Advantages & disadvantages of informal assessment in early childhood education

Written by ashley seehorn
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Advantages & disadvantages of informal assessment in early childhood education
Informal assessment is often used in early childhood classrooms. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Informal assessments are naturalistic assessment types. These assessment procedures take place in the natural classroom environment during typical early learning situations, making them more authentic than standardised testing, which must necessarily take place in a controlled setting outside the classroom.

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Types of Informal Assessments

Informal assessment methods include: portfolios, anecdotal records, running records, time sampling, event sampling, checklists, rating scales and parent interviews. Each type of assessment has disadvantages and advantages.


A portfolio is a collection of a child's work from very specific areas. Two advantages of portfolio assessment are that it shows student progress over time, and it involves students in the assessment process. Drawbacks to using portfolios are the large amount of time needed to compile them and the subjective nature of this type of assessment. Furthermore, like all informal assessments, portfolios may lack reliability and validity.

Anecdotal Records

With an anecdotal record, the observer writes down the child's behaviours she witnesses without making any judgments. The advantages of anecdotal records are: the observer does not require special training, and the observation can be used to focus specifically on the behaviours of interest. The disadvantages of this type of assessment are that the results depend upon the memory of the individual observer, and the observer may overlook many crucial behaviours to focus on a specific behaviour.

Running Records

A running or descriptive narrative record involves an observer keeping detailed notes of a child's behaviour during a specific time period. Advantages are that little training is required for the observer, the emphasis is on all behaviours and the context of the behaviour becomes apparent. Disadvantages of running records are that the process is extremely time-consuming, it is great for a single child but impossible for a group and the observer must maintain neutrality, which is difficult for a classroom teacher.

Time Sampling

When an observer watches a group or a child for incidences of a specific behaviour over a set time period, this is known as time sampling. The advantages of time sampling are: the observer can record data for multiple students at one time, the method provides useful data about the frequency of the behaviour and the method takes less time than most other informal measures. Disadvantages include: the observer may miss behaviours outside the limited time frame, the causes and consequences of the behaviour are not tracked and the method focuses on frequent behaviours rather than those that may rare but problematic.

Event Sampling

With an event sampling method, the observer watches and records specific behaviours. The greatest advantages of event sampling are that it tracks the antecedents and consequences associated with the behaviour and is used to record even rarely occurring problem behaviours. The disadvantages of event sampling are the lack of detail and the narrowness of focus on exclusive behaviours.

Rating Scales and Checklists

Observers use checklists to evaluate a child's ability to perform a specific skill. Observers use rating scales to express the degree to which a child performs a specific behaviour. Both rating scales and checklists are easy to use and allow the observer to monitor multiple skills at one time. Scoring is usually very easy for these instruments. The drawbacks to using checklists and rating scales are the subjectivity involved in the rating process, the overlooking of behaviours not on the instrument and less detail about the specific behaviours.

Parent Interviews

Parent interviews are usually questionnaires with which the observer collects data from the parents rather than from directly watching the child. The biggest problem with interviews is the unrealistic views or biases of the parents in favour or against the child. The primary advantage to a parent interview is a perspective from outside the classroom -- a view of the child from another environment. The parent may witness behaviours that are very different from those the teacher sees.

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