Learning Leader

Child Assessments: Understanding the Data and How to Use It

December 2020

Relevant Research

Extensive research shows that learning is a process of building new understanding on existing understanding. Learning then is most effective when the child’s already developed understanding is engaged. So for impactful instruction, teachers must identify the development of that learning for each child in order to be intentional in planning concepts, materials, and learning experiences that will support the child’s further growth (National Research Council, 2001).

“Assessing and teaching are inseparable processes” (National Research Council, 2001).

“Using ongoing assessment information to guide instructional decisions is a primary purpose of early childhood assessment and should be a component of a high quality early childhood program” (NAEYC and NAECS/SDE, 2003).

When teachers use assessments, the data collected can guide teachers in planning more intentional instruction. Thus, when we intentionally plan for teaching based on the child’s needs, we can change child skill outcomes.

Assessment data is useless without action of instruction or intervention.

Assessments should be tied to decision making about the use of collected data and what instruction or intervention will promote the child’s continued progress. Data results are vital for understanding and improving student performance. Teachers can regularly use assessment data to check for student progress, identify areas of strength and weakness, and measure learning gains or gaps. This feedback loop allows teachers to adjust and differentiate their instruction, as needed, to help children move forward in their learning.

In order to move students forward, one needs to understand what the data reveals. The assessment measures include benchmarks that determine how well students are learning a specific set of competencies. The resulting assessment scores will determine if the child is on track, needs monitoring, or needs support.

Analyzing data is key for intentional child instruction! When analyzing data, teachers should:

  • Revisit standards and content
  • Review sample work
  • Make inferences about results
  • Reflect on their current practices
  • Generate new engaging and effective strategies
  • Create innovative ways to make small groups happen

Revisiting standards and content
Teachers should review the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines and state-adopted curriculum to familiarize themselves with the standards and expectations before analyzing student work. This will allow the teacher to have the standards and content in mind as they observe the children and note if children are mastering or struggling with the targeted concepts. By having a clear understanding of the standards and content areas, teachers will be able to connect the standards with the students’ assessment results. In addition, teachers should re-familiarize themselves with content knowledge through research articles or professional development, such as the eCIRCLE Professional Development courses.

Review sample work
Teachers should review the assessment data as well as a sampling of student work. By examining student work, teachers can find evidence of student learning, which will further assist in understanding the student’s data results. Results alone may only provide a partial picture of a student’s understanding. By combining the results and a sampling of children’s work, a teacher can formulate a more comprehensive view of the child’s needs.

Make inferences about results
Teachers should review the assessment results and make educated decisions around the specific data results and standards to identify the strengths, weaknesses, and implications of instruction. Teachers can use data results to look for patterns on what skills or knowledge the children demonstrate and use that information to plan activities that target growth areas in future lessons. In addition, teachers can determine what type of support the students will need to improve these skills. Different supports include individualized instruction, small grouping of students with similar strengths or weaknesses, as well as selecting and modifying activities to meet their specific skills.

Reflect on their current practices
Once teachers identify the children’s strengths, weaknesses, and possible supports to provide, then teachers should reflect on their current practices in teaching these skills.  Teachers can consider the following questions:

  • How have I taught this skill?
  • What modifications can I make to the activity to simplify it?
  • What modifications can I do to challenge a successful student?
  • What concrete manipulatives can I use with this child?
  • What learning modality or combination of learning modalities can I use to help this student?

Generate new engaging and effective strategies
This is done to reach the students’ needs. Teachers can engage children by using the CIRCLE Activity Collection: Pre-K to Grade 2 Classroom, which provides activity ideas in English & Spanish for pre-K teachers and parents to use with children. Some activities have video examples, scripts based on the Teaching and Learning Cycle (SEDL 2008), and downloadable files to use with the children. This extensive collection of teaching strategies and activities supports cognitive, social and emotional learning. These activities are aligned with the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines and the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework.

Teachers can add interest for the children by adding a variety of different activities from the CIRCLE Activity Collection. Activities to reinforce children’s skills are available for use during center time, while outdoors, in small groups, during transitions, and with the whole group of children. Many of the activities feature scaffolding ideas for teachers to implement with the children based on their needs. Activities may contain a downward scaffold for children needing extra assistance and an upward scaffold for children who need more of a challenge. The activities may also include teacher tips to provide considerations for making the lesson more successful with the children.

Activity Title: Alike or Not Alike

Activity scaffolds and teacher tips

Create innovative ways to make small groups happen
When teachers are able to devote time for small group instruction on intentionally planned activities, it allows the teacher to use a range of strategies to promote every child’s learning while the children attend more closely, thus increasing their understanding. Teachers can make small groups happen in alternate settings by bringing materials outdoors or practicing cognitive skills while waiting in line, for example. Making small groups happen, especially during these challenging times, can be difficult.  During virtual teaching situations, teachers may group children together and assign a specific time to meet through web-conferencing software. The teacher and the children can meet for a short period of time (7-9 minutes) to conduct a small group activity that focuses on the needed skill. Teachers may plan for three small groups per day to ensure that all children receive individualized instruction at least once during each week.

As a reminder, when teachers use assessments, the data collected can guide teachers in planning more intentional instruction. Thus, when we intentionally plan for teaching based on the child’s needs, we can change child skill outcomes and “the only way to improve child outcomes is to improve instruction” (Barber & Mourshed, 2007).


Barber, M., & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/how-the-worlds-best-performing-school-systems-come-out-on-top#

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) (2003). A Joint Position Statement: Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation: Building an Effective, Accountable System in Programs for Children Birth through Age 8.

National Research Council (2001). Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy. Barbara T. Bowman, M. Suzanne Donovan, and M. Susan Burns, editors. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/9745

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) (2008). The Professional Teaching and Learning Cycle. Retrieved from https://sedl.org/txcc/resources/working_systemically/ptlc-intro.pdf

Teaching Tips

When analyzing assessment data consider the tools that are available to help develop a plan for children who are identified as in need of intervention:

  • eCIRCLE Professional Development
  • CIRCLE Progress Monitoring System
  • Small Grouping Tool (located within the assessment)
  • CIRCLE Activity Collection

Progress Monitoring Scores
The assessments on CLI Engage use levels of understanding based on benchmarks. The results on the screen and the printable reports use a color-code system to indicate levels of proficient understanding in each skill area measured.

  • Green / light green – the child meets the benchmark and is 3.0-4.9 years of age (developed understanding)
  • Orange / yellow – the child does not meet the benchmark and is between 3.0-3.9 years of age (underdeveloped understanding)
  • Red / pink – the child does not meet the benchmark and is at least 4 years old  (underdeveloped understanding)
  • Blue / light blue – the measure has benchmarks but not for the child’s age range

Assessment scoring symbols

Small Grouping Tool
We know from research that early identification of learning needs and grouping children according to those needs maximizes instructional impact. CLI Engage provides a feature called the Small Grouping Tool that divides children into small groups based on their assessment results. The tool sorts through the assessment results and provides a list of children that have not reached the satisfactory level for each skill. The grouped children are identified for the teacher as needing more practice with certain skills and would benefit from small group instruction.

Teachers can click on the “View Groups” button located on the student view assessment screen to see the identified small groups and targeted activities. Below is an example of the tool’s automatically selected results. For each small group, the  recommended activities are listed in the “Classroom Activities” section. Each option is hyperlinked directly to the CIRCLE Activity Collection to make it easy to access the lessons that target specific skill areas.

Small group example

Another way to add intentionality with children’s learning is to customize groups to offer more support for them. As you work with the children, you can add observational notes to any group by clicking on the note button (bubble) which will save the notes for future reference.

Recommended Resources



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