By Annabel Lewis, final year student on the BA Early Childhood Studies programme.
Early years is a pivotal stage of a child’s development, where learning is constantly taking place (Volchegorskaya and Nogina, 2014). The practitioner’s role requires the shaping and guiding of such learning in order for it to be meaningful and useful within children’s lives and to aid future development (Dubiel, 2014). An aspect of the practitioner’s role involves the assessment of young children; the process in which observations are carried out and recorded to make judgements on children’s developmental achievement (Dubiel, 2014). An example of this within early years education involves the assessment of children’s ability to identify objects that are shown on picture cards and observing how well they perform at this task. Thus, reinforces the deficit model that focuses on what children are unable to do, which then becomes the main focus for that child (Dubiel, 2014). Therefore, we need to question the importance and value of assessment within early years education and what detrimental effects this may have on children at such a young age. Through assessment practitioners are highlighting children’s weaknesses and making this apparent to young children themselves. In addition, Nutbrown and Carter (2012) state that children who sense early stages of failure are more likely to experience low self-esteem and therefore impacts further learning.
Although it is important and a requirement for practitioners to assess children’s levels of development in order to identify areas where children require further support, and the next steps for development can be planned to continuously encourage children’s learning and development (Drummond, 1993). In contrast, we need to understand what assessment means to young children and how it impacts their daily lives within educational settings. Research has found that school pressures which consists of testing children at a young age are closely linked to an increase in high levels of cortisol within children (Zeidner, 2007). It is also suggested that children develop feelings of fear, low self-esteem and failure in anticipation of a test which has detrimental effects on a child’s overall academic achievement (Ringeisen and Raufelder, 2012; Lohbeck, Nitkowski and Petermann, 2016). This implies that stress in young children caused by school pressures, such as assessments, results in children having a lack of motivation and engagement, and further portrays that children are less likely to perform well. Is testing children doing more harm than good? Children experiencing stress at such a young age can result in permanent effects to the developing brain such as having difficulties self-regulating their behaviour, being unable to concentrate and learn (Von Suchodoletz, Trommsdorff, Heikamp, Wieber and Gollwitzer, 2009). Further to this, persistent high levels of cortisol has been found to increase children’s risk of developing mental health problems in the future (Gunnar and Quevedo, 2007). It is evident that assessment has detrimental effects on young children such as causing high levels of stress, which in return decreases children’s academic performance. Practitioners are required to enhance children’s learning and to ensure that all children are developing to their best ability (DoE, 2017). In contrast, if practitioners are testing children at a young age; are practitioners encouraging children’s learning and development by causing anxiety and stress in children, or are there other ways in which children can learn and develop without the pressures of being assessed?
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