Early Childhood Development. Using A Developmental Checklist 1

Early Childhood Development

CE300: Observation and Assessment in Early Childhood

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Using a Developmental Checklist



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Go to http://media.pearsoncmg.com/pcp/pls_0558982484/index.html

Select the third video titled “Two Year Olds Playing With Toys”

After watching this week’s Web Resource video, Two Year Olds Playing with Toys , pick one of the children and complete the following:

Fill out the Developmental Checklist (attached).

Also answer the following questions:

1. Which child did you observe in the video to complete the Developmental Checklist?

2. What did you learn about this child’s development?

3. Identify other non-standardized assessments you would you like to complete. Explain why you selected the specific assessments and in what instance you would use these.

4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using non-standardized assessments?

Reference text from the course textbook for this topic is also attached:

Hardin, B. J., Wortham, S.C. (2015) Assessment in Early Childhood Education (7th ed.).  [Vitalsource Bookshelf Online].  Retrieved from https://kaplan.bitalsource.com/#/books/9781323290804/

In-text citation: (Hardin & Wortham, 2015)

Developmental Checklist

Early Childhood Development

(By age two)

Child Name_________________________________ Age__2_______________

Observer__Lew Wirt________ Date__September 27, 2016___

Does the child… Yes No Comments

Walk alone? _____ _____

Bend over and pick up toy without falling over? _____ _____

Seat self in child-size chair? _____ _____

Walk up and down

stairs with assistance? _____ _____

Place several rings on a stick? _____ _____

Place five pegs in a pegboard? _____ _____

Turn pages two or three at a time? _____ _____

Scribble? _____ _____

Follow one step directions involving something

familiar (e.g.: give me ____) _____ _____

Match familiar objects? _____ _____

Use spoon with some spilling? _____ _____

Drink from a cup holding it with one hand? _____ _____

Chew food? _____ _____

Take off coat, shoe, and socks? _____ _____

Zip and unzip large zipper? _____ _____

Recognize self in mirror? _____ _____

Refer to self by name? _____ _____

Imitate adults in play? _____ _____

Help put things away? _____ _____

Ask for desired items by name? _____ _____

Answer to question “What’s that?” _____ _____

Make some two word statements? _____ _____

1. Which child did you observe in the video to complete the Developmental Checklist?

2. What did you learn about this child’s development?

3. Identify other non-standardized assessments you would you like to complete. Explain why you selected the specific assessments and in what instance you would use these.

4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using non-standardized assessments?


Allen, K.E. & Marotz, L.R. (2003). Developmental profiles: Pre-birth through twelve, 4th ed.

Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Learning.

Hardin, B. J., Wortham, S.C. (2015) Assessment in Early Childhood Education (7th

ed.).  [Vitalsource Bookshelf Online].  Retrieved from

This is Chapter 7 from the textbook:

Hardin, B. J., Wortham, S.C. (2015) Assessment in Early Childhood Education (7th ed.).  [Vitalsource Bookshelf Online].  Retrieved from https://kaplan.bitalsource.com/#/books/9781323290804/

CHAPTER 7 Checklists, Rating Scales, and Rubrics

Benjamin LaFramboise/Pearson

Chapter Objectives

As a result of reading this chapter, you will be able to:

1. Discuss how checklists are designed and used with young children.

2. Explain how teachers evaluate and assess with checklists.

3. Discuss types of rating scales and how they are used with young children.

4. Describe types of rubrics and how they are designed and used.

5. Explain how to ensure the quality of checklists, rating scales, and rubrics.

In this chapter, we discuss another type of evaluation strategy that involves the use of teacher-designed instruments: checklists, rating scales, and rubrics. Because checklists are used more extensively than rating scales by infant–toddler, early childhood, and primary school teachers, we discuss them first. A description of rating scales follows, so that the reader can understand how they are designed and used and how they differ from checklists. Rubrics are used most commonly with performance assessments. They will be discussed in that context.

How Checklists Are Designed and Used with Young Children

Checklists are made from a collection of learning objectives or indicators of development. The lists of items are arranged to give the user an overview of their sequence and of how they relate to each other. The lists of items are then organized into a checklist format so that the teacher can use them for various purposes in the instructional program. Because the checklists are representative of the curriculum for a particular age level, they become a framework for assessment and evaluation, instructional planning, record keeping, and communicating with parents about what is being taught and how their child is progressing.

Using Checklists with Infants, Toddlers, and Preschool Children

Children in the years from birth to age 8 move rapidly through different stages of development. Doctors, psychologists, parents, and developmental specialists want to understand and monitor the development of individual children and groups of children. The developmental indicators for children at different stages and ages have been established, and lists and checklists of these milestone indicators can be used to monitor development. Many types of professionals use a developmental checklist format to evaluate a child’s development and record the results.

Developmental checklists for young children are usually organized into categories of development: physical, cognitive, language, and social and emotional. Physical development is frequently organized into fine motor skills and gross motor skills. Cognitive, or intellectual development might include language development. Some checklists have language development as a separate category. Social development checklists can also be organized to include emotional development and development of social skills. Figure 7-1 shows developmental milestones at 6 months.

When a special needs population is being assessed, adaptive developmental skills such as feeding skills, dressing skills, etc., are part of the checklist.

Preschool teachers use checklists to evaluate and record preschoolers’ developmental progress. The individual child’s developmental progress provides important clues to the kinds of experiences he or she needs and can enjoy. For instance, the teacher may monitor the child’s use of fine motor skills. After the child is able to use the fingers to grasp small objects, cutting activities may be introduced. In language development, the teacher can evaluate the child’s speaking vocabulary and use of syntax and thus choose the best stories to read to the child.

Teachers sometimes use checklists to screen children who enter preschool programs. Developmental or cognitive tasks, including adaptive skills, are used to better understand the strengths and emerging skills of children, and the challenges of children with special needs. Because these checklists include behaviors that are characteristic of a stage of development, children who do not exhibit these behaviors can be referred for additional screening and testing (National Training Institute for Child Care Health Consultants, 2010).

Checklists are also used to design learning experiences at the preschool level. The teacher surveys the list of learning objectives appropriate for that age group of children and uses the list to plan learning activities in the classroom. These checklists can be used to assess the child’s progress in learning the objectives and to keep records of progress and further instructional needs. When talking to parents about the instructional program, the teacher can discuss what is being taught and how their child is benefiting from the learning experiences.

FIGURE 7-1 Important Milestones at six months

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, March 27). Important milestones: Your baby at six months. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-6mo.html

Using Checklists with School-Age Children

The use of checklists for primary-grade children is very similar to their use with preschool children. In fact, curriculum checklists can be a continuation of those used in the preschool grades to monitor progress. However, there are two differences. First, fewer developmental characteristics are recorded, and cognitive or academic objectives become more important. Second, school-age checklists become more differentiated in areas of learning. Whereas teachers are concerned with motor development, language development, social and emotional development, and cognitive development at the preschool level, at the primary level, curriculum content areas become more important. Thus, with primary-grade checklists, objectives are more likely to be organized in terms of mathematics, language arts, science, social studies, and physical education (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014; Gerber, Wilks, & Erdic-Lalena, 2010). Checklists that can be used quickly are a particular advantage to classroom teachers because of time restraints in the daily schedule.

Curriculum objectives become more important in the primary grades, and assessment of progress in learning may become more precise and segmented. Checklist objectives may appear on report cards as the format for reporting the child’s achievement to parents. Likewise, the checklist items may be representative of achievement test objectives, state-mandated objectives, textbook objectives, and locally selected objectives.

Using Checklists to Assess Children with Special Needs

Checklists can be used with children who have exhibited developmental delay and who are served in intervention programs. The components of such a system include tracking the child’s growth and development through ongoing assessment, documenting and monitoring child growth for caregivers and other professional staff, and providing a structure for families to develop and monitor goals for their children (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). Checklists in this context can be used with a family portfolio, developmental guidelines and checklists, and summary reports of the child’s progress. Because children with disabilities—especially those with moderate to severe disabilities—may progress at a slower rate than children with typical development, and gifted children may progress faster, checklists can be especially effective at monitoring children’s progress in smaller increments.

Also, checklists can be used to understand the first and second language development of children who are English language learners (ELLs). Checklists can be part of an integrated assessment system already used in the classroom setting that has multiple purposes, including continuous assessment of children’s language development progress.

How Checklists Are Designed

Checklists of developmental and instructional objectives have been used in education for several decades. When educators and early childhood specialists worked with Head Start and other programs aimed at improving education for special populations of students, they developed outlines of educational objectives to describe the framework of learning that children should experience. Since that time, checklists have been further developed and used at all levels of education. Reading series designed for elementary grades include a scope and sequence of skills, and many school districts have a list of objectives for every course or grade level. The scope of a curriculum is the different categories that are included, while the sequence is the individual objectives that appear under each category.

Steps in Designing Checklists

A checklist is an outline or framework of development and curriculum. When designing a checklist, the developer first determines the major categories that will be included. Thereafter, development follows four basic steps:

1. Identification of the skills to be included

2. Separate listing of target behaviors

3. Sequential organization of the checklist

4. Record keeping

Identification of the Skills to Be Included

The teacher studies each checklist category and determines the specific objectives or skills to be included. Using established developmental norms or learning objectives, the teacher decides how to adapt them for his or her needs. For example, on a checklist for language development and reading under the category of language and vocabulary, the following objectives might be included:

Listens to and follows verbal directions

Identifies the concept of word

Identifies the concept of letter

Invents a story for a picture book

Separate Listing of Target Behaviors

If a series of behaviors or items is included in an objective, the target behaviors should be listed separately so that they can be recorded separately. For the objective of identifying coins, the best way to write the item would be as follows:






Conflicts About Informal Assessment Results

Mary Howell and Francesca Carrillo are having a heated argument in the teachers’ lounge. Mary teaches first grade, and Francesca teaches second grade. At issue is the checklist from the first grade that is placed in students’ folders at the end of the year, before they are promoted to second grade. Francesca’s complaint is that the first-grade teachers’ assessments are inaccurate. They have indicated that students accomplished first-grade objectives, but these objectives have to be retaught in the second grade because the students either never knew them or forgot them over the summer.

Mary clearly is offended that her professionalism has been questioned. She defends the process by which first-grade teachers determine whether the children have learned the objectives. Josie, another teacher sitting nearby, says nothing. Under her breath, she mutters, “It’s all a waste of time. I wait until the end of the year and then mark them all off, anyway.”

After Mary and Francesca have left, the conversation about the merits of using checklists for assessment and record keeping continues. Gunther Sachs, a third-grade teacher, supports the use of checklists for evaluating the students. He observes that he uses the checklist record when having conferences with parents. He believes that the parents gain a better understanding of what their child is learning in school when he can tell them how the child is progressing on curriculum objectives listed on the checklist. Lily Wong, another third-grade teacher, strongly disagrees. Her experience with the checklists leads her to believe that record keeping takes a great deal of time that she would rather use to plan lessons and design more interesting and challenging learning activities for her students.

When the teacher is assessing the child’s knowledge of coins, he or she may find that the child knows some of the coins but not others. Information can be recorded on the mastery status of each coin such as developing or mastered.

Sequential Organization of the Checklist

The checklist should be organized in a sequential manner. Checklist items should be arranged in order of difficulty or complexity. If the checklist is sequenced correctly, the order of difficulty should be obvious. For example, the ability to count on a mathematics checklist might be listed as “Counts by rote from 1 to 10.” At the next higher level, the checklist item would be “Counts by rote from 1 to 50.”

Record Keeping

A system of record keeping must be devised. Because a checklist indicates the objectives for curriculum development or developmental characteristics, it must have a method of recording the status of the items. Although many record-keeping strategies have been used, commonly two columns indicate that the child either has or has not mastered the skill or behavior. Two types of indicators frequently used are a simple Yes/No or Mastery/Nonmastery. Another approach is to record the date when the concept was introduced and the date when it was mastered.

The teacher can use a checklist to record individual or group progress. Whether the teacher uses observation, lesson activities, or tasks for assessment, the checklist is used to keep a record of the child’s progress. Checklist information can be shared periodically with parents to keep them informed about what their child is learning or is able to do.

Checklists can also be used to keep a record of all the children in the class or group. The group record lists all the children’s names, as well as the checklist objectives. By transferring information about individual children to a master or group record, the teacher can plan instruction for groups of children as the group record indicates their common needs. Figure 7-2 is a checklist record for a group of students in language development.

Checklists have many purposes. They can be developed with these purposes in mind so that they are effective in meeting the needs of the children, teachers, and parents.

Checklists and Standards

Curriculum objectives are now developed at the state and national levels. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are rapidly replacing standards developed by individual states or national content area organizations in English language arts, mathematics, science, and other subjects. Because today’s children are exposed to a variety of nonprint media through cell phones, electronic tablets, television, videos, and computers, more sophisticated learning skills are required. Checklists can help document these new skills also.

There are major concerns on the part of educators and parents about the rigorous nature of the CCSS. A major difference between traditional curriculum seen as separate and distinct content areas is that the CCSS “emphasize the importance of understanding complex texts, reading informational texts, writing to learn, building vocabulary skills, and creating powerful literacy connections throughout the content areas” (Altieri, 2014). Literacy instruction thus has to be reorganized to include content area literacy connections beginning with kindergarten children. Anchor standards are placed at the beginning of a reading category. They show the basic standards for all grade levels, while the indicators written below are the grade level standards. The indicators are for both reading literature and informational text. Reading skills and content area skills are integrated into the CCSS.

FIGURE 7-2 Language arts: Class record sheet

Preschool developmental checklists and curriculum checklists in the elementary grades are used in the same manner for the same purposes; however, developmental checklists add the developmental dimension to curriculum objectives. Because the young child’s developmental level is an important factor in determining the kinds of experiences the teacher will use, our discussion of the purposes of checklists includes the implications of child development during the early childhood years. Those purposes are as follows:

1. To understand development

2. To serve as a framework for curriculum development

3. To assess learning and development

Checklists as a Guide to Understanding Development

All developmental checklists are organized to describe different areas of growth, including social, motor, and cognitive development. The checklist items in each area for each age or developmental level indicate how the child is progressing through maturation and experiences. When teachers, caregivers, and parents look at the checklists, they can trace the sequence of development and also be realistic in their expectations for children. Checklists for infant and toddler development are significant because of the rapid pace of development in the first 2 years after birth. Figure 7-1 shows an example of a simple developmental checklist for infants at six months.

Checklists as a Guide to Developing Curriculum

Because developmental checklists describe all facets of development, they can serve as a guide in planning learning experiences for young children. Curriculum is not necessarily described as content areas such as science, art, or social studies, as these are commonly organized in elementary school; rather, it follows the experiences and opportunities that young children should have in the early childhood years. Thus, teachers and caregivers who study the objectives on the checklists have guides for learning activities that will be appropriate for their children.

Because checklists are organized by developmental level or age, they can also serve as a guide for sequencing learning. Teachers can match the experiences they wish to use with the checklist to determine whether they are using the correct level of complexity or difficulty. They can determine what came before in learning or development and what should come next. The story retelling assessment sheet for early childhood classrooms shown in Figure 7-3 includes objectives and skills for retelling stories. By studying the items on the checklist and the student’s level of performance in previous experiences, the teacher can plan for instruction and future activities. Moreover, because the checklist is not designed for a particular grade level, a range of levels of reading and writing ability is accommodated. Teachers can attach samples of the student’s work to the checklist for use in a portfolio.

Developmental checklists help teachers and caregivers plan for a balance of activities. With the current emphasis on academic subjects even in preschool programs, teachers feel compelled to develop an instructional program that is limited to readiness for reading, writing, and mathematics. Preschool teachers are caught between the emphasis on academic skills and developmentally appropriate instruction that recognizes that young children learn through active learning based on interaction with concrete materials. Developmental checklists help the preschool teacher maintain a perspective between developmentally appropriate instruction and pressures to prepare children for first grade. Inclusion of developmental experiences helps the teacher ensure a balanced curriculum that is best for the children’s level of development.

FIGURE 7-3 Story retelling assessment sheet

In planning the curriculum and instruction in early childhood or preschool programs, teachers must incorporate the use of learning centers in classroom experiences. Developmental checklists with a sequence of objectives provide guidelines for selecting the materials to place in centers to support curriculum and instruction. For example, for 5-year-olds, the sequence on a checklist for fine motor development might be similar to the following:

Cuts with scissors

Copies a triangle

Writes first name

Puts paper clip on paper

Can use clothespins to transfer small objects (Gerber et al., 2010)

By studying the sequence, the teacher can determine that activities for cutting and pasting should be part of center activities earlier in the year. Later, when fine motor skills are better developed, opportunities to copy letters and numerals should be included in centers to complement instructional activities in writing. Thus, developmental checklists help teachers decide what to select for learning centers as the year progresses. Early in the year, the teacher may introduce simple toys, puzzles, and construction materials in centers. Later, more complex, challenging activities and materials are more appropriate. As the year progresses, the materials available in the centers should be compatible with developmental growth.

Because the rate of development varies from child to child, the sequence of development reflected in the checklists allows the teacher to vary materials for individual children. Certain games, activities, and materials can be placed in the centers and designated for a particular child’s needs or interests. Materials for experiences placed in centers provide a means of individualizing learning, with checklists serving as the guide for a sequence from simple to complex. The more complex concepts or objectives lead to the selection of materials for the child whose development is more advanced.

Checklists as a Guide to Assessing Learning and Development

Having information on how children are growing and learning is one of the important requirements of an early childhood program. Teachers must know how children’s development and learning are progressing, and must be able to discuss it with parents, other teachers, and staff members of other schools that later may teach the child.

Because the checklists cover all kinds of development, they allow teachers to track individual children and groups of children. When teachers keep consistent records on individual children, they can give parents information about the child’s progress. Parents then have a clear idea of what is happening in school and what their child is accomplishing.

Teachers who use developmental checklists to assess, evaluate, and record children’s progress may eventually realize that they have a better understanding of each child in the class than they had before. If a teacher uses a checklist for gross motor skills to keep track of large-muscle development in his or her students, systematic observation of students engaged in physical activities will make the teacher more aware of how each child is progressing and will reveal individual differences in development. When reporting to one child’s parent, for example, the teacher may discuss the improvement in throwing and catching a ball. In another case, the teacher may focus on the child’s ability to ride a bicycle or to jump rope.

How Teachers Evaluate and Assess with Checklists

If a checklist is used as a framework for curriculum development and instruction, it can also be used for evaluation and assessment. The curriculum objectives used to plan instructional experiences can also be used to evaluate the children’s performance on the same objectives. After a series of activities is used to provide opportunities to work with new concepts or skills, the children are assessed to determine how successful they were in learning the new skill or information. Evaluation can be accomplished through observation, during ongoing learning activities, and through specific assessment tasks.

Evaluating Checklist Objectives by Observation

Observing young children is the most valuable method of understanding them. Because children in early childhood programs are active learners, their progress is best assessed by watching their behaviors, rather than by using a formal test. If you look at the items on developmental checklists, you will see that some objectives or indicators of development can be evaluated only by observing the child. For example, in the area of language development, if a teacher wants to know whether a child is using complete sentences, he or she observes the child in a play activity and listens for examples of language. Likewise, if the teacher is interested in evaluating social development, he or she observes the children playing outdoors to determine whether they engage mostly in solitary or parallel play or whether individual children play cooperatively as part of a group. Because very young children learn through play, the teacher can notice how a child is learning during play activities. Likewise, the infant–toddler caregiver will become aware of each child’s physical and language advances at the very beginning stages of development while children explore the environment through play.

Chapter 6 included information on how observation can be incidental or planned. The teacher may decide to evaluate during center time and may determine in advance which items on a checklist can be evaluated by observing children in the art center or the manipulative center. The teacher then places materials in those centers that are needed to observe specific behaviors, and records which children are able to use the materials in the desired manner. For example, the ability to cut with scissors can be assessed by having a cutting activity in the art center. As an alternative, the teacher might use a cutting activity with an entire group and observe how each child is performing during the activity.

Evaluating Checklist Objectives with Learning Activities

Some objectives cannot be assessed through observation alone. Objectives in a cognitive area such as mathematics may require a specific learning activity for evaluation. However, instead of having a separate assessment task, the teacher can have children demonstrate their performance on a particular skill as a part of the lesson being conducted. The teacher notes which children demonstrate understanding of a concept or mastery of a skill during the lesson. If a mathematics objective to be assessed involves understanding numbers through five, for example, the teacher might instruct a small group of children to make groups of objects ranging in number from one to five and note which children are successful.

Evaluating Checklist Objectives with Specific Tasks

Sometimes, at the beginning or end of a school year or grading period, the teacher wants to conduct a systematic assessment. He or she assesses a series of objectives at one time. In this situation, the teacher determines a number of objectives that can be evaluated at one time and devises tasks or activities to conduct with a child or a small group of children. The activities are presented in the same fashion as in a lesson, but the teacher has the additional purpose of updating and recording progress. Assessment tasks are organized on the basis of children’s previous progress and vary among groups of children. Some children perform one group of activities; others have a completely different set of activities related to a different set of objectives.

There is a time and place for each type of evaluation. The more experience a teacher has in including assessment in the instructional program, the easier it becomes. It is important to use the easiest and least time-consuming strategy whenever possible.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Checklists with Young Children

Using checklists for assessment and evaluation has definite advantages and disadvantages or problems. Teachers must weigh both sides before deciding how extensively they will use checklists for measurement and record-keeping purposes.

Advantages of Using Checklists

Checklists are easy to use. Because they require little instruction or training, teachers can quickly learn to use them. Unlike standardized tests, they are available whenever evaluation is needed.

Checklists are flexible and can be used with a variety of assessment strategies. The teacher can evaluate in the most convenient manner and obtain the needed information. Because of this flexibility, the teacher can combine assessment strategies when more than one assessment is indicated.

Behaviors can be recorded frequently; checklists are always at hand. Whenever the teacher has new information, he or she can update records. Unlike paper-and-pencil tests or formal tests, the teacher does not have to wait for a testing opportunity to determine whether the child has mastered an objective.

Developmental checklists can be used with parents to give them an idea of which developmental steps they can support at home with preschool children. The teacher can share ideas of activities the parents can use with the child. Likewise, the teacher can provide parents of school-age children with activities to support successful learning with curriculum objectives.

Disadvantages of Using Checklists

Using checklists can be time-consuming. Particularly when teachers are just beginning to use checklists, they may feel that keeping records current on checklists reduces the time spent with children. Teachers have to become proficient in using checklists without impinging on teaching time.

Teachers may find it difficult to get started. When they are accustomed to teaching without the use of checklists, teachers often find it difficult to adapt their teaching and evaluation behaviors to include checklists. In addition, teachers can have too many checklists. They can become frustrated by multiple checklists that overwhelm them with assessment and record keeping.

Some teachers may not consider assessment strategies used with checklists as valid measures of development and learning. For some teachers, particularly those in the primary grades who are accustomed to conducting a test for evaluation, the observation and activity strategies used to measure progress may seem inconclusive. These teachers may feel the need for more concrete evidence of mastery of learning objectives for accountability.

Checklists do not indicate how well a child performs. Unlike assessments that can be used to record levels of mastery, checklists indicate only whether the child can perform adequately.

A checklist is not itself an assessment instrument. It is a format for organizing learning objectives or developmental indicators and a form of observation. The teacher’s implementation of evaluation strategies by using a checklist makes it a tool for evaluation. In addition, recording the presence or absence of a behavior is not the main purpose of the checklist. The significant factor is what the teacher does with the assessment information recorded. If the information gained from evaluating the objectives is not used for instructional planning and implementation followed by further ongoing evaluation, the checklist does not improve learning and development.

Types of Rating Scales and How They Are Used with Young Children

Rating scales are similar to checklists; however, there are important differences. Whereas checklists are used to indicate whether a behavior is present or absent, rating scales require the rater to make a qualitative judgment about the extent to which a behavior is present. A rating scale consists of a set of characteristics or qualities to be judged by using a systematic procedure. Rating scales take many forms, but numerical rating scales and graphic rating scales seem to be used most frequently (McMillan, 2007).

Types of Rating Scales

Numerical Rating Scales

Numerical rating scales are among the easiest rating scales to use. The rater marks a number to indicate the degree to which a characteristic is present. A sequence of numbers is assigned to descriptive categories. The rater’s judgment is required to rate the characteristic. One common numerical system is as follows:


2—Below average


4—Above average


The numerical rating system might be used to evaluate classroom behaviors in elementary students as follows:

1. To what extent does the student complete assigned work?

1 2 3 4 5

2. To what extent does the student cooperate with group activities?

1 2 3 4 5

Numerical scales become difficult to use when there is little agreement on what the numbers represent. The interpretation of the scale may vary.

Numerical rating scales are useful in recording emerging progress in mathematics. The student is usually evaluated several times during the school year. A rating scale is used to make ratings of whether the child (1) needs development, (2) is developing as expected, or (3) is advanced in development.

Graphic Rating Scales

Graphic rating scales function as continuums (Cohen & Wiener, 2003). A set of categories is described at certain points along the line, but the rater can mark his or her judgment at any location on the line. In addition, a graphic rating scale provides a visual continuum that helps locate the correct position. Commonly used descriptors for graphic rating scales are as follows:






The classroom behaviors described earlier would be evaluated on a graphic rating scale as follows:

1. To what extent does the student complete assigned work?

Never  Seldom  Occasionally  Frequently  Always

2. To what extent does the student cooperate with group activities?

Never  Seldom  Occasionally  Frequently  Always

The behavioral descriptions on graphic rating scales are used more easily than numerical descriptors. Because the descriptors are more specific, raters can be more objective and accurate when judging student behaviors; nevertheless, graphic rating scales are subject to bias because of disagreement about the meaning of the descriptors.

Uses of Rating Scales

One of the most familiar uses of rating scales is report cards. Schools often use rating scales to report characteristics of personal and social development on a report card. Such attributes as work habits, classroom conduct, neatness, and citizenship commonly appear on elementary school report cards. Students and parents often believe that such ratings are particularly subject to teacher bias and feelings about the student.

Rating scales can also be used to evaluate learning environments. In the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale—Revised (ECERS-R) (Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 2005), a numerical scale for rating how the early childhood teacher provides for sand/water play and dramatic play is evaluated, as well as the quality of the daily schedule. This type of scale is intended to be used to evaluate early childhood centers and to plan for improvements in the program (Harms, 2010).

The Montessori Rating Scale-Early Childhood Environment (MRS) (montessoriratingscales.com, n/d) is an instrument to evaluate environments that are based on Montessori classrooms and the Montessori program. It focuses on the materials in the prepared environment and the experiences that are intended for self-construction of knowledge. The Montessori environment is considered to be the critical component for quality care for young children. The example of a Montessori Rating Scale pictured in Figure 7-4 includes materials needed for learning categories such as language arts, mathematics, the sciences, geography, history, and music and movement.

The Early Learning Observation and Rating Scale (ELORS) (Coleman, West, & Gillis, 2011) has a different approach to using a scale to measure a range of progress. The scale has four numerical categories. The lower the number assigned to the child, the higher the child’s level of progress. The higher the number assigned to the child, the more concern is present about the child’s progress. All scores depend on repeated observations in various contexts and activities in the classroom.

FIGURE 7-4 Montessori Rating Scale-Early Childhood-Environment

Source: Montessori Rating Scales. (n.d.). The Montessori Rating Scale-Early Childhood-Environment. Retrieved from http://montessoriratingscales.com/node/15

Figure 7-5 is a combination rating scale and checklist for reading (U.S. Department of Defense, n.d.). It illustrates how two types of assessments can be combined.

Young children benefit from assessments that use real objects.

Carla Mestas/Pearson

There are also rating scales that students use to rate themselves. In Figure 7-6 the students are able to evaluate their own work with a scale of different “happy faces.” This type of scale is particularly useful with preschool and primary grade children who are still developing reading and writing skills.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Rating Scales with Young Children

Rating scales are a unique form of evaluation. They serve a function not provided by other measurement strategies. Although some of the limitations of rating scales have already been discussed, it is useful to review their strengths and weaknesses.

Advantages of Using Rating Scales

Rating scales can be used for behaviors not easily measured by other means. In the area of social development, for example, a scale might have indicators of cooperative behavior. When the teacher is trying to determine the child’s ability to work with children and adults in the classroom, the scale of indicators is more usable than a yes/no response category on a checklist. Unlike an observation, which might be completely open ended, the rating scale indicators have clues to behaviors that describe the child’s level of cooperation.

Rating scales are quick and easy to complete. Because the rater is provided with the descriptors of the child’s behavior, it is possible to complete the scale with minimum effort. The descriptors also make it possible to complete the scale some time after an observation (Jablon, Dombro, & Dichtelmiller, 2007). The user can apply knowledge about the child after an observation or as a result of working with the child on a daily basis and will not always need a separate time period to acquire the needed information.

FIGURE 7-5 Reading Skills Rating Scale

Source: U.S. Department of Defense Education Activities. (n.d.). Grade 1 First Quarter Skills Checklist (Reading). Retrieved from www.am.dodea

FIGURE 7-6 Self Assessment Rubric

Minimum training is required to use rating scales. The successful rating scale is easy to understand and use. Paraprofessionals and students can often complete some rating scales. The scale’s indicators offer the information needed to complete the scale.

Rating scales are easy to develop and use. Because descriptors remain consistent on some rating scales, teachers find them easy to design. When using rating indicators such as always, sometimes, rarely, and never, the teacher can add the statements for rating without having to think of rating categories for each one.

Finally, rating scales are a useful strategy for assessing progress in the child’s journey into understanding the world or in reconstructing knowledge. A rating scale permits the teacher to describe the child’s steps toward understanding or mastery, instead of whether the child has achieved a predetermined level, as is the case in the use of checklists.

Disadvantages of Using Rating Scales

Rating scales are highly subjective; therefore, rater error and bias are common problems. Teachers and other raters may rate a child on the basis of their previous interactions or on an emotional rather than an objective basis. The subsequent rating will reflect the teacher’s attitude toward the child (Linn & Miller, 2005). There are possibilities when the teacher rates the level of concern for a child’s progress that the rating can be subject to the teacher’s impressions of the child. There are no indicators for a rating, and the teacher has to use individual judgment of the child’s progress.

Ambiguous terms cause rating scales to be unreliable sources of information. Raters disagree on the descriptors of characteristics. Therefore, raters are likely to mark characteristics by using different interpretations. For example, it is easy to have different interpretations of the indicator sometimes or rarely.

Rating scales tell little about the causes of behavior. Like checklists that indicate whether the behavior is present or absent, rating scales provide no additional information to clarify the circumstances in which the behavior occurred. Unlike observations that result in more comprehensive information about the context surrounding behaviors, rating scales provide a different type of information from checklists, but include no causal clues for the observer, unless notes are taken beyond the rating scale itself.

Quick Check Rating Scales for Self-Assessment

In this chapter, information on children using rating scales for self-assessment has included examples using faces for children to rate themselves and their work. A second-grade teacher decided to avoid frustrations children experienced when they had to mark a “sad” face. The teacher devised a simple scale with four ratings and indicators. The children used different colors to fill in the circles attached to numerical ratings. Called a “quick check,” the scale could be used several times, with children progressing to higher ratings. The teacher also developed four desired teaching behaviors that complemented the use of the quick checks:

1. Helping children set or accept and record individualized goals

2. Teaching, modeling, and planning ways the children may progress toward goals

3. Showing the children evidence of their progress with carefully kept records

4. Helping the children celebrate goal achievement and attributing positive feelings to their own efforts

Source: Brown, W. (2008). Young children assess their learning. The power of the quick check strategy. Young Children, 63, 14–20.

Types of Rubrics and How They Are Designed and Used

Like rating scales, rubrics are qualitative instruments that can be used for assessing student progress or scoring student work. Perhaps this purpose for scoring student work distinguishes rubrics from other types of assessment instruments such as checklists and rating scales. A rubric can be defined as follows:

A rubric is a scoring tool that explicitly represents the performance expectations for an assignment or piece of work. A rubric divides the assigned work into component parts and provides clear descriptions of the characteristics of the work associated with each component at varying levels of mastery (Eberly Center, Carnegie Mellon University, n.d., p. 1).

It is clear from the definition just cited that rubrics are related to performance assessments. They provide guidelines to distinguish performance from one level to another. Although rubrics are used most frequently with students in later elementary grades and secondary schools, they can also be useful for students in kindergarten and the primary grades.

Indicators of performance can also be called the criteria for scoring. That is, they set the criteria for the score at each level. Indicators can also describe dimensions of performance—different categories of indicators leading to the desired score. In Figure 7-7, six categories of reading comprehension rubric for first and second grade are listed and rated at four levels, Beginning Comprehension, 1 point; Some comprehension, 2 points; Adequate Comprehension, 3 points; and Advanced Comprehension, 4 points. Each child is rated on the six elements with a total score at the bottom of the rubric.

FIGURE 7-7 Reading rubric

Source: Cohen, J. H., & Wiener, R. B. Literacy portfolios: Improving assessment, teaching and learning, 2nd ed., © 2003, p. 141, reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Types of Rubrics

There are generally three types of rubrics: holisticanalytic, and developmental. Each type has characteristics that distinguish it from the others.

Holistic Rubric

This type of rubric assigns a single score to a student’s overall performance. These rubrics usually have competency labels that define the level of performance. A number of indicators describe the quality of work or performance at each level (Cohen & Wiener, 2003; Payne, 2002; Wiggins, 2013). Figure 7-8 is an example of a simple holistic rubric in emergent writing. It has four levels of competence. The student’s work is assessed using the descriptors under each level of competence.

FIGURE 7-8 Holistic rubric for writing

Analytic Rubric

An analytic rubric resembles a grid and includes a range of descriptors, uses limited descriptors for each attribute, describes and scores each of the task attributes separately, and uses a scale such as: 1. Needs Improvement; 2. Developing; 3. Sufficient; and 4. Above Average (Cohen & Weiner, 2003). Analytic rubrics are more specific than holistic rubrics, can be used for diagnostic purposes, and can be more efficient for grading purposes. Figure 7-9 is an example of an analytic rubric for problem solving. It has three dimensions: understanding the problem, solving the problem, and answering the problem. The descriptors for each are listed with a numerical scale. This particular rubric is useful for students in the latter stages of early childhood, when reading and writing skills are well developed.

Developmental Rubric

A developmental rubric is designed to serve a multiage group of students or to span several grade levels. The intention is to abandon mastery of skills at a particular grade level; rather, the student is assessed on a continuum that shows developmental progress. Figure 7-10 shows the progression in reading skills across elementary grade levels.

FIGURE 7-9 Analytic rubric

FIGURE 7-10 Developmental rubric

How Rubrics Are Designed and Used

Rubrics are frequently discussed as part of performance assessment and the use of portfolios. This is because they are used to assess a performance task. When an overall, general judgment is made about the performance, a holistic rubric is used. An analytic rubric applies a detailed set of criteria, usually after a holistic evaluation has been made. A developmental rubric is designed to measure evolving competencies over a span of grade levels. Each type of rubric is designed for a different type of application, but the design process is similar (McMillan, 2007).

Selecting Rubric Type

There are two major steps in designing a rubric. The first step is to decide what type of rubric is to be used and then design the type of rubric selected. If an overall rating is needed, then a holistic rubric scale is indicated. An analytic rubric is designed if each part of a task needs to be assessed separately, as in Figure 7-9. The three tasks to be assessed in that rubric are (1) understanding the problem, (2) solving the problem, and (3) answering the problem. Each category of the problem has different dimensions. Figure 7-8, in contrast, is holistic. The descriptors support levels of competence, but the focus is on overall proficiency at each level.

A developmental rubric is designed when the scale covers more than one grade level or developmental level. Figure 7-10 describes levels of competency that are relevant throughout the elementary school experience. The student’s progress is assessed by broad levels of achievement in speaking rather than by grade level.

Developing Scoring Criteria

Teachers who are beginners at rubric design might find a generalized rubric useful as a guide to start their own rubric. The rubric can first be divided into levels of performance common to many rubrics:

No attempt

Inadequate response

Satisfactory response

Demonstrated competence

Each level has descriptions of the scoring criteria for that level of competence. This particular rubric also has a numerical rating for each level. The Science TEKS Toolkit (Charles A. Dana Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 2012) includes four common elements that characterize rubric scoring criteria:

• Define the main goals and supporting specific objectives of the course.

• Design a task that cannot be completed without meeting the main goals and supporting objectives of the course.

• Develop a rubric based on the essential factors of the work and the general value of each score point.

• Internalize what the rubric means in terms of student products. (p. 1)

Unlike the objectives on checklists and descriptors on rating scales, levels of performance or dimensions cannot always be predetermined when the rubric is designed. The dimensions of performance must be based on reasonable expectations of the students to be assessed using existing samples of student work and revised as necessary (McMillan, 2007; Wiggins, 2013).

Rubrics have many uses and purposes. They can be created to assess processes such as cooperative learning and other group strategies. They are most commonly used with student work or products. Examples are individual and group projects, exhibits, and artistic products. They are also used to evaluate performances of all types. In the classroom, they can be used for oral presentations and discussions. As can be seen from the examples presented in this section of the chapter, in early childhood classrooms, rubrics are commonly used to evaluate progress in development and learning.

Advantages of Using Rubrics

One of the many advantages of using rubrics is that they provide guidelines for quality student work or performance. Given this characteristic, other advantages can be added.

Rubrics are flexible. They can be designed for many uses and ability levels. Although teachers conduct most of the assessments using rubrics with very young children, student self-assessment increases as students mature.

Rubrics are adaptable. They are dynamic and subject to revision and refinement. Because they are easily modified and changed, they can meet changing classroom and student needs.

Rubrics can be used by both teacher and student to guide the student’s efforts before completing a task or product. The teacher and student can review the expectations for quality during the process of an assignment or project so that the student is clear about what needs to be done to improve work.

Rubrics can be translated into grades if needed. If grades are not used, the rubrics can be used to discuss student work with parents and students. Periodic review of student efforts and comparison with a rubric such as a developmental rubric adds to the understanding of the student’s progress.

Disadvantages of Using Rubrics

Despite the strengths of rubrics, rubric design and use are not without difficulty. One difficulty is that teachers just beginning to develop rubrics may have difficulty determining assessment or scoring criteria.

Teachers may focus on excessively general or inappropriate criteria for a rubric. In a similar fashion, a teacher may use predetermined criteria for rubric design rather than basing rubrics on examples of student work or modifying them as needed.

A common mistake in designing and using rubrics is to inappropriately focus on the quantity of characteristics found, rather than the indicators of quality work. The teacher focuses on the wrong characteristics of student work.

Holistic rubrics may lack validity and reliability. The teacher is forced to analyze the criteria for quality when designing an analytic rubric. The descriptors for the holistic rubric can be too general and lack specificity.

Developing Quality Checklists, Rating Scales, and Rubrics

In each section of the chapter, information has been provided on how to design informal instruments for assessment. To ensure that checklists, rating scales, and rubrics are quality measures, guidelines for avoiding inappropriate design are now reviewed.


A checklist is used when a student behavior or skill can be indicated with a yes or no or some other indicator of the presence or absence of the characteristic. Linn and Miller (2005) summarized the steps in appropriate development of checklists:

1. Identify each of the specific actions desired in the performance.

2. Add to the list those actions that represent common errors (if they are useful in the assessment, are limited in number, and can be clearly stated).

3. Arrange the desired actions (and likely errors, if used) in the appropriate order in which they are expected to occur.

4. Provide a simple procedure for checking each action as it occurs (or for numbering the actions in sequence, if appropriate). (p. 284)

Rating Scales

The quality of rating scales also depends on specificity in the description of the rating. When designing a rating scale, the following steps are recommended:

1. Identify the learning outcomes that the task is intended to assess.

2. Determine what characteristics of the learning outcomes are most significant for assessment on the scale. Characteristics should be directly observable and points on the scale clearly defined.

3. Select the type of scale that is most appropriate for the purposes of the assessment.

4. Provide between three and seven rating positions on the scale. The number of points on the scale will depend on how many clear differentiations in level of accomplishment are needed for assessment.


When developing rubrics, the teacher must first determine whether a holistic rubric or analytic rubric will be used since there will be differences in scoring. (McMillan, 2007; Mertler, 2001). Scoring criteria must be established for the levels of the rubric. Wiggins (2013) expresses concern about quality such as invalid criteria, unclear descriptors, and lack of parallelism across scores. For Wiggins, a valid rubric is the last thing developed following the assignment of work and evaluation and scoring of the completed work. The samples are sorted into piles according to a continuum of quality. After describing the difference in work quality across piles, the rubric is developed to reflect the differences. Wiggins (2013) is also concerned about the lack of models when designing rubrics. Without models to validate them, rubrics are too vague and less helpful to students.

Finally, a rubric must be dynamic. As students work with the rubric over time, refinements and revisions are to be expected.

Consistency in Conducting and Scoring Assessments

Steps can be taken to improve reliability in using checklists, rating scales, and rubrics. If several teachers are going to use the same instrument, the following guidelines can assist in developing consistency:

1. Before using an instrument, the teachers should review the items and indicators and agree on what each is intended to measure.

2. The instrument should be piloted by the individual teacher or group of teachers to determine whether any items are unclear or difficult to assess.

3. Scoring instructions should be reviewed prior to conducting the assessment.

4. Scoring instructions should be made according to the purposes of the assessment. If a score or grade is desired, the score will be numerical. If the assessment is to be used for student and/or parent feedback, more written information on the student’s performance may be needed.


Informal evaluation measures are useful for teachers who need specific information about their students to use when planning instruction. Checklists and rating scales are informal instruments that can be designed and used by teachers to obtain specific diagnostic and assessment data that will help them develop learning experiences for their children.

Checklists are used for more than assessment or evaluation. They are a form of curriculum outline or a framework of curriculum objectives. With checklists, teachers can plan instruction, develop learning-center activities, and evaluate children’s progress and achievement on specific objectives.

Rating scales allow teachers to evaluate behaviors qualitatively. Raters can indicate the extent to which the child exhibits certain behaviors.

Checklists and rating scales are practical and easy to use. Teachers can develop them to fit the curriculum and administer them at their convenience. Unlike standardized tests, checklists and rating scales are current and provide the teacher with immediate feedback on student progress.

Using checklists and rating scales also has disadvantages. Because they are not standardized, they are subject to error and teacher bias. Checklists do not include the level or quality of performance on the objectives measured. Rating scales in particular are subject to rater bias. Rating-scale descriptors are ambiguous in definition. Differing interpretations of descriptors by raters leads to different responses and interpretations of children’s behaviors.

Rating scales provide a multidimensional format for assessing student products and performances. They include the most complex format for assessing quality in student work. They are particularly useful in helping students understand the expectations for quality in an assignment and to review quality indicators while a project or learning assignment is in progress. Rating scales are also useful in helping parents understand the nature of student assignments and the criteria for quality that were developed for that assignment.

Rating scales can have drawbacks. One possible weakness occurs when teachers predetermine characteristics of quality, rather than using examples of typical student work to determine the indicators. Likewise, teachers can focus on less appropriate indicators of quality work or look at quantity rather than quality of work.

All three of these assessment instruments can be weakened by teacher bias and subjective judgment. Reliability in conducting an assessment with these instruments can be improved if teachers work to achieve consistency in conducting and scoring the assessments.

Key Terms

analytic rubric 178

developmental checklist 160

developmental rubric 178

graphic rating scale 171

holistic rubric 178

numerical rating scale 171

Selected Organizations

Search for the following organizations online:

About.com Special Education

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Charles A. Dana Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Eberly Center, Carnegie Mellon University

Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute/Environment Rating Scales

National Training Institute for Child Care Health Consultants




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Brown, W. (2008, November). Young children assess their learning. The power of the quick check strategy. Young Children, 63, 14–20.

Cohen, J. H., & Wiener, R. B. (2003). Literacy portfolios: Improving assessment, teaching and learning (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014, March 27). Important milestones: Your baby at six months. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-6mo.html

Charles A. Dana Center, The University of Texas at Austin. (2012). Science TEKS Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.utdanacenter.org/sciencetoolkit/assessment/holistic.phpd

Coleman, R., West, T., & Gillis, M. (n.d.). Early Learning Observation and Rating Scales (ELORS). Retrieved from http://www.getreadytoread.org/screening-tools/early-learning-observation-forms

Eberly Center, Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.). Grading and performance rubrics. Retrieved from Http://www.cmu/teaching/designteach/rubrics.html

Gerber, R. I., Wilks, T., & Erdie-Lalena, C. (2010). Developmental milestones: Motor development. Pediatrics in Review, 31, 67. Retrieved from http://pedsinreview.aappublications.org/content/31/7/267

Harms, T. (2010, January/February). Making long-lasting changes with the Environment Rating Scales. Exchange, 12–15.

Harms, T., Clifford, R. M., & Cryer, D. (2005). Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale—Revised Edition. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Jablon, J. R., Dombro, A. L., & Dichtelmiller, M. L. (2007). The power of observation for birth through eight (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children and Teaching Strategies, Inc.

Linn, R. L., & Miller, M. D. (2005). Measurement and assessment in teaching (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

McMillan, J. H. (2007). Classroom assessment: Principles and practice for effective instruction (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Mertler, C. A. (2001). Designing scoring rubrics for your classroom Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 7. Retrieved from http:pareonling.net/getvn.asp?v=7&n=25

Montessori Rating Scales.com. (n.d.). Montessori Rating Scales-Early Childhood-Environment Scoring Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.montessoriratingscales.com/node/15

National Training Institute for Child Care Health Consultants. (2010, April). Infant/Toddler Development, Screening and Assessment. Chapel Hill, NC: Author.

Payne, D. A. (1997). Applied educational assessment. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Tenafly Public Schools. (n.d.). Standards-based elementary report cards. Retrieved from tenafly.k12.nj.us/modules/cms/pages.;phtml?&t=e6330357174

The Curriculum Corner.com. (2012-2013). E/LA Common Core Standards for Reading Grade 1, pp. 1–2. Retrieved from www.thecurriculumcorner.com

U.S. Department of Defense. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Defense Education Activities Grade 1-First Quarter Skills Checklist. Retrieved from www.am.dodea

Wetherby, A. M., & Prizant, B. M. (2002). Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales Developmental Profile (CSBS DP), First Normed Edition. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Weiner, R. B., & Cohen, J. H. (1997). Literacy portfolios. Using assessment to guide instruction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Wiggins, G. (2013, January). Intelligent vs. thoughtless use of rubrics and models (Part 1). Retrieved from http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2013/17/

Winbury, J., & Evans, C. S. (1996). Poway portfolio project. In R. E. Blum & J. A. Arter (Eds.), A handbook for student performance assessment in an era of restructuring (pp. VII–2:1 to VII–2:6). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


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