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Early Childhood Development Assessment Tools

author image Mary Johnson-Gerard, Ph.D.
Mary Johnson-Gerard began writing professionally in 1975 and expanded to writing online in 2003. She has been published on the Frenzyness Divorce Blog and on Neumind International Pte Ltd. Her book "When Divorce Hurts Too Long—Ouch" was published in 2009. Johnson-Gerard holds a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Missouri.
Early Childhood Development Assessment Tools
The field of early childhood uses various types of assessment tools to gather information. Photo Credit Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images

Early childhood is a critical period in a child’s life during which language, literacy, motor, social emotional and precognitive skills are developing. Parents, physicians, preschool and daycare personnel need to understand how a child is developing to ensure they are providing appropriate developmental stimulation. Early childhood development assessment tools are available to help measure a child’s level of developmental growth. Assessment tools are used to screen, to conduct ongoing assessment activities and to diagnose developmental issues.


Developmental screening is the process of looking at several areas of development on a cursory level to ascertain whether a child is developing as expected. If a child does not meet expectations on a screening assessment, they may have a developmental issue but not necessarily so. Screening focuses on finding children who might benefit from more extensive and in-depth assessment to determine if there are real developmental delays.

Screening Assessment Tools

Some of the most common screen assessment tools are: the Denver Developmental Screening Test II, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, the Early Screening Inventory-Revised (ESI-R), the Hawaii Early Learning Profile (HELP) and the Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning (DIAL). Screening tools are administered by trained personnel. The level of training is basic training on how to administer the tool appropriately, how to rate performance and how to determine a child's score. The person administering the screening tool does not have to be an expert in evaluation and assessment.

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Ongoing Assessment

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the difference between screening and ongoing assessment is that screening offers a quick look at development whereas ongoing assessment looks at development consistently and continually over time. Ongoing assessment is a process that collects information about a child’s strengths and weaknesses, their levels of functioning and specific characteristics of their learning or learning style. Some ongoing assessment tools are tied to a specific curriculum and document progress in learning via the curriculum objectives.

Ongoing Assessment Tools

Some ongoing assessment tools are aligned with specific curriculum, such as High Scope, Creative Curriculum and Project Construct. These ongoing assessments are employed to determine a child's progress in meeting curriculum objectives. Another developmental assessment process utilizes taking anecdotal notes, which is a process of documenting significant events or observable behaviors to provide ongoing information about developmental progress. Ongoing assessment tools help teachers identify what a child knows and what he is ready to learn. Teachers are trained on how to administer the ongoing assessment tool connected with the curriculum used in the classroom. They also receive training on how to take quality anecdotal notes or records.

Diagnostic Assessment

Diagnostic assessment is a process that looks at areas of specific concern or looks at a broad range of development. Diagnostic assessment tools are typically standardized for a large number of children, and a score is given that reflects a child’s performance related to other children of the same age, gender and ethnic origin. A diagnostic assessment typically results in a label or diagnosis being given to a child. Some common labels are related to intelligence, mental retardation, autism, learning disabilities, sensory impairment (deaf, blind) and neurologic disorders. Persons administering diagnostic assessment tools must meet state and national standards, certification or licensing requirements.

Diagnostic Assessment Tools

Some diagnostic assessment tools used for determining or identifying developmental issues are: the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI), the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, electroencephalogram (EEG), Kaufman Assessment Battery (K-ABC), the Battelle Developmental Inventory, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Pre-Language Assessment Survey (Pre-LAS). Many other diagnostic assessment tools are available for early childhood. The Buros Institute of Mental Measurements at the University of Nebraska publishes the Buros Mental Maturity Yearbook, which helps educators and other child care professionals choose a tool that is reliable and highly regarded in the assessment community.

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