's natural routines and play activities, so their true abilities can be accurately measured
  • use assessment to inform effective program planning, both for individual children and groups
  • ensure that their practices are aligned with DEC and NAEYC recommendations
  • involve families as collaborative partners in the whole assessment process, from planning the assessment to determining if the results represent the child's abilities
  • select and use assessment instruments with documented evidence of technical adequacy
  • conduct eligibility assessments and identify children for special services under IDEA
  • assess children with diverse abilities, including children who have severe or multiple disabilities, are from diverse cultural backgrounds, and are dual or multi-language learners
  • engage in assessment to plan and revise quality instruction
  • collect reliable program evaluation data at classroom, program-wide, state, and national levels

Guiding future educators through every aspect of skillful assessment, this textbook gives readers vignettes of common dilemmas teachers may encounter, classroom examples featuring diverse children, and practical aids such as assessment checklists and excerpts from select tools.

An essential textbook for all preservice early childhood educators, this book is also a key resource for a wide range of in-service professionals—from principals and consultants to teacher study groups. Educators will learn how to confidently implement high-quality assessment and reap its benefits: inclusive, family-centered programming that improves outcomes for all children.

A featured book in our Successful Screening and Assessment Kit!

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Review by: Mary McLean, Kellner Professor of Early Childhood Education, Department of Exceptional Education, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"Immediately useful in planning for teaching an assessment class . . . the perfect way to communicate information about current, recommended practices in assessment with an emphasis on utility and authentic assessment."

Review by: Dathan Rush, Associate Director, Family, Infant, and Preschool Program; J. Iverson Riddle Development Center, Morgantown, NC

"A comprehensive and valuable resource for early childhood practitioners . . . addresses both the process and purpose for assessment of all children in inclusive classroom settings".

About the Authors
Stephen J. Bagnato

  1. Introduction
    Jennifer Grisham-Brown & Kristie Pretti-Frontczak
Section I. Recommended Practices
  1. Authentic Assessment
    Whitney A. Stevenson, Jennifer Grisham-Brown, & Kristie Pretti-Frontczak
  2. Family Involvement in the Assessment Process
    Anna H. Hall, Julie Harp Rutland, & Jennifer Grisham-Brown
  3. Recommended Practices for Assessing Children With Diverse Abilities
    Sandra Hess Robbins, Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, & Jennifer Grisham Brown
  4. Recommended Practices for Determining Technical Adequacy
    Kristie Pretti-Frontczak & Nicole Shannon
Section II. Reasons for Conducting Assessment
  1. Recommended Practices in Identifying Children for Special Services
    Jennifer Grisham-Brown, Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, & Sophia Hubbell
  2. Assessment for Program Planning Purposes
    Sarah R. Hawkins, Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, Jennifer Grisham-Brown, Teresa L. Brown, & Lydia Moore
  3. Performance Monitoring within a Tiered Instructional Model
    Carrie Pfeiffer-Fiala, Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, Lydia Moore, & Ashley N. Lyons
  4. Program Evaluation
    Jennifer Grisham-Brown & Kristie Pretti-Frontczak


Excerpted from Chapter 4 of Assessing Young Children in Inclusive Settings: The Blended Practices Approach, by Jennifer Grisham-Brown, Ed.D., & Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, Ph.D. Copyright© 2011 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


This section provides specific recommendations for assessing children who have severe or multiple disabilities, who are from diverse cultural backgrounds, or who are dual- or multilanguage learners. The section provides specific recommendations regarding what and how information is gathered across assessment purposes. The recommendations provided will apply to all of the specified populations of children (children with diverse abilities) unless otherwise specified by one of the following: children with multiple or severe disabilities, children from diverse cultural backgrounds, and children who are dual- or multilanguage learners.

What to Assess

When assessing children with multiple or severe disabilities, teachers need to gather information about the general effects of the disability on typical development to support their interpretations of test results (i.e., determine whether a documented delay should be considered an area of need or if the delay is within the typical trajectory for same-age peers with the same disability). For most children with multiple or severe disabilities, the course of development is different, not necessarily slower (Ferrell, 1998). For example, research has shown that children with visual impairments learn things in a different sequence and at a different rate than children who are typically developing. As a general rule, teachers should avoid comparisons between children who are typically developing and children with a disability and should keep in mind that a disability in one area affects a child's abilities or developmental trajectories in other areas.

Gathering information about the child's use of functional skills is critical when assessing young children with multiple or severe disabilities (Browder, 2001). As previously mentioned, teachers should examine function rather than form. For example, an item that measures ability to get from Point A to Point B is a more appropriate assessment of a child's functioning than an item that focuses on specific locomotor skills, such as walking or running. Children may demonstrate the function of the skill by moving around in a wheelchair, crawling, or using a walker. Likewise, an open-ended item that measures a child's ability to communicate his or her wants and needs is more functional than focusing on specific verbal communication skills, such as speaking or pointing. Therefore, teachers should focus on developing comprehensive descriptions of a child's functioning on tasks or skills considered important to the child's present and future performance (Meisels & Atkins-Burnett, 2000).

When assessing children from diverse cultural backgrounds or children who are dual- or multilanguage learners, teachers should gather information about the child's culture and language patterns in the home (Espinosa, 2010; Sandall, Hemmeter, Smith, & McLean, 2005). It would be wise to collect information about the child's learning style and experience with materials, the family's preferences and child-rearing practices, as well as what behaviors and ways of approaching adults are culturally appropriate before conducting screening and assessment (California Department of Education, 2007). Furthermore, teachers should determine who in the child's family speaks or understands which languages and for what purposes (e.g., read the newspaper, watch TV, listen to the radio, talk to friends or socialize). Simply determining the language spoken in the home is not enough. Parent surveys or as recommended by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (Westby, Burda, & Mehta, 2003), ethnographic interviewing, can be used for gathering information regarding the language a child is exposed to, how and when they use various languages, and for gaining a better understanding of the family context and preferences.

Gathering information about the language patterns in the home can provide insight about the acculturation of the child and family. The term acculturation refers to the process in which members of one cultural group adopt the beliefs, behaviors, language, or cultural traits of another cultural group (Schumann, 1978). Understanding the level of acculturation is important, given that young children who are dual- or multilanguage learners are acquiring not just a new language, but a new culture as well. When children experience culture shock, their academic and social behaviors can appear to mirror those of a student with special needs (Grassi & Barker, 2010). Consider the preschool child who is not expected to feed himself at home. At preschool, food is placed in front of the child with the expectation that he will feed himself. The child might scream, cry, or simply "shut down" out of fear or frustration, not understanding the situation or not being able to perform the task. During the assessment process, teachers might interpret the child's behavior as a number of things that are untrue about the child's abilities (e.g., a fine motor delay, challenging behavior, sensory processing issue). Box 4.3 outlines further examples of behaviors exhibited by dual- or multilanguage learners experiencing culture shock.

Behaviors exhibited by dual or multilanguage learners experiencing culture shock
  • Constantly asking to go to the bathroom or the school nurse
  • Crying or exhibiting signs of depression
  • Throwing chairs or books across the room
  • Being unable to stay focused on tasks
  • Falling asleep during class
  • Exhibiting outbursts of anger, violence, frustration, or sadness
  • Getting into fights at recess
  • Leaving the classroom or asking to go home
  • Being out sick from school for many days
From Grassi, E., & Baker, H.B. [2010]. Culturally and linguistically diverse exceptional students: Strategies for teaching and assessment. Copyright © 2003 by SAGE Publications. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.

Finally, when assessing the language skills of children who are dual or multilanguage learners, it is critical to gather information about the child's language acquisition for each language the child speaks and avoid comparisons with children who are native English speakers (Goodz, 1994). Teachers should determine whether the child who is a dual- or multilanguage learner has an age-appropriate level of vocabulary and syntax in his or her native language in order to evaluate the child's English language acquisition. If there is no communication disorder in the child's native language, then the likelihood is that there is no communication disorder. If possible, another strategy is to compare children who are dual- or multilanguage learners with same-age peers who are also dual- or multilanguage learners. If the child is acquiring English at the same rate as other nonnative English speakers of the same age, then chances are there is no significant communication disorder. In other words, the likelihood of both children exhibiting a communication disorder at the same rate is small. That being said, when making comparisons between children, teachers should consider the length of time each child has been exposed to the new language because children spend a predictable amount of time in each stage of the language acquisition process (Haynes, 2006).

How to Assess

The remainder of the section provides recommendations for how transdisciplinary teams should approach the assessment process for children with diverse abilities (i.e., those who have multiple or severe disabilities, who are from diverse cultural backgrounds, or who are dual- or multilanguage learners). Teachers need to consider the influences and biases inherent to the assessment process, integrate and use interchangeable cuing systems and alternative materials, and allow children to provide alternative responses.

Influences and Biases

When assessing young children with diverse abilities, teachers should consider influences and biases created by both the assessment setting or situation and those who are conducting the assessment. Using an authentic assessment approach (i.e., familiar adults in familiar settings) is critical to the success of the assessment process. Research has shown that when conducting assessments of young children who have severe or multiple disabilities, who are from diverse cultural backgrounds, or who are dual or multilanguage learners in familiar settings, familiar adults are able to elicit better performance and more elaborate responses (Barkley, 1982; Copenhaver-Johnson & Katz, 2009; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1984).

When gathering information for a child who is from a diverse cultural background or who is a dual- or multilanguage learner, teachers should match the child with an examiner who is knowledgeable about the child's culture and who speaks the same language (McLean, 2000). Furthermore, the examiner should understand the language acquisition process. It is important the examiner have a firm understanding of the types of grammatical, phonological, and discourse errors that dual- or multilanguage learners typically make as well as the common errors made in interlanguage (Grassi & Barker, 2010). The term interlanguage refers to a made-up linguistic system developed by a child who is learning a second language in which the child uses language transfer, overgeneralization, and simplification to approximate the target language while preserving features of the native language. When conducting the assessment, if it is not possible to find someone who is knowledgeable about the child's culture, who speaks the same language, or who understands the language acquisition process, the team should at the very least, arrange for a one-on-one situation with an interactive adult, caregiver, or teacher. High-context situations, such as a one-on-one interaction, can enhance receptive language abilities as well as increase the likelihood of expressive speech (Copenhaver-Johnson & Katz, 2009).

Interchangeable Cuing Systems

Teachers should also try to incorporate interchangeable cuing systems when assessing children with diverse abilities. Assessments should be administered in the mode of communication most commonly used by the child (Espinosa, 2005). Often, the mode of communication used by children with diverse abilities is nonverbal. Teachers should incorporate the use of picture communication systems, augmentative communication devices, object and tactile cues, and gestures or sign language when appropriate. Nevertheless, teachers should beware of translating standardized verbal tests into any alternative mode of communication. For example, sign language is not a precise equivalent of spoken language, so translation can invalidate the standardization of test procedures (Schum, 2004).

For children who are dual- or multilanguage learners, assessments should be administered in the child's native language. Keep in mind, again, that translation is not always an exact science. Sometimes words or phrases can sound inappropriate and even offensive to another culture (Fabri & Freidel, 2008). If an English language assessment is translated into another language, the assessment should be carefully reviewed for linguistic and cultural appropriateness by someone who understands the language and culture and who is well versed in the complex issues of both assessment and translation (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2009). When translation is not available, nonverbal cuing systems paired with multiple visual or gestural cues can support the assessment of young children who are dual- or multilanguage learners.

In addition to using interchangeable cuing systems, the manner in which cues are represented should be adjusted to match the needs of the child. For example, children with receptive language deficits will benefit when test questions, instructions, and commands are short, concrete, and repeated (Zentall, 1988). For children with hearing impairments, teachers should ensure the administration of any auditory information is within the child's acuity level. Pairing appropriate cues with reinforcement can help improve motivation and, therefore, test performance for children with behavioral disabilities (Singh, Barto, & Chentanez, 2005). When using reinforcers, teachers should consider the interests and preferences of the child. For example, for children with autism, repetitive stimulation (e.g., strobe light, vibration, rocking) can be more motivating than typical primary reinforcers (e.g., food; Freeman, Frankel, & Ritvo, 1976; Margolies, 1977).

Alternative, Flexible Materials

When assessing young children with diverse abilities, teachers also need to utilize alternative and flexible materials. Choosing materials that are a match for the child's capabilities and that allow for flexibility in the assessment process will give children with diverse abilities multiple ways of accessing the test content. For example, when children have visual impairments, teachers should choose materials that provide tactile information or large, contrasting visual displays. For children with behavior disorders, instruments with more manipulative items and shorter duration of tasks are an appropriate choice (Shaw, 2008).

Specifically for young children who have diverse cultural backgrounds or who are dual- or multilanguage learners, teachers should use materials that align with the child's cultural or linguistic background. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (2005) recommends a systematic, observational assessment process incorporating culturally and linguistically appropriate tools as the primary source of guidance. In other words, when using multiple assessments, teachers should rely more heavily on those which are 1) observation based and 2) culturally and linguistically appropriate for the child (Espinosa, in press). If the transdisciplinary team has enlisted the support of a "cultural guide" who knows and understands the child's language and culture, that person can help determine the appropriateness of assessment tools by examining them for cultural bias.

Alternative Responses

When allowing for alternative responses, teachers should consider the strengths of the child and attempt to align the response options with the child's unique set of skills (Neisworth & Bagnato, 2004). For example, instruments that emphasize nonverbal procedures, such as pointing to pictures or signaling choice with an eye gaze are appropriate for children with communication disorders or who are nonverbal. For children with motor impairments, teachers should acknowledge and verify movement responses that are approximations of standard responses and appear to demonstrate intent (Robinson & Fieber, 1988). Sometimes, incorporating materials that are familiar to the child such as pictures, toys, or objects from the child's home can encourage children who are from diverse cultural backgrounds or who are dual- or multilanguage learners to narrate stories or role-play events to show what they know and can do (Copenhaver-Johnson & Katz, 2009; Hills, 1992). Allowing children to draw their responses is an alternative option. When children produce verbal responses, teachers should focus on the function or content of the response rather than the form. Finally, children with diverse abilities should be given the option of using adaptive equipment, augmentative communication devices, or other supportive technologies to accommodate their responses during the assessment process.