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Early Literacy State of Affairs. 6 Major Ways to Make a Difference.

Literacy rates in the US were already dropping before COVID-19, but the pandemic has definitely worsened the situation. 

In Virginia for example, approximately one-third of K-2 students scored below the early literacy benchmark last fall. This is a record high in the 20-year history of conducting The Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening assessment in the commonwealth of Virginia.

This year, various states are reporting improvements in grade-level literacy rates as schools, for the most part, have returned back to normal. But in the majority of the states, the number of students at risk of not learning to read remains higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Data from over 1,300 schools in 37 states in the US using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills assessment suggests that a large share of the improvements have been made for Grade 3 to 5 students. 

K-2 students and students from marginalized socioeconomic backgrounds have been affected disproportionately by the pandemic. 

There is data to show that students attending schools in lower-income zip codes or in schools serving a higher portion of Black and Latino students faced the brunt of missed or disrupted learning opportunities. 

The above finding is also true when we zoom in on any particular region. In the Boston region, for example, the percentage of students in low-income schools who are at risk of reading failure doubled during the pandemic. 

This is a major concern because birth to age 8 (Grade 3) is a critical period for learning how to read. It reveals the issue of literacy inequity, which is a big thorn to achieving reading success for all.

Vulnerable groups, either due to age or background, are lagging behind on the road to learning recovery.


 6 Major Difference Makers for Early Literacy 

6 Major Difference Makers for Early Literacy

Given the current state of affairs for K-2 students, and for those from marginalized backgrounds, Sprig has identified six factors that make a positive difference in the learning outcomes of children. 

These six factors, when understood properly, can be used to make a difference for students who are: struggling to read, just beginning to learn how to read, or going to start learning in the near future.

Below, we’ve paired each factor with a recommendation for action. 


 1. Correlation of Schooling and Reading— Equip Teachers To Spend More Time With Students.

Stanford University conducted a study which showed that Grade 2 and 3 students were 30% behind in reading fluency last year, compared to a typical school year. As soon as school stopped in the spring of 2020, the students’ development of oral reading fluency did too, and remained stagnant during the summer. 

There was a strong recovery in the fall, which is a testament to the hard work of the teachers. But the resurgence in growth was not strong enough to make up for the earlier loss, which carried over to the next year.

The takeaway here is that in-person instruction, or its closest substitute, is still the best way to teach early literacy skills and concepts to young readers. 

Post-pandemic, there is a big rise in remote and blended learning. While it’s good to have such measures in place as contingency plans, one-on-one time between a teacher and a student is still irreplaceable, especially for our youngest learners. 

Such personalized attention can best be received in a classroom environment, where the teacher gets to know the student over time and builds trust. 


2. Teacher’s Knowledge of Foundational Literacy Skills— Offer Evidence-based Instruction.

20 empirical studies were reviewed to validate the positive effect of teacher preparation and training programs on elementary teachers’ knowledge of the science of reading (SoR), and also student outcomes in reading. 

When teachers are well versed on the SoR, their students achieve better outcomes in reading. 

In particular, training where teachers had the opportunity to apply their learned knowledge and skills under expert guidance resulted in the biggest growth in teacher knowledge. 

The next factor (Factor 3) in this article talks more about receiving the right guidance, but the first step is to have the right knowledge about reading instruction. 

Any time evidence-based instructional strategies are used, especially those that comply with the SoR, the early learner has a better shot at reading success. It’s why Sprig Reading uses an early literacy framework that is based on the SoR. 

3. Role of Literacy Coaching— Support The Teacher With Specialist Literacy Roles.

Literacy specialists make a big difference in the success of early literacy programs. Primary school teachers have many tasks to do, and it helps to have reading specialists in the team to work with to provide a more well-rounded educational experience to striving readers. 

In particular, the literacy coach role has had a great impact on the reading achievement of early learners. 

There are many examples, such as this one research paper from a large urban school district in southeast Ohio, where literacy coaches improved teacher’s sense of efficacy in literacy instruction in multiple survey items. 

Such as:

  • Using a student’s oral reading mistakes as an opportunity to teach effective reading strategies.


  • Using a variety of informal and formal reading assessment strategies.


  • Providing specific, targeted feedback to students’ during oral reading.


  • Provide students with opportunities to apply their prior knowledge to reading tasks.


The greatest gain of working with a literacy coach was: matching differentiated reading materials to the accurate level for students in their classrooms.

The number of different ways in which specialist roles like that of a literacy coach can help primary teachers is quite amazing. What if a literacy coach is not available? In such an instance, a robust platform backed by learning resources can guide teachers.

But in an ideal scenario, both teachers and literacy specialists should collaborate in a team-based setting.  


4. Culturally Responsive Teaching— Ensure Diverse Student Needs are Being Met.

There are studies to show that when teachers’ self-efficacy for culturally responsive instruction increases, it increases the likelihood of early literacy success for English Learners. Not everyone starts off on an even playing field. In diverse communities, those from different backgrounds might require specialized teaching expertise or learning materials.

Sprig’s work with Indigenous communities in Canada is an example of combining high-quality early learning programs and adapting them to local traditions, language and customs. This truly helps position every child to succeed in early literacy. 


5. Appropriate Screening at the Right Time. — Diagnose Early.

Studies show that early literacy assessments in pre-kindergarten are correlated to literacy performance in kindergarten and beyond. These assessments are good at identifying students who may benefit from early literacy interventions as they enter kindergarten.

Sprig has highlighted the importance of early literacy intervention in a previous blog.

The K-2 group of students is especially vulnerable, because the type of educational experience they get in this formative period could either make or break their case for reading success in future years. 

Therefore, it helps to have some type of formative assessment in place, where a student is immediately assessed as they enter a program. This allows commensurate intervention to be applied if needed, which can unblock reading struggles and pave the road to reading mastery. 


6. Parental Involvement in the Early Years—  Communicate With Parents.

Early childhood learning experience, at home, or in any early learning program has a tremendous impact on future reading success. 

For example, one study determined that the number of words children hear by age 2, significantly predicts 16 language and literacy outcomes over the next 9 years. This includes letter identification, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and reading comprehension, which are building blocks of the Science of Reading. 

Learning begins at home, but then continues in school, as a child is introduced to a formal schooling system. As such, it’s so important to build that crucial nexus between parents and educators, so they can fill each other in on the particular needs, interests, strengths and weaknesses of the student when it comes to early reading. 

All of Sprig Learning’s platforms, including Sprig Reading, have this component built-in, whereby educators can share progress reports with parents. In Sprig Language, parents are invited to fill out surveys to build a broader understanding of the learning needs for their child. 


Take the Recommended Steps for Early Literacy Success

Steps for Early Literacy Success

The current state of affairs in early literacy is uncertain. Yes, progress is being made. But that progress is geared towards getting back to pre-pandemic levels of reading success, which was not ideal to begin with. Also, it’s not clear if the progress made is at risk of regression in the future. 

The good news is that more and more evidence is emerging which directly states what works in early literacy. The scope of the issue is large enough to deserve district-wide and state-wide attention, and indeed it has. 

By understanding these six factors and taking appropriate measures, it’s possible to provide adequate, sustained, and targeted supports which will usher us into a new era, where high-reading proficiency for diverse classrooms is the norm. 

Sprig Reading, Sprig Learning’s new platform for evidence-based early instruction for K-2 teachers, is going to be released on August 26th. Join the waitlist now to receive exclusive updates. 

40 Science of Reading Insights You Need to Know for Strategic Reading Instruction

The Science of Reading (SoR) is picking up steam in schools in North America. It’s a methodology consisting of evidence-based literacy practices that have proven to work in increasing literacy achievement for early learners. 

The SoR is informed by decades of research into what is most effective at teaching children to read. The knowledge of what makes a successful reader is taken from multiple disciplines and is an expanding body of research.

At present, there is enough evidence to support a shift towards teaching practices that are aligned to SoR. 

Sprig Learning wrote about the application of SoR in various stages of early literacy development. Indeed, SoR should be a part of every early literacy strategy. 

In this article, we look at multiple aspects of SoR to derive lessons that can be applied in the classroom. 

To do this, we rely on an assortment of 40 factual statements on SoR. They are grouped where appropriate, to offer valuable insights to educators, staff and leaders for improving reading instruction at schools. 

Using these 40 insights and other important realizations gained through research and experience, Sprig is committed to bring SoR into the classroom this fall with the launch of Sprig Reading. 

Improvement starts at a strategic level. Let’s see how SoR advises strategic reading instruction.


40 Insights to Inform Strategic Reading Instruction

40 Insights to Inform Strategic Reading Instruction

1. The SoR must not ignore language, identity, culture and other contexts that are important to the early reading experience. 


There is another side to SoR that probes deeper into the learning context of the young student. While offering direct, systematic and explicit instruction, it also understands the unique background and learning profile of each student. This can be done through holistic assessments


2. Studies show that computer-assisted instruction is valuable in improving the phonological awareness of 6-year-old children. 


Phonemic awareness is one of the major pillars of SoR, which in turn is a part of phonological awareness. It’s important to note that technology has the power to catapult the instruction of these concepts into another level of efficiency!


3. The simple view of reading equation (see image below) shows that reading comprehension is the product of decoding/recognition and oral language comprehension. It has been tested in over 100 studies and endorsed by many renowned reading experts.

Simple View of Reading 

Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC)


4. The Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading (see image below) states that  word recognition (which includes phonological awareness, decoding and sight recognition) and language comprehension come together to form the fluent execution of skilled reading. 

The Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading

Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading

Recommendation From 3 & 4

The simple view of reading is one of  the main models used when talking about SoR. Decoding is used in phonemic awareness and phonics, two of the main pillars of SoR. Oral language permeates in every pillar of SoR, but especially vocabulary and phonemic awareness.

Reading comprehension is the result of children recognizing letters and the sounds they make, and understanding the meaning of the words they form. 

The Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading also backs this notion of word recognition (of which decoding is a part of) and language comprehension (of which vocabulary is a part of) coming together to produce skilled readers.

So while the decoding bit is rather obvious to SoR,  oral language is also important to integrate in lessons. 


5. Research has identified poor phonological awareness as a major risk factor for dyslexia. Intensive phonological awareness instruction can be used as an intervention for readers with dyslexia.

6. Many readers struggle with reading fluency, which has been linked to poor ability in Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN). RAN is the ability to quickly name letters, symbols, words, or objects in a quick and automatic manner.

7. Relatively small difficulties encountered in the early months of learning how to read, such as problems with phonological processing or letter-to-sound matches, discourage students from practicing reading. For lack of practice, these early learners fail to grow their vocabularies, gain reading fluency, or acquire other background knowledge needed to comprehend texts. 

Recommendation From 5-7

Along with phonological awareness (this includes phonemic awareness), RAN, and Shared Reading and Concepts of Print are extremely important in building fluency in the early stages of one’s reading journey. This is why these concepts are a part of the Joyful Literacy Framework, used by Sprig Reading. 

Although not part of the original 5 pillars of SoR, RAN and Shared Reading and Concepts of Print have been deemed important enough to focus on separately, and should be a part of reading instruction. 


8. There are over 40 research centers in the US dedicated to examining reading-related brain activity. Research in these centers have been ongoing for more than three decades. 

9. 15-20 % of students are dyslexic. While dyslexia cannot be cured, intensive reading instruction can help improve the success rates of dyslexic students. 

10. Learning to read requires the involvement of several brain functions. The visual cortex recognizes printed letters and words. It is located in the occipital lobe. 

11. The auditory cortex builds oral word understanding. It is located in the temporal lobe. 

12. The angular gyrus associates letters with sounds. It is located in the parietal lobe. 

13. The inferior frontal gyrus produces speech and processes meaning. It is located in the frontal lobe. 

14. 56% of variance in reading outcomes are due to the increase in volume of brain white matter between kindergarten and Grade 3. The quality of instruction during this time period impacts the building of the neural pathways.

Neural Systems for Reading

Recommendation From 8-14

Ultimately, learning how to read is partly a biological process. It has to do with functions in the brain. 

Given the urgency and gravity of early language development, Sprig Learning always vouches for early literacy intervention, that is taking action, when the student is most conducive to learning concepts and building good habits. 


15. There are certain leadership practices that significantly raise the percentage of students’ reading at grade level by Grade 2. Schools that have been successful in raising this number share 5 behaviors. They:

16. Make literacy priority number one.

17. Treat reading instruction time as sacred.

18. Empower teachers to own and lead interventions.

19. Monitor processes and data closely.

20. Share granular data with students. 

Science of Reading Share Data

Recommendation From 15-20

Leveraging SoR for strategic reading instruction is not a task for educators only. They must be adequately backed by school and district leaders. 

When there is a system in place where educators are given the time to focus on literacy instruction, formative assessments and interventions, accountability is increased for all. 

Teachers and administrators are aware of what is working, and the student also knows what areas they need to improve on. This information can also be shared with parents, who can be more actively involved. 


21. 90- 95% of students have the cognitive capacity to read.

22. 30% of students are capable of reading regardless of instructional quality.

23. 50% of students are capable of learning how to read from explicit and direct instruction in foundational skills.

24. 15% of students will need additional time and support to meet their reading potential. 

25. 5% of students have severe cognitive disabilities. 

Recommendation From 21-25

While it’s true that there will always be a certain percentage of students who will continue to struggle to read because of cognitive impairments, the vast majority of students should be able to read with varied levels of support.  

The biggest segment from this group of students is those who will need help using SoR in order to boost their literacy scores. By first implementing SoR in the classroom and following it up with tiered intervention support, the overwhelming majority of students (90-95%) can be helped. This is a far cry from the average of 35% of students who are currently reading at grade level at Grade 4 in the US.


26. A randomized controlled longitudinal study conducted by Vanderbilt University shows that preschool education improves reading outcomes, but the effects are not sustained beyond kindergarten. 

27. 79% of the variance in high-school reading ability is explained by the intensity of foundational skills instruction in Grade 1. 

28. There is a thing called the Grade 4 slump, where 20% of Proficient Grade 3 readers drop down to Basic  by Grade 5. 55% of advanced readers in Grade 3, are no longer advanced readers in Grade 5. There have been 90 research studies which say that the absence of foundational phonics and phonemic awareness instruction in the early grades impairs students’ reading growth in the later grades. 

29. Research from the University of Chicago has found that for 85-90% of struggling readers, intervention programs implemented before Grade 3 can increase reading skills to an average level. However, if the interventions come after Grade 3, then 75% of those students will continue to struggle with reading. 

Science of Reading Intervention

Recommendation From 26-29

High-quality early literacy instruction is extremely important to literacy growth, but it has to be consistently applied, beginning in preschool, and especially in kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. If not, then the early efforts are not sustained to achieve maximum reading potential.

Plans to improve  kindergarten and primary school programs are as important as the need for high-quality preschools and early childhood programs.

Instruction early on in kindergarten and Grade 1 has to be intensive, in order to give kids their best shot at success in the later grades. It is absolutely crucial that any literacy interventions are applied before Grade 3. If these interventions are started at preschool, it’s important that they are not stopped after preschool. 


30. The concept of spoken language was invented over 200,000 years ago, however the concept of written language was invented only 5,500 years ago. 

31. 87% of words in the English Language are either fully or easily decodable. 

32. Approximately 80% of elementary teachers do not adequately teach phonemic awareness to their students, if at all. 

33. 95% of early elementary classrooms spend inadequate time providing direct instruction on all the English phonemes. 

34. The National Reading Panel (NRP) established the 5 pillars of reading instruction in 2000. To meet the NRP recommendation of more phonics instruction, schools adopted balanced literacy. But in balanced literacy, phonics is taught only briefly. 

35. In a study of 32 elementary schools in Rapides Parish School Board, the percentage of kindergarteners reading at grade level rose from 46% to 99%  because of science-of-reading training, data summits, skills-based grouping and summer learning focused on literacy.

36. In a study of 16 elementary schools in The Bethlehem Area School District, the percentage of kindergarteners reading at or above the DIBELS benchmark composite score increased from 47% to 84% due to science-of-reading training, new curriculum, skills-based grouping and summer learning focused on literacy.

37. UP Academy Holland, which is a part of Boston Public Schools, shifted from balanced literacy to a high-quality English language arts curriculum that was built to support the Science of Reading. Ever since its implementation, they have noticed a decrease in behavioral issues in language blocks, greater confidence from students in responding to questions and reading, and more enthusiasm from both students and teachers!

Science of Reading Literacy Achievement

Recommendation From 30-37

Reading language was a human invention and so it requires a specific methodology for teaching it. As long as that methodology is applied, as demonstrated in numerous case studies, the likelihood of increasing literacy scores rises.

Phonemic awareness and phonics have to be incorporated into lesson plans. It’s not the case currently in many schools where educators are underprepared. A good SoR should have adequate professional development support so educators can be quickly upskilled on how to teach phonemic awareness and phonics. 


38. In a survey of Pre-K to 3 teachers, there were three types of challenges faced in literacy instruction. These were time, resources and materials, and diversity of student needs. There was not enough time to work individually with students. This included both struggling and accelerated learners. It was difficult to find reading materials in multiple languages, and appropriate leveled texts for older students who would not be embarrassed to read them. Regarding diversity of student needs, teachers found it difficult to manage striving readers, where they would get pulled out of class, but then miss out on other instruction in class. 

39. The common causes for reading instructional failure include: inadequate or non-existent review and repetition cycle, lack of real reading and writing experiences, inappropriate reading materials to practice skills, loss of time due to transitions, and limited teacher knowledge of research-based phonic routines. 

40. Multi-sensory approach to reading enhances phonics instruction. Manipulatives, gestures, and speaking and auditory cues improve early learners’ acquisition of phonics skills. Multi-sensory activities also provide the necessary scaffolding to beginning and struggling readers. They include visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile activities to enhance learning.

Recommendation From 38-40

These last three statements offer insight into what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to using SoR in the classroom for strategic reading instruction. 

We can summarize many of the points to say that differentiated instruction is key to the success of early readers. SoR is amazingly effective, but not if everyone practices the same things at the same pace with the same intensity. 

Also, the need for high-quality instructional materials and resources that drive engagement is highly beneficial. Books need to be appropriate for different skill levels, and the learning environment should be stimulating enough to sustain learning motivation.

All the various components of SoR have to be taught, but in accordance with what each student needs. Differentiation can take up time and extra resources, which are common challenges. But, differentiated instruction has a host of advantages which can offset these challenges and ultimately ensure that every kid has their best foot forward in reading. 

Any tool that makes it easy to differentiate lessons and monitor individual students in a cost-effective manner,  will save teachers percioustime. And if those tools also include guidance on SoR-based teaching practices, plan lessons for their students, and review any progress made, those time savings become truly significant.. That newly freed time can be used to help struggling readers who require further support. 


Applying These Lessons 

Science of Reading Applying Lessons

That wraps up this article on the 40 SoR insights. Sprig hopes that the guidance offered here is used to strategize reading instruction in line with SoR. 

Want help bringing SoR into your classroom? Get in touch with us. 

Educators are the heartbeat of the education system. They have a lot on their plate. At this time when there is increasing consensus around SoR, it’s important to be strategic about how reading instruction is delivered across schools and districts. 

Sprig Learning is developing Sprig Reading, which will be released in the fall and change the face of SoR-based early literacy instruction. 

Having the right plan to begin with will save teachers time, and ensure students have enough support. 

Early Literacy Instruction for Primary School Teachers/Elementary Teachers

Primary school teachers (or elementary teachers) are the heart and soul of early literacy efforts in schools. 

Not every school has the necessary budget for a specialist literacy role, such as a coach or a consultant, but they all have homeroom teachers in preschool, Kindergarten and the early elementary grades. These teachers are responsible for teaching all the core subjects, which includes oral language, reading and writing. 

Therefore, they have immense influence on the early literacy outcomes of their students. They set up the environment, plan the lessons, and use their knowledge and experience to teach the language arts curriculum.

Elementary school teachers need support given the additional work, besides actual teaching, that they do in their busy daily schedules. Also, there are other challenges at play, such as the lack of professional development and resources, which can impact teachers. Sprig has written about such endemic challenges and presented various solutions to them. 

Recently, there is more awareness about the immense value of early literacy. Studies continue to be published from various states showing that roughly a third of all K-2 students are missing early literacy benchmarks. 

It’s a collective responsibility to ensure that the early literacy experience for children is optimized. Apart from parents, teachers spend the most time with kids in their daily lives during the school year. Their role in young students’ early literacy development is paramount to student success.

This article, Part 3 in our series, is dedicated to classroom teachers in early elementary grades who have a permanent seat at the early literacy dream team table.  (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)


How Elementary School Teachers Play Their Part in Early Literacy

Elementary Teachers Play Their Part in Early Literacy

Elementary teachers’ knowledge of foundational literacy skills is critical to the success of grade-level literacy achievement. In a meta-analysis of 20 empirical studies on the impact of teacher preparation and training programs, it was found that such programs increased teacher’s knowledge of the Science of Reading, which resulted in successful reading outcomes for their students. Teachers who applied the learned skills under expert guidance demonstrated the largest growth in teacher knowledge. This is a testament to the type of fruitful collaboration that can happen between reading coaches and teachers. 

Indeed, one of the greatest roles of elementary and primary school teachers is to coordinate with others regarding the needs of the child. It can involve keeping parents in the loop to encourage active participation, and referring to specialists like speech language pathologists as necessary.

It’s often the teacher who determines the next step for the student. Besides being adequately versed in the application of the Science of Reading and coordinating with other teachers and staff, how does a classroom teacher make a daily impact for optimum reading success?

We outline 5 critical teacher responsibilities below which, if performed well, lead to desirable early literacy outcomes.


1. Creating a Print-Rich Environment

Early learners need access to books, writing materials and signs in the classroom to motivate them to practice literacy. The teacher creates their own and buys many supplies, sometimes even out of their own pocket, if they feel that the learning environment requires it. 

Children need to see uses of literacy around them in order to try it for themselves. A big part of this is having a print-rich environment. High-quality early learning materials are needed such as decodable texts and leveled readers. Concepts of Print is important enough to be recognized as one of the 8 foundational pillars of early literacy success. 


2. Developing a Positive and Nurturing Relationship

For early learners in school, their teacher is often their first point of contact when problems arise or when they want to express themselves. Thus it’s important for teachers to be understanding of their current needs and interests, and sensitive to their current level of language development. 

Teachers are entrusted with building one-on-one relationships with their students to support their oral literacy development. It’s the first step of many in the road to reading proficiency. Oral language is one of the recognized foundational skill sets in early literacy. 


3. Making Learning an Interactive Experience

In the early years, it’s important to make learning a two-way experience, where the teacher models speaking, reading and writing behaviors, and the students reciprocate. Teachers are there to talk to, play with, sign to and partake in other early literacy activities. It’s usually the teacher that commands the room, and they direct what should be done. 

Teachers are amazing in that they have so many interactive activities to teach important concepts and skills to their students. Shared reading in the classroom is especially important, as it also has its own category in the foundational skill sets needed for reading success.  


4. Differentiating Instruction for Students

On average, there are 22 students in a self-contained classroom in the US. It’s highly unlikely that all 22 students are on the same wavelength when it comes to learning everything in the curriculum. 

Some students may need more work on a certain topic, while others may cruise ahead only to stumble upon a future lesson/skill. It’s the teacher’s job to vary teaching strategies according to the needs of students. The Unrivaled Miniguide to Introducing Differentiated Instruction in Early Learning is a must-read for using targeted learning in an early literacy context.


5. Being Culturally Responsive

Classrooms are increasingly diverse in North America, reflecting a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and languages. It’s important to feel supported in one’s first language, in order for students to succeed in English-language acquisition. 

Elementary teachers have a huge role to play in embracing the child’s culture and language, so they feel comfortable enough to open up to learning a new language. Indeed, studies show that bilingual assessment and teacher-training programs on cultural responsiveness have led to significant increases to teachers’ self-efficacy for early literacy instruction.

It’s clear the teachers are ready to do their best, and they know exactly where they need help in order to best serve their students. 


Priorities Going Forward- How to Best Help Elementary Teachers

How to best help elementary teachers

Classrooms are set to get more diverse with students from different backgrounds and of different abilities. Calls in many states to incorporate the Science of Reading in instruction are becoming more common, as the right approach to teaching reading gives every student an equal chance to succeed.

But whether they ultimately succeed depends on what happens in and out of the classroom. In classrooms, elementary teachers will require a thorough knowledge based on early literacy instruction. 

As demonstrated in this article, primary classroom teachers are already engaged in wonderful initiatives and efforts on a daily basis to improve literacy scores. With greater organization and guidance on each task, their efforts can be better aligned with the Science of Reading.

Sprig Learning is extremely passionate about literacy equity. We have written extensively on this subject before, highlighting obstacles which exist such as bias, and espousing numerous solutions such as inclusive early intervention.

We have recently partnered with Joyful Literacy Interventions to develop Sprig Reading, a proven Science of Reading-backed early literacy teacher app. 

It’s our most powerful and comprehensive solution to date, to achieve early literacy for all. See what it’s all about, and feel free to join the waitlist by scrolling to the bottom of the page. 

Holistic Formative Assessments. The New Wave.

In education, formative assessments are extremely popular. Schools that use formative assessment show gains in academic achievement for students. For previously underachieving students, the gains are more pronounced due to the impact of formative assessments. 

Formative assessments happen regularly in classrooms where a student’s progress is evaluated on a daily or weekly basis. Educators are able to obtain information, offer feedback and adapt instruction accordingly.

Formal formative assessments use well-defined grade rubrics, while informal assessments use methods such as observations, notes, etc. We have covered formative assessment best practices in this post, with each practice varying in its range of formality.

Summative assessments cap either side of formative assessments in every school year. The student’s progress is measured at certain times of the year, to acquire an understanding of the sum total of what the student has learned since the last summative assessment. 

Standardized assessments are less frequent than summative assessments. They usually happen just once per year or every few years, beginning in grade 3 in both Canada and the US. 

Diagnostic tests or screeners are the rarest of the bunch. They are not required by all jurisdictions or school systems. But many do require a diagnostic test for entry to kindergarten or primary school. They are sometimes known as pre-assessments, as they offer information to educators about a student’s level of knowledge prior to instruction. 


What Are Holistic Formative Assessments?

Compared to formative assessments, much less is known about holistic assessments.

Holistic Assessments Have the Following Characteristics

  1. Assess Learning that occurs in multiple locations. The ability to look beyond the learning that occurs in the four walls of the classroom, and additional looks to understand and assess the learning that occurs at home, outside and in the community.
  2. Include multiple perspectives. Going beyond an assessment of learning from the teacher’s perspective, but including parents, caregivers, librarians, Elders, and community members in the assessment process.  Reaching out to understand the learning opportunities for every child, from multiple perspectives.
  3. Assessing Beyond cognition.  Not only assessing the concepts and skills learned,  but also looking to understand a students’ ‘access’ to learning, ‘participation’  in learning and ‘opportunities and supports’ for learning that always impact a      student’s ability to succeed academically in the classroom.


Holistic Formative Assessments Are Multimodal

Holistic formative assessments retain all the previously mentioned attributes of holistic learning. In addition, both formative and summative assessments are incorporated in the holistic formative assessment framework. Such assessments can also be used as diagnostic tests for incoming kindergarten or grade 1 students.

Thus with holistic formative assessments, it’s more than just a single assessment. Rather, it’s a comprehensive system that focuses on a broader understanding of learning. 

It casts a wide net in trying to understand the whole child. It accounts for multiple learning perspectives from both inside and outside the classroom.

Subsequently, holistic formative assessment supports the development of an effective, personalized learning strategy for all students. New holistic assessments often follow at the end of the learning period to reevaluate the growth and development of the child.

Formative assessments are interspersed between such holistic assessments to help educators make adjustments in real-time. This provides adequate checks and balances to ensure the progress of every child. 


Thus, holistic formative assessments dig deep and span wide

They dig deep for information that would not otherwise be available. Information such as other languages spoken by children at home and in the community, surveys from parents and caregivers on what opportunities for learning are available at home, and/or student perspectives on their learning strengths and challenges.

They span wide in that they do not consider simply one learning domain or examine only the current school year in isolation. Rather, if there are any missed learning opportunities from week-to-week, month-to-month, or even from the previous school year or home experiences, these are quickly and systematically addressed.  

Other than the structural aspects of the holistic formative assessment, what are its underlying philosophical principles? The holistic view on education provides the answer.


The Holistic View on Education

Holistic View on Education

The holistic approach to education holds the view that a student is a whole person with a mind, body, emotions and spirit. 

In the context of early learning, it focuses on the development of the whole child, placing equal emphasis on cognitive, physical, emotional and spiritual development. The roots of this pedagogical concept are in Indigenous education, who first adopted this method of learning for children in their communities. 

Holistic learning promotes balanced relationships between people, and between people and their environment. A safe and nurturing environment is provided where learning takes place. 

The holistic view on education requires a complete understanding of a young student’s learning preferences, strengths and circumstances. It uses holistic assessments to acquire such an understanding.

Holistic assessments can also support the promotion and revitalization of local languages and cultures for students in the classrooms. They provide a comprehensive view of a child’s learning by gathering input from the child, teacher, parent and Elder about learning in the home, school, community and on the land.


Where Holistic Meets Formative

Where holistic meets formative

The connection between holistic and formative assessments happens when the former is done frequently and linked to instruction. 

The individual results from holistic formative assessments are most effective when linked to personalized learning activities that can be done in the classroom, in the home, and in the community.  This is the part where it ceases to be just a holistic formative assessment, and becomes a tool to support equity and inclusion in education. 

When recommending activities for learning and assessment, the focus is as much on strengths and interests, as it is on any learning opportunities or deficits. 

The link between summative and formative assessments are usually left to educators to figure out. However, holistic formative assessments ensure that the results are always tied to a personalized course of action. This allows continuous support for the student’s educational needs. 

An example of how a holistic formative assessment can be administered, is how Sprig Language program integrates an on-screen off-screen approach.  The holistic assessment of early literacy happens on screen with the student,  uncovers new insights about the child’s motivations to learn. Such a wealth of information can be used to support more effective instruction in the classroom and support targeted and engaging learning at home.

The assessment and digital learning material can be accessed using a tablet, a phone, a PC or any other device. Physical classroom materials such as storybooks, language development cards and other resources accompany the assessment. 

Some of the materials can be used in the holistic assessment itself, others can be used for activities that are recommended by the assessment. These activities are most effective when they double as formative assessments (e.g., quizzes or games).


The Benefits of Holistic Formative Assessments

The benefits of holistic formative assessments

The structural benefit of holistic formative assessments is tremendous. It ensures that there is a comprehensive, 360 degree understanding of a single student spanning multiple school years.  This holistic understanding uncovers new insights about each learner, informing personalized instruction in ways that would not have been previously possible.

Here are some other benefits of adopting the holistic formative assessment framework.

Uncovers New Insights

Teachers will glean new insights from holistic formative assessments which would otherwise not be identified in traditional formative assessments. Information such as learning interests, learning opportunities outside of the classroom, and unique learning styles all emerge out of a holistic assessment and broader understanding of the student.

It allows educators to take a strength-based approach to instruction. It also allows them to build on the newly identified student strengths and interests to address the student’s needs and challenges, which would remain hidden without this holistic approach to assessment. 

Useful in Curriculum Mapping

Holistic formative assessments can be tied to the learning outcomes of any local curriculum. Curriculum mapping is a big challenge for educators in North America. Oklahoma State University published a paper that identified the following four improvement areas in order to achieve successful curriculum mapping.

1) sufficient and adequate training for mapping

2) provision of adequate resources and assistance 

3) constant communication about the initiative 

4) monitoring the implementation process


All four areas can be addressed with the guidance of the holistic formative assessment framework. As it’s a whole system of assessment, it comes with the necessary professional development and resources to implement the assessments. 

As the initiative is rolled out, the use of technology enables constant communication between educators and between educators and other relevant parties such as school administrators and parents. It enables personalized instruction for students grounded in a holistic understanding.

Lastly, there is the consistent recording of data, be it the completion of activities, or new data points from ongoing assessments. Especially in early learning, formative holistic assessments monitor the progress of students in their early grade classrooms. They improve the relevance of instruction to address the literacy and numeracy learning opportunities.

In fact, such assessments can be linked to state or provincial curriculum and standards for preschool and Pre-K-3. Sprig Learning is all too familiar with such a process, having done it for multiple provinces and states across North America. 

Inclusive in Nature

Holistic formative assessments are inclusive. They are important for mixed ability classrooms. They allow students to progress at their own pace. 

Learning can be accelerated for those students who grasp concepts and demonstrate skills faster than others. Learning can also be slowed down for those students who have to first close a certain gap in understanding, that will expedite their learning in the future. 

 Mitigates Bias

Holistic formative assessments reduce the likelihood of implicit bias by being more culturally responsive, educationally comprehensive, and having a system in place with multiple opportunities for assessments. It’s a topic we have covered extensively in this article on dealing with implicit bias.

In order to properly assess a student, it’s important to understand their learning needs, interests and familiarity or anxiety with the assessment process itself. Otherwise, they are at risk of being inaccurately assessed without having a comprehensive understanding in place. 

It’s the holistic formative assessments that allow educators to access this information, where they themselves have a better understanding of the student and their learning environment, and can tailor support and instruction to the learning needs and strengths of the student. An equitable result for all young students is the outcome. 


The Holistic Booster to Formative Assessments

The holistic booster to formative assessments

There are so many benefits to holistic assessments and holistic learning. Each of these 15 holistic learning characteristics positively influences the learning experience for early learners. 

It’s when holistic assessments are combined with formative assessments, the true power of assessments is unleashed. Research shows that holistic assessments improve student outcomes and result in a more equitable learning experience. 

The holistic development of students is a much-desired component of high-quality early childhood education, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Most teachers are already using formative assessments in either a formal or informal capacity. 

If these assessments are driven by holistic approaches and placed in a structured setting, their full potential is realized. They are more acutely informed by a systematic and extensive analysis of student activity and learning perspectives. 

Contact us to explore how holistic assessments can be added to your assessment strategy. 


Dealing with Implicit Bias in Early Learning Assessments

Sprig Learning builds personalized, culturally relevant early learning assessments and resources that support schools, teachers, families, and students. 

In building these early learning programs, there are certain measures we take to provide the best learning experience for students. One of them is reducing implicit bias. 

Bias is inherent to all of us and is caused by personal experience, experience of others, cultural norms, the information we process, and the values in our education systems. Typically, we hear of two primary forms of bias:

1. Implicit bias. This is an automatic or unconscious reaction someone has toward other people. These attitudes and stereotypes can negatively impact our understanding, actions, and decision-making.

2. Explicit bias. This is the traditional conceptualization of bias. With explicit bias, individuals are aware of their prejudices and attitudes toward certain groups. Positive or negative preferences for a particular group are conscious. 

For this blog, we will focus on implicit bias and its impact on education. In early learning, educators and staff all have implicit biases when supporting their students. Given that bias is a product of our experiences, it is not desirable nor possible to eliminate. 

However, understanding and identifying bias, and its systemic impact on actions and outcomes at scale, is indeed possible — and essential in our efforts to counteract the harmful effects of bias on learning in the classroom.  Because the early years are a crucial juncture in the life of schoolchildren, the onus is on us to mitigate the effects of implicit bias as much as possible.


What is the Role of Implicit Bias in Early Learning

Given that educators have such an important part to play in the development and growth of young children, implicit bias affects their understanding of situations, decisions and actions. 

With implicit bias, the educator may be unaware that biases, rather than the facts of a situation, are driving his or her decision-making. This behavior is often labelled interchangeably as ‘unconscious bias’.

It is something that is not limited to people either. Implicit bias permeates throughout education resources, assessments, content, and processes, tracing back to their creator. 

The risk with implicit bias is not just how they make students feel, but also the impact the bias produces.

Affecting students’ attitudes and feelings can discourage early learners  from expressing themselves, and also creates the potential for students to learn from and develop their own biases themselves. 

Bias also affects learning by impacting the quality of assessments. When the outcome of assessments are affected negatively by implicit bias, it impacts the future learning outcomes of students.


Mitigating Early Learning Implicit Biases

While removing all bias may be inescapable, there are things that can be done to mitigate it.


Use a Mix of Formal and Informal Formative Assessments

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends the use of both formal and informal screening to assess children’s growth across all domains of development and learning. 

Indeed, there is a time and place for both types of assessments. Formal assessments occur at regular intervals in a structured setting, while it’s best if informal assessments occur every single day and are integrated into the teaching process .

How it mitigates bias: The more singular and isolated an assessment is, the greater the reliance on it to support the child’s learning and to determine the outcome of the student. 

Screenings are necessary to detect where a child is in terms of their learning development, but they should be complimented by formative assessments, which can be both formal and informal in nature.

With ongoing and regular opportunities to assess throughout the school year, it’s more likely that educators acquire a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of all the situational factors that affect learning in the student’s life.


Use Culturally Responsive Assessments

  • NAEYC further recommends that assessments be culturally, linguistically and individually appropriate and address all of children’s development, progress, strengths and needs.

The average classroom is more diverse than it has ever been, so it’s important to develop culturally responsive assessments. Looking at data from 2015, nearly 1 in 4 kids who attended public schools in the US spoke a language other than English in their home. In total, 176 different languages are spoken in New York City public schools. 

As demonstrated above, when left unconscious – biases can influence assessments for early learners, altering the potential learning trajectories for children. For example, this can sometimes lead to identification and assignment of an Individualized Education Program (IEP), labeling the learner for the remainder of their school career. 

While the extra funding and support that an IEP provides has plenty of benefit for learners in need, this labeling has also proven to lower self esteem, lower expectations from teachers and parents, and peer issues.

Outside of potential bias in the development of these screens and instruments themselves, there is implicit bias during the delivery of the assessment as well. Canadian researchers Ungerlieder and Riley document situations where teachers have lower expectations for Indigenous students in their classrooms relative to their non-Indigenous students. 

Lowered expectations often influence teachers’ appraisals of Indigenous students and introduce bias into their scoring practices.

How it mitigates bias: Culturally responsive assessment involves being focused on the student, and ensuring their involvement throughout the entire assessment process. Many children grow up speaking a language other than English at home and are exposed to a variety of cultures and transitions that are not always visible in a school setting.

When students are able to see their language and culture reflected in the curriculum and classroom assessments, they are more likely to engage and be successful.

When cultural and linguistic experiences are accounted for in assessments, this improves the accuracy of the results and ultimately increases student learning.


Make the Assessment Process More Comprehensive

  • Sprig Learning recommends a holistic, 360 degree view of early learning experiences in the home, school and community. To do this effectively, and reduce the potential fear and anxiety around assessments, teachers help provide context for the material prior to the assessment.  This includes befriending a puppet who plays a key role at assessment time and practicing  the 3-point scale used during the assessment.

Connecting the school to the home and the larger community is so important because it helps to fill in the blanks when it comes to understanding a child. The assessment itself is connected to the rest of school activities. It compliments the daily routine in an early years classroom. From the student’s perspective, assessment looks and feels like a normal day. 

How it mitigates bias: By collecting different perspectives on learning from the teachers, parents, other caregivers and most importantly the students themselves, this limits the potential bias in the overall, holistic assessment.. 

When it comes to the actual assessment, students are able to interact with the technology directly (like an iPAD) and demonstrate their learning. This reduces any subjective observations, and possible implicit bias, that a teacher may bring to that observation. As teachers sit beside and  guide the student through the assessments, they are also able to observe the child and their learning. 

Observational assessment is extremely important.  Over the course of the year, teachers are also able to track the learning portfolios of children, noticing the body of work they have completed to identify strengths and learning gaps. 

Dr. Grace from the Little School talks about the importance of observations and portfolios in assessing children. She calls portfolios “a collection of authentic assessments” and says that observations can help educators to arrange the environment and develop curricular plans and materials.

Thus, by adopting a comprehensive view and by using portfolios as a part of assessments, it’s easy to keep everyone in the loop about the progress of the child.


Reliance on Standardization and Implicit Bias

Standardized tests are normative in that they compare a child to their peers who are of the same age. Some standardized tests can further drill down results by gender, socio-economic and cultural background. 

But not every standardized test will use exact segmentation for fair comparison. Even if they do, such standardized tests are often meant to discriminate between groups of students, but not always test for behaviors that are educationally relevant. 

Relying on standardized tests alone does not yield direct information for choosing curricular content, deciding on environmental factors and guiding instructional strategies. 

In fact, when comparison is the only learning goal, there is a higher likelihood of implicit bias. 

Afterall, it’s meant to only categorize students into different levels, but not actually make the connection to differentiated instruction that supports individuals and groups of students.


Alternate Approaches to Reduce Implicit Bias

Alternative approaches are beneficial when it comes to early learning assessments.  

A comprehensive and holistic approach can be undertaken if there is adequate collaboration between teachers and caregivers. It’s something Sprig embraces wholeheartedly. 

When there is a comprehensive outlook on childhood development, the interrelationships between developmental domains are evident. While standardization targets everything as a separate subject, holistic learning looks at the linkage between multiple domains such as: motor skill development, oral language, numeracy and literacy. It makes use of portfolio and dynamic assessments, which are considered alternate approaches.

Portfolio assessments usually involve activities in and out of the classroom. Different learning materials such as animated stories and levelled readers are used, so there are enough things to interest early learners as they progress through the curriculum.

Dynamic assessments consider both the role of the educator and the child in assessments. Instead of just being an observer, they play a supportive role during the assessment whereby the students can also use the assessment as a learning opportunity.

It reduces the Hawthorne Effect, which is a type of bias where individuals being studied modify their behavior because of the awareness of being observed. 

It’s why dynamic assessments are so important where educators take the trouble to immerse themselves in the process as well, so assessments feel like an activity, and not a test.


Uncovering Old Bias to Move Forward

Holistic assessments accept that learning is a journey that begins at birth and continues throughout the early childhood years into adolescence. 

Two students may get different marks on a summative assessment despite both of them having completed all homework, tasks and activities related to the assessment. 

In such scenarios, it is likely that there was a gap in prior grade levels. This too can surface in the form of implicit bias, where we take completion as a sign of understanding, not realizing that the learning material did not always make sense to all students.

In the case two students have different rates of completion of tasks and activities, such discrepancy can often be explained by skill gaps. It’s not the missed work that is producing different results, but often the different skill gaps that were not previously addressed.

Based on any mistakes, it’s possible to target instruction and provide enough scaffolding to young students to help them address those mistakes and move on to the next grade level. But it doesn’t address the root of the problem—old implicit biases.

Rather than measuring standards from the current grade level, holistic assessments look at the whole life of the child to uncover missed learning opportunities. 

But is there even such a thing as missed learning? We round up this article with a case study.


A Case Study to Reduce Implicit Bias

Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) in California looked at growth data segmented by groups such as English Learner, Migrant and Homeless. These groups had made significant progress during the pandemic compared to the rest of the groups. 

Had LUSD only relied on national reports focusing only on learning loss, it would have missed this opportunity to provide personalized support to groups that were showing promise. LUSD uses real-time data from formative assessments to personalize learning at the classroom level.

Such a case demonstrates a strengths-based approach where the bias is not in uncovering a threat in time, but rather missing an opportunity. It reminds us that there is so much hope in igniting the passion of learning in young students if only we are able to mitigate bias.

If you have not considered alternate approaches to standardized assessments, there is a good case to be made for them. Secondly, whatever approach you adopt, it’s important to supplement the process with equally diverse learning materials.

Learn more about how Sprig’s AI Engine reduces implicit bias in classrooms.

What You Should Know about Assessments In Early Childhood Education.

Sprig Learning helps every child succeed by uncovering and supporting their unique learning strengths, needs, and interests. One of the ways this is achieved is through formative classroom assessments. 

What are assessments? Every teacher uses them to some extent to assess learning. At the very least, report cards and progress report cards are issued as early as kindergarten and continue until high-school graduation. Most schools also participate in some form of standardized testing at certain grades. 

The shortcomings of current assessments are aplenty, but they are often brought to the surface whenever learning has been disrupted. 

COVID-19 is one such disruption. Many words, such as “learning loss”, are used to describe what happened as a result of the missed learning opportunities caused by school closures.

Across the world, we know that learning for 1.6 billion students was disrupted by the recent pandemic. While remote and hybrid learning struggled to engage many students, it is estimated that 463 million students had no access to virtual learning whatsoever.

A significant portion of young students in the US are said to be a minimum of 1, 3 and even 6 months behind where they would usually be at this time in the school year. Distance learning has affected disadvantaged communities disproportionately, as those neighborhoods have had a higher likelihood of school closures and limited to no access to learning

But did you know there is a learning disruption every year during summer? In what is termed the “summer slide”, kids return to classrooms in September following two months of no formal learning.  

We have always had a range of readiness among students in the school year. This year, there is a greater number of students on the lower end of the readiness scale and it is more palpable, because of the longer interruption. 

To address this, there needs to be an increased focus on the unique strengths and learning needs of each individual child. 

In order to accelerate learning this school year, formative assessments (either formal or informal) need to be an early and regular practice in the classroom. For schools that had not established regular, formative assessments prior to the pandemic, it’s unlikely that they have the means now to understand what stage their returning students are at in their development. 

Based on a poll of educators and entrepreneurs, only 1 in 5 of America’s K-12 students have experienced formative assessments. There is more ground to cover. The following paragraph delves into the reasons why formative assessments are especially important in early childhood education.


The Special Significance of Early Childhood Assessments

Assessments in preschool through grade 3 are of special importance in early childhood education. There is a litany of statistics that all say one thing—from birth to 8 years of age, it is a critical milestone to  build a solid foundation and maximize learning.

Assessing the developmental milestones that are achieved therefore is of the highest importance. It’s why formative assessments are suited to the cause, which collect timely and relevant data as a child progresses in their learning skills and abilities. 

Also at this stage of a child’s life, it’s a team effort to educate and care for the young learner.

It’s via the assessment, that teachers, administrators and parents are able to support the learning that is needed.  

Formative assessments inform teacher planning, they enable educator and family partnerships and they provide necessary information for program quality evaluation.

Teachers have the all important role of instructing children in the formative years. Assessments allow them to uncover student strengths and learning opportunities. 

They are able to differentiate and even individualize instruction where necessary, so early learners are matched with the right activities for optimal development. 

The student’s parents have the important responsibility of partnering with teachers to see how they can best support their child’s learning at home. Assessments reveal certain areas that need to be worked on and the progress made on each area of development. 

Communication here should be two-way, where teachers and parents share knowledge with each other to help the young student grow and mature as a learner. 

Program administrators and policy makers have the important mandate to monitor student’s development in the early years and address emerging issues. Decisions need to be made where to focus efforts, so there is continual improvement year-in and year-out. 

Whether it’s new teaching materials or the need for further professional development, formative assessments are good indicators of how a program is doing.


Considerations on How to Best Assess Early Learners During Their Formative Years

Many things have to be considered when devising an assessment method for early learners. For many young children, it’s the first time they are out of a home setting for an elongated period of time. 

Educators and other early childhood education professionals have to be especially considerate of all information gathered from early learning assessments.

Here are some considerations when choosing the right assessment method. Often, a combination of methods is used to build a learning profile for the young student. So while formative assessments are preferred, they may have different types of qualities as covered in the considerations below.

Consideration: Control

Children-Led vs Adult-Led 

Children can assess themselves, in what is known as “self-assessment.” Having “conversations” with educators is another assessment method that is closer to a child-led assessment. 

“Observation” is both child- and adult-lead, as children demonstrate their skills while educators observe how it’s done. 

“Setting tasks” is an assessment method that is more adult-led. Finally, testing is the best example of an adult-led assessment, where educators control the whole environment.

Consideration: Perspectives

One Point of View vs Many Points of View

At-home environments can be very different from at-school environments. Some children are exposed to different languages or cultures at home and have the challenge of reconciling those differences in a school setting. 

When assessing children, it’s important to not just gather the teacher’s perspective, but also the perspective of the child’s parents, and even the perspective of the wider community who also have chances to interact with the child. It’s one of the many characteristics of holistic learning. 

Opportunities to collaborate and share information must be provided to all these parties because they spend time with the child in different learning environments. Thus, they have inputs which make assessments more fair and accurate. The point of view of the early learner must also be taken into account, which is reflective of a more child-led assessment as mentioned prior.

Consideration: Frequency

Regular vs Once

Formative assessments deal with the day-to-day learning process as it unfolds. These assessments are integrated into the daily teaching practices and are ongoing. They can be both formal and informal. 

Summative assessments are used for reporting purposes. They provide a snapshot of all the learning that happened for a specific period of time. These assessments occur only at certain times of the year and are fixed.

While a formative assessment is “for learning”, a summative assessment is “of learning”. There is a third category of learning that is both formative and summative. It is the “assessment as learning” 

Children are being assessed for what they have learned, but are also learning from the assessment experience. This aligns more closely to formative assessments than summative assessments. 

When the student’s perspective is prioritized, they are allowed “do overs”, and the right interventions are applied following every single assessment. This is a very advanced practice of formative assessment based on real-time data and an attitude of helping rather than penalizing.

Consideration: Timeline

Diagnostic vs Standardized

This is a very interesting spectrum, where the two ends are more similar to each other than what lies in between. 

Diagnostic assessments are used to screen preschoolers or kindergartners when they first enter the school system. Such screening programs are usually developed by companies and administered by educators. It’s a very similar case with standardized testing which first takes place in grade 3 or 4 in Canada and the US. 

But what happens in between is key. That’s where a lot of the early learning growth and development occurs. If school systems were focused primarily on assessment screens and summative testing,  there is valuable data that is not being collected in a timely manner and subsequently not being used to support learning in the prime formative years. Important data such as student performance, behavior, attitudes, characteristics, motivations, interests, literacy skills, math skills, cultural backgrounds etc. 

Measuring such breadth of data is so instrumental to student success, that large government programs like Early Head Start and Head Start lists tables of performance indicators of school readiness. But once in school, should not the same rigor be applied in continually measuring such things? It leads us to think…..


When Is the Right Time to Assess?

Assessments, in the form of screenings, can first happen before children are placed in preschool. These assessments often screen for health and developmental milestones, but also other factors that determine preschool readiness. It includes social-emotional maturity and the ability to handle basic self-care tasks.

Kindergarten assessments or screenings are more common. Usually, they not only assess self-care skills, but also language skills, cognitive skills, and fine and gross motor skills. More than 25 states in the US require some sort of kindergarten entrance assessments.

Regular assessments from kindergarten to grade 3  tend to fade out or are very targeted or restricted to report cards only. 

Yes, educators have always used their own formative assessments in some shape or form such as administering quizzes or observing group work or individual tasks. But there is a lack of comprehensive formative assessment systems that apply differentiated instruction by regularly collecting data on daily and weekly learning.


What Are the Principles of Assessment?

In stating the top 20 principles of early childhood education, the American Psychological Association dedicates principles 18 to 20 to assessment. 

To summarize the principles: formative and summative assessments need to complement each other. The assessment processes must be valid and reliable with well-defined standards for quality and fairness. Assessment data must be interpreted appropriately. 

Holistic learning is a pedagogical approach that takes into account all of the aforementioned principles. It administers ongoing formative assessments that consider multiple points of view, including that of the student. As such, it is very careful in how the results of the assessment are interpreted to reduce bias. 

Besides formative assessments, there are actual diagnostic assessments as well which are more summative in nature and which identify the strengths, interests and challenges of each student. It establishes the base from which subsequent formative assessments can be applied to measure progress. 

It is an evidence-based system of learning that focuses not only on cognitive development, but also emotional, physical and spiritual development. Given its comprehensive outlook, it is open to understanding all the ways in which a child may develop, and thus qualifies for appropriate interpretation.


Choosing An Assessment System

A school can either choose a program-developed assessment tool that meets its specific needs, or a published assessment tool off the shelf that is more general and suited to assessments only. While both are  validated as tools for measuring early childhood development, there are tradeoffs. 

With the former, you can pick a platform that aligns well with your program goals, such as supporting students beyond the classroom setting, or enabling teachers to apply differentiated instruction. With the latter, you can more accurately measure the constructs that interest you and compare them to local, regional and national standards, but it may not have the practical functionality of supporting all critical stakeholders like the former. 

What’s important is that formative assessments become a standard feature of the education system and are reflected in the curriculum planning for school districts.

Sprig Learning is committed towards facilitating learning for all students, and especially those who need it most due to the recent pandemic learning loss . We are equally as committed to building a system where there is comprehensive and timely insight on student progress, so the linkage between home and school is not suddenly severed in case of future disruptions. 

It’s more than just helping students catch up. It’s about introducing a more student-centric assessment system, where everyone supporting the child has the information and tools they need to support their early learning. 

To learn more about holistic assessments and how they are implemented in schools, please do get in touch with us.