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Screening, Assessment, and Evaluation: A Guide for Administrators

Screening, Assessment, and Evaluation: A Guide for Administrators
Amanda Schwartz, PhD
October 22, 2018

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Editor’s note: This text-based course is a transcript of the webinar, Screening, Evaluation, and Assessment: A Guide for Administrators, presented by Amanda Schwartz, PhD.

Learning Outcomes

After this course, participants will be able to:

  • Describe the importance and meaning of screening, assessment, and evaluation.
  • Identify formal and informal tools to gather child data/information.
  • Explain how screening, assessment, and evaluation work together to identify children for additional services.

Introduction and Overview

Thank you so much for joining me as we discuss one of the toughest issues in early childhood education: screening, evaluation, and assessment. To begin, we're going to take a minute and watch a video of a little girl playing in a sandbox.

Screening evaluation and assessment

Figure 1. Video of young girl in sandbox. 

After viewing that video, think about some of the things that we observed. We saw a little girl who obviously enjoys the sand. She is covered in sand. She is moving the sand with her hands. She can grasp with her hands. She is digging in the sand and finding objects. Her fine motor skills are pretty good. She is singing clearly, and you can tell she likes My Little Pony because she keeps singing about Rainbow Dash. She's moving around a little in that sandbox, but very little. She seems to be content in there. Simply by looking at children and watching what they do, we notice so much about who they are, what they like, what they're able to do, what kind of things that may be exposed to, and what kind of things we may be able to use to teach them more effectively.

How Do We Capture Information?

There are many different ways we can capture the information that we observe. First, we have child records which often contain information about how the child is doing developmentally. Because we also have to gather all sorts of health information, we can find out whether they've had their immunizations, whether they're up to date on their child health, what kind of additional services they may have, and what kind of support their family may receive. All of that may be found in the child's record. Having detailed records is important when you're thinking about screening assessment and evaluation.

Next, we also capture information through conversations with families and professionals. It is critical to take extensive notes when we have those conversations and make sure that we've documented what has occurred with that child.  We can use the collected data to plan and to make decisions about the children that we serve and the way that we serve them. We can make observations in different settings where the children are playing or interacting (e.g., in the classroom, in the hall, in the bathroom, outside on the playground). Whatever environment a child is in can be a good opportunity for observation. If you work for a program that also does home visiting, the home is a wonderful setting to observe children because they're comfortable in their home surroundings. In addition, there are other dynamics that you can witness when you do those kinds of observations that help tell the story of that child.

We can also use formal developmental screenings and formal developmental assessments to capture information, which we will discuss a little later in the presentation. There are also formal evaluations, but in general, the ECE administrator is not going to be ones completing those. You may complete an element as the general education staff, but special education personnel are going to be administering most of the formal evaluations.

What Do We Do with the Information We Gather?

Often, we gather information to meet reporting requirements for the funders or families that we serve. You may receive money from the state. You may be a Head Start or Early Head Start program. Your program may be funded through a foundation. All of those kinds of things require reports. You need to tell them what you're doing with their money and how effective it is. Many times, we gather information just for reporting purposes. Additionally, you can and should use that information to individualize planning so you're meeting the needs of all of the different children in your program. You're also going to use the information to determine who may need a referral for further evaluation.

Within the last decade, there has been a strong push for children to be identified earlier. In 2003-2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began to develop a project called Learn the Signs, Act Early. This project has been a fantastic means of supporting practitioners and families in understanding developmental milestones and how to identify red flags. Learn the Signs, Act Early rose out of the dramatic increase in children being identified with and diagnosed with autism. They wanted to support people who saw children most frequently, including early care and education staff and administrators, so they would have a better understanding of child development and become better at referring children. They strongly encouraged those in early care and education settings to conduct screenings. That effort intensified 10 years later when the Administration for Children and Families (who operate the Office of Child Care and the Office of Head Start) created the Birth to 5, Watch Me Thrive initiative. Specific materials were developed for administrators, for teachers, for early intervention professionals, and for the medical home. These materials outlined each component of the process, including the precise definitions of screening, assessment, evaluation, and descriptions of tools that people could use to screen children and to immediately identify whether a child has specific needs that need to be addressed. This is part of a larger effort across the country to help us understand how to help young children as soon as possible, and how to promptly deliver additional supports to children who need early intervention. 


Head Start has been very clear in how it defines the terms screening, assessment, and evaluation. However, in special education, medicine, and early care in education, you may find that these terms are used a little more loosely. We need to be sure that we are all on the same page and using the same language when discussing these tools. Figure 1 shows a chart that is a good visual representation of the process used by Head Start and Early Head Start programs to identify and respond to the developmental needs of enrolled children. Ongoing assessment or developmental monitoring are ways to constantly keep an eye on child development, making referrals when concerns arise.

Head Start screening, assessment, and evaluation flow chart

Figure 1. Screening, assessment and evaluation process used by Head Start and Early Head Start (Adapted from O'Brien, 2001).

Screening. All children will be screened. A screening is a quick snapshot of a child's overall behavior and development. Screening should include making sure that children are up to date on their well-child health checks, and that they have been immunized. It also includes a developmental screening, a sensory screening (i.e., hearing and vision) as well as behavioral screening. Behavioral screening is often folded into the developmental screening tool, but sometimes it isn't. Screening is a great way for us to ensure that we have good baseline data. It helps parents engage in the process and support their children in getting services that they may need. After the screening, if no concerns are identified, the child is then assessed.

Assessment. Assessment is an ongoing examination of a child's development over time, to make sure the child is progressing and meeting milestones. As an ECE professional, assessment is something that you do throughout your daily life to ensure that the children in your program are receiving the kinds of educational opportunities that help them progress. Assessment provides information for planning and individualization. It occurs at the same time as health providers conduct developmental monitoring. Assessment may identify developmental concerns not identified in screening, which would then warrant an evaluation.

Evaluation. An evaluation is conducted to determine whether a child is eligible for services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The child would be evaluated to determine whether he would get an individual family service plan (IFSP) or an individualized education plan (IEP). The IFSP is for children under three; the IEP is for children three and older. There are times when the screening identifies a child who has some red flags but is not to the degree that you would want to refer. We'll talk a little more about how to make those decisions coming up later in the presentation. In those cases, assessment is what helps you determine whether you're going to refer the child. Things that don't pop up in the screening or are unclear in the screening will come up during assessment. All children, whether they have an IFSP or an IEP, are going to be assessed and education services are going to be delivered to everyone.

Obtain Parental Consent

Please note that before a child can participate in any degree of this process, you have to notify parents that you're conducting the screening and obtain their consent. They need to agree to the process. Before you have a child evaluated, the parent has to be a partner in the process. Always talk to families and share information about your program and your procedures to let them know that you screen/assess/evaluate in order to identify any concerns, to individualize your process and to ensure that children are getting the services that they need. If a parent says that they don't want to be a part of the process, you simply document your efforts to try to engage them and then leave it alone, because ultimately, parents have the final say about what happens with their children.


A screening is a quick snapshot of a child's overall behavior and development to obtain baseline data. It usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes to conduct a screening. Screenings are mandatory for some programs. For example, as an administrator for Head Start and Early Head Start programs, you are required to deliver a screening within the first 45 days. Screening is also a component of the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT). Go to to obtain to a list of the EPSDT requirements for each state, as each state has their own EPSDT guidelines.

As part of EPSDT, screening often happens in the medical home, however, that does not mean that you shouldn't do it in the early care and education setting. You may see different things in a classroom than a doctor would see in a medical office. Screening in the early childcare setting pairs well with sensory screening and well-child visits to help you understand the overall health and wellness of a child. It also means that through the family, you can work to understand the kinds of things that the medical home is seeing and share that information back and forth. It's not just about looking at the child's development but also looking at their health and wellness to have a better sense of the overall picture of a child.

Screening also requires approval from the family. Confidentiality laws state that a parent must consent to share information when a child care center or an early care and education center wants to communicate with the medical home.


The next component of the process is assessment. Assessment is the ongoing examination of a child's development over time. In contrast to screening (which is quick), assessment involves the gathering of information over time in a very specific manner. Assessment also provides information for planning and individualization, and it helps determine a child's progress toward expected outcomes over time. When you're looking at a child's development, you may notice that the screening tool initially indicated that they were struggling in some areas of language when they first entered your program. Using assessment tools and aggregating and analyzing that assessment data over time, you should and most often will see development in that language domain to show that the child is progressing as expected.

Assessment occurs at the same time as health providers conduct developmental monitoring. They are constantly monitoring the child's development at each visit to understand how they're growing and how they're moving and meeting milestones. The pediatrician will often conduct what they call developmental monitoring, which matches well with what you have in your assessment data. Once again, this is an opportunity for you to connect through the family with the medical home to determine if your observations are the same as the pediatrician's, to obtain a comprehensive picture of that child and their development.

Assessment may identify developmental concerns that are not identified in screening. This is an opportunity for you to constantly check in with children to ensure that they're progressing in the manner that you had hoped. In early intervention and in preschool special education, you may hear them use the term "progress monitoring." That's what they're doing to make sure that children are progressing over time. They often have strict data components that they'll collect to graph and to make sure that the progression is moving forward in the appropriate way.

Questions to Consider about Assessment Tools 

There are four critical questions to consider when using assessment tools: 

Is it a formal or informal assessment tool? Formal assessment is often planned. It's conducted with a tool that may be standardized in order to capture information about your child's learning in a set way. These tools will capture the same type of information about children in your setting, and you can make comparisons about the growth of children in your setting. Some formal tools won't allow you to spontaneously capture learning or children's knowledge and skills beyond what the school assesses. They tend to be formulaic and highly structured. You have to follow the instructions. There may be some adaptations that they permit, but in general, you have to stay within the lines that have been drawn for that formal assessment.

In contrast, informal assessment is a way to gather data about a child within the context of their play and their learning. You're able to observe them within the environment and allow them to do what they're going to do naturally. Observation and the tools you use to collect them serve as informal assessments. You can also use child samples or photos, videos, or portfolios to gather this informal assessment data. These tools allow you to catch learning in authentic ways. They allow you to follow the child and capture moments of learning while they occur naturally.

One drawback of informal assessment is that it doesn't lend itself to specific skills at particular moments. In addition, it takes a lot of planning and effort to assess development in those specific skills. You have to create a detailed plan ahead of time and be very intentional about measuring those skills in a specific way if you're going to use informal assessment. For example, "On Friday, I'm going to plan a block area activity. I am going to watch how the children understand how shapes and weights fit together to create a large, tall structure. I'm also going to watch for language such as 'bigger, smaller, heavier, lighter'." Furthermore, informal assessment doesn't lend itself easily to making cross-child comparisons. As an administrator, you're going to have more challenges pulling together that informal data to understand the picture of your program and the picture of the classrooms in your program. Informal assessment can be more challenging because there is no consistent measure or standard for implementation. It just happens organically.

Is it standardized? Standardized assessment includes two critical components. You administer the same items to all of the children in your setting to ensure consistency across children, and you score each child's performance in the same way. All children are being assessed on the same skills and knowledge, using the same criteria to determine each child's ability, and the result of each child would be consistent no matter who administered the assessment. Standardized assessments must be valid (i.e., the tools measure what they say they will measure) and reliable (i.e., the tools offer consistent results across children and teachers).

Many federal and state programs require that you use standardized assessment, including home visiting, Head Start and Early Head Start. If you work in a program that requires the use of standardized assessments, you must make sure that your staff is formally trained in using those tools. You have to hire an accredited trainer to come in and make sure that everyone knows how to properly and consistently use those standardized tools. As an administrator, you have to supervise and determine that those teachers are using the tools as intended. You also have to check in with them to make sure that they're analyzing the data in a consistent fashion. It's a deep and serious process. As you're planning your program structure, make sure that if you are using a standardized tool that you're using it correctly.

Make sure that you select a standardized tool that meets your population. Standardized tools are great because they help you get a comprehensive picture of what's going on in your program across all of the classrooms and across all settings. However, you don't always leave room to be spontaneous when you use a standardized tool. As such, you may want to integrate some informal tools, because a child might not exhibit specific skills when doing the standardized assessment, which those informal tools will capture.

Is it evidence-based? Evidence-based tools are tools that have been piloted or tested and have evidence to show that they measure specific skills with specific populations. Most early education programs use these, often because they're required to, but also because they're the best tools to use. Evidence-based tools have a body of research to support them, regardless of whether the tools have been standardized, and they show effectiveness in gathering information. Portfolio assessment is a great example of an evidence-based tool that isn't standardized. They offer clear information about child growth when they're used appropriately. Note that if you're using an evidence-based tool, you need to read the fine print. You need to make sure that it has been pilot tested on a population that is similar to your own so that your teachers are capturing the right information about the children in your program. Some tools may not have been tested on different cultural, socioeconomic, ability or language differences. Make sure that if you're using an evidence-based tool, that it has been tested on a population similar to yours.

Is it practical? You want to make sure that the teachers in your program can use the tools that you have chosen. If they can't use them, you're not going to get the data that you need. If the tool is practical, it will fit into their lives. There are a couple of steps you can use to make sure that the tool that you choose is appropriate and practical. First, read the tool's instructions or guidance on how to use it and begin to ask yourself some questions. Determine how easy the tool would be for teachers to use. Administrators will often gather a committee of teachers together to talk about ease of use. Ask yourself if it will interpret teaching? Will the information be easy to share with families and others who have consent to use it? Will it help them plan? Will it help them understand children's progress? Will it help them engage families in a way that'll be supportive? As an administrator, make sure that you're going to be able to gather the information you need, not only to make programmatic decisions but also to report the required information to your funders and to licensing agencies, if appropriate. 

Types of Assessment Tools

We have already discussed formal and standardized assessment tools, but there are also informal tools that we can use. If you want to learn more about these specific strategies, consider attending the teacher session, as it contains information that you may find helpful.

Some informal assessment tools include:

  • Anecdotal notations: The quick, jotting down of ideas that teachers do.
  • Narratives or daily records: Often, this will be when teachers gather an ongoing, lengthier picture of what happened during an activity or during a part of the day.
  • Daily health checks: Check-ins that teachers do with children when they first come to school to capture how the child is feeling.
  • Teacher observation notes: This can be a more in-depth look at what's going on in the classroom. These notes can be in the form of checklists, notations, or documented in a variety of different ways.
  • Frequency counts and time samples: This is a great way to find out what's happening at different periods throughout the day. Frequency counts and time samples often work well with targeted behaviors or targeted skills. If you have a child who has significant issues with behavior, this is a great tool to figure out how often that behavior is happening and at what times of the day. You'll also hear about functional behavioral assessment, where you analyze the antecedent, or what occurred before the child had the behavior, what the behavior was, and then the consequence, or what happened after the behavior.
  • Interviews, conversations or correspondence: People don't often think of these things as data, but they are helpful in capturing what's going on in that classroom. I highly recommend making sure that interviewing and having conversations is a critical component of the assessments that you conduct.

Backward Design

Now that you have obtained all of this information from assessment, how are the teachers going to use it to individualize and plan? One specific strategy that I recommend for all programs is referred to as backward design. It's something that you can use in a big-picture way to make sure that all of your teachers are thinking about outcomes-based planning. State and federal governments have been pushing early education to think about not just what we're going to do in classrooms, but why we're going to do it and what difference it is going to make. Backward design is one of the great ways to get teachers to think differently about their planning.

Desired results. To begin, think about the desired results. First, establish some goals. What is it that we want our students to be able to know and do by the end of the unit, the end of the month or the end of the year? Many curricula are good about putting into the structure what those outcomes and objectives would be. Using that existing structure to frame the lesson is important. Then, as you're defining these desired results, you also want to make sure what understanding you want children to have at the conclusion of the lesson, the unit, or the year. What kind of essential questions will they be able to answer? This is good not only for cognitive goals but you can also make it work for skills (e.g., the child will be able to bounce a ball, the child will be able to walk without holding onto anything, the child will be able to speak using a three-word sentence). Those are the types of skills that we're looking at in these essential questions and understandings. 

Assessment evidence. If you start with that framework of knowing what you want children to do, you have to be able to ascertain whether they achieved those goals. That's the assessment evidence piece of it. What performance tasks are we going to look at and be able to judge? What other evidence can we take into consideration? That is where you use assessment tools to help gather evidence that the child has achieved the goals or results that you have established.

Learning plan. Once you've framed what you're hoping their end result will be and how you're going to determine whether they met it, then you can figure out how you are going to teach it. Determine what you are going to do to individualize and meet all of the needs of the children in your classroom. If you set up your staff to start thinking in this way, it changes the frame and it changes the way they practice. As a result, they're thinking about the results of their work rather than, "What am I going to do today?" which is a trap that many teachers fall into. Backward design makes their instruction much more intentional. More information about backward design can be found at 


Thus far, we have had a thorough discussion of not only assessment but also assessment for the purposes of planning. However, there is also assessment for the purposes of determining whether you're going to refer a child for evaluation. Evaluation is that in-depth, multidisciplinary review of child development in all domains. You will often have multiple providers conducting this evaluation. If a child is having delays in speech, a speech therapist will be involved. If there are gross motor or fine motor issues, an occupational or physical therapist will likely be participating. You'll always have a special education or early intervention person present conducting the overall educational evaluation using the tool that looks at all domains of development. These tools need to be culturally and linguistically appropriate. If the child's primary language is different than English, the evaluation needs to be conducted in the child's primary language, in which case you may require an interpreter.

Family members and current teachers need to participate in the evaluation and in decision making. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that a general education staff member who knows the child participate in this process. If you can't spare your teacher for that child, then you need to be present, or someone from your program that knows the child well needs to be at the table. During the decision-making process, someone needs to be there to help the team understand how this child is functioning in the general education curriculum. That is how they make sure that the child will be included and have access to the content that they need.

When you conduct an evaluation to determine whether a child is eligible for special education services, it is conducted within federally defined timelines (within 45 days for infants and toddlers; within 60 days for preschoolers or school-aged children). If an infant or a toddler is eligible, they're going to receive an individualized family service plan (IFSP). Preschoolers and school-aged children get an individualized educational plan (IEP). Note that if a child is referred by a family member for services, they must be evaluated. Often, school districts and preschool special education providers will talk to you about response to intervention. That is their process for determining whether school-aged children should receive more intervention before they're referred. Ultimately, a referral is a referral, and nothing about response to intervention should interfere with the process moving forward. That's important to know as you're advocating for families. Also, if a parent doesn't consent to evaluation, the evaluation does not happen.

In summary, here is an at-a-glance comparison of screening, assessment, and evaluation:

  • Screening
    • A quick look
    • Usually 30 minutes or less
    • Used to identify immediate red flags
    • All children are screened
  • Assessment
    • Ongoing data collection of daily learning and growth
    • Can be planned or "on-the-spot" using informal or formal tools
    • Use tools to organize the data and determine child progress
    • All children are assessed
  • Evaluation
    • Multidisciplinary team conducts a one-time examination of child development
    • Used to determine eligibility for special education services
    • Only conducted on children who have been referred
    • Children with an IEP or IFSP will be reevaluated every three years


Finally, I want to make sure that you know what the law is regarding confidentiality. You are required to maintain a child and family's confidentiality through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). It can be accessed on the U.S. Department of Education's website,, under Laws and Guidance.

This act explains what can be shared and when and how parent approval can be offered. It also states how parents and eligible students can access their records. It is to your benefit to be familiar with FERPA to better understand what it means to you and your program, and to make certain that you're meeting the confidentiality requirements. It is critically important that you respect every family's confidentiality.

Apply Your Knowledge

Now we are going to try out some of the different things that we've been learning throughout the session by looking at different scenarios.

Scenario #1: You are working with teachers in your program on identifying how children are progressing and what information they are using. Which do you suggest: a screening tool, an assessment tool, or an evaluation tool? If you guessed assessment, you are correct. Remember that assessment is that ongoing tool that helps you understand a child's progress over time. That is the best way to gather that information.

Scenario #2: You want the teachers in your program to gather and use baseline data to plan and identify children who may have concerns. Which do you suggest: screening, assessment, or evaluation? If you answered screening, you are right. Remember, screening is that first look. It takes 30 minutes or less. It's a snapshot of what's going on with the child when they enter your program.

Scenario #3: During supervision with a teacher, she suggests she has real concerns for one of her students. Which do you suggest: screening, assessment, or evaluation? If you selected evaluation, you are absolutely right. Evaluation is that one that you use when you think a child may have special needs or need additional supports and services. You would definitely want to use evaluation in this situation.

Knowing Which Tool to Use and When

The next step in this process is knowing which tool to use and when. It's easy to look at a tool and get confused. These are some questions to ask to help you figure out which tool is appropriate for screening, which one will work for assessment, and which is right for evaluation.

What is the length of time to use the tool? As you remember, screenings are short, quick tools. They're often in the form of questionnaires or checklists. If it's 30 minutes or less, it's probably a screening tool. If the directions say you gather information over time (e.g., on a monthly or quarterly basis), organize your data, and fill out checklists and narratives, it's most likely an assessment. If it is a longer tool that you need specific expertise and training, then it's probably an evaluation tool that someone else will be using when you refer that child for special education services.

How is the tool organized? Is it quick and simple? Is it pulling together data over time? Or is it an in-depth look into development, developmental domains, and skills? The quick look will be a screening tool. That pulling together of data sources and information over time is an assessment tool. The more deep dive into skills is going to be an evaluation tool.

Does the tool organize existing data or require new data collection? This one can get tricky. Screenings are always going to gather new data. Ongoing child assessment tools will always pull together data. Sometimes assessments may ask for new data, but more often than not, you're aggregating. You're pulling together all of the information that you're collecting over time. Evaluation tools have a combination of both types of data because they often include family surveys and family questionnaires. They also may include questionnaires or checklists for teachers to complete. Evaluations also will have other kinds of things that you'll need to dig into.

Who is supposed to use the tool? Is it someone who has been trained in the use of the tool? Is it someone with specialized skills? Is it a teacher? That will help you determine what kind of tool it is. If it's a teacher, it's ongoing child assessment. It can be screening as well, but the teacher needs to be trained to use the screening tool. Evaluations often require someone with specialized skills.

How is the data intended to be used? Is it intended for planning? Is it intended to get that quick look? Or is it intended to identify whether the child has a disability?

Examples of Tools

Let's dive in and look at some examples of commonly used tools.

Teaching Strategies GOLD. This is a tool that gathers and organizes meaningful data quickly. It can create a developmental profile about what the child knows and what he is able to do. It helps teachers scaffold knowledge because it helps them understand the before and after benchmarks. It helps identify children who may need additional help. This is an ongoing assessment tool. When you ask the question, "What is the length of time used?" it occurs over the entire year. Programs often will do this quarterly. It organizes existing data. It also collects data every day, all the time. Teachers are supposed to be using this tool. The data is intended to be used both for planning and for referral purposes.

ASQ-3 (Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Third Edition). The Ages and Stages Questionnaire is a quick checklist that happens within 10 or 15 minutes for parents to complete and then two to three minutes for professionals to score. It captures what parents think about their child's development and highlights children's strengths as well as concerns. It helps programs identify children who may need additional support. It is a developmental screening tool.

The BRIGANCE Early Childhood Screens III is another screening tool. The BRIGANCE IED III is an evaluation tool because it gathers information about all domains using in-depth multidisciplinary approach.

For additional resources, you can use the following URL links:


The first resource is from the Birth to 5, Watch Me Thrive website. It's the ECE Providers guide. The second resource is the Learning from Assessment Toolkit from the National Center on Development, Teaching, and Learning. It offers some good tips on working with your teachers to apply what they're learning from assessment in their planning. The final resource is from the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center and it relates to screening and evaluation from the perspective of early intervention and special education.

Tips and Tricks for Administrators

To conclude, screening, assessment, and evaluation can make a difference. Make sure your systems support the best for all children in your program. I'd like to offer some tips and tricks as you're thinking about how to do screening, assessment, and evaluation in your program.

Make sure you have parental consent before conducting any screening, assessment, or evaluation. Many programs will do this at the beginning of the year when people are beginning to sign up for services. That is a great time to hand parents an overall broad consent form that says they're willing to participate in each step of this process and that they understand what it means. You can make it a part of the orientation for families so they understand this is something you're doing to support their children in your setting. You're also going to want to make these confidentiality policies clear and make sure that you're staying true to FERPA laws. Offer families who may feel unsure the information and reassurances they need. As you're meeting new families that are coming to your program, you're going to help them understand that this is part of what you do, that it is in the best interest of their children, and that nothing that you gather about their children will be made available to anyone if they don't feel comfortable sharing it. Families may refuse to provide their consent. If that is the case, you have to make sure you have written documentation of their refusal. It's particularly important if this is a requirement by your funder because you will get penalized if you don't have thorough documentation of every attempt you've made to get parents to buy in to screening, assessments, and evaluation. You also want to make sure that you're clear about educating families to understand what the tools are, how you'll use them, and how you'll use the information.

Train teachers on the best ways to talk to families about the tools and results. You may serve a very diverse population. Make sure that teachers have training in culturally and linguistically appropriate communication strategies so that they can talk to families in ways that are comfortable for them and that help them understand the purpose and meaning of all of the work that you're doing around screening, evaluation, and assessment. If you, as an administrator, know that a meeting is going to be challenging for a teacher, I would suggest that you sit with that teacher during that meeting and offer that teacher some backup. Some of these conversations can be very challenging. Your presence at that meeting will provide support and affirmation to the teacher. If the teacher doesn't want you there, that's something you can explore during reflective supervision. I am of the opinion that being available for those challenging meetings is important. I also would provide any teacher, whether you attend the meeting or not, reflective supervision both before and after those conversations with families so that you can help guide them in making good decisions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a helpful resource called "Tips for Talking with Parents About Developmental Concerns." I recommend that you read this literature and share it with your teachers. It is a good tool to help ensure those conversations are positive. It can be found at

Screening results can lead to hard decisions. It is important to support your staff in making decisions related to screening results. Think about only recommending referrals when the results are clear. In that way, you ensure that you're following family guidelines and that you're supporting the family in any way that's appropriate. You know that assessment is going to follow the screening to identify any issues that might arise. Be sure to talk with special education partners and medical partners to verify that the information you're gathering is consistent with the information they have, and that you possess all of the pertinent information you need to engage in conversations with families. Finally, make sure that you support everyone through the referral process.

Referrals for evaluation can be stressful. Establishing a positive relationship with special education agencies will help you move the process along. If they trust you and they know your program does a good job, they're going to be more likely to trust your referral and move it along faster. You and your staff can help families by making sure they have all the information that they need and lots of support through the process. When you get stuck, make sure that you ask for help from special education partners and medical partners if you need it. This is a lot -- for you, for your staff, for everyone in your program. It is important to be certain that you've offered all of the backup possible to families and to staff, and that you have the right tools capturing the right information, that folks are analyzing the information and using it to make good, solid decisions, and that they have evidence to back up the work that they're doing. That's how you know you're running a quality program. Training is a big piece of that. Work closely with teachers to make sure they have the right training. Supervising them in a reflective way so they feel like they have your ongoing support is important. Again, make sure families understand what you're doing, why you're doing it, and how it supports them.

Hopefully, after today's session, you are equipped with the necessary information to be able to do screening, assessment, and evaluation effectively within your program. If questions arise, feel free to ask. You can e-mail me at It was a pleasure to share this information with you today.



McTighe, J. & Wiggins, G. (2004). Introduction - The logic of backward design. In ASCD book The understanding by design professional development workbook (pp. 1-27). Retrieved from

O’Brien, J. (2001). How Screening and Assessment Practices Support Quality Disabilities Services in Head Start. Head Start Bulletin No. 70.



Schwartz, A. (2018). Screening, Assessment, and Evaluation: A Guide for Administrators, Article 22946. Retrieved from

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amanda schwartz

Amanda Schwartz, PhD

Amanda Schwartz, Ph.D. is an educator and Federal contractor who has worked at national, regional, state, and local levels. While her expertise is focused on special education, health, early childhood education, and family engagement, Dr. Schwartz has worked on program management and emergency preparedness issues related to children and families. As a team member on several Federal projects Dr. Schwartz worked in technical assistance, resource development, research, and monitoring. Throughout her career, Dr. Schwartz has developed professional development opportunities and publications to facilitate the use of research-based interventions and support data-driven decision-making by practitioners, technical assistance providers, and Federal staff in the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

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