Data-Driven Family Engagement Tools for Head Start and State Preschools

Learning Genie is an app for ECE educators and family service workers for Distant Learning and Family Engagement including tracking in-kind. During the COVID-19 crisis, Learning Genie offers free tools till the end of 2020 under a grant (or in-kind) to support all ECE agencies for Distance Learning and track school readiness outcomes.


Learning Genie also provides a useful application for portfolio-building. The portfolio tracking and tagging systems could be readily applied to DRDP 2015, Florida VPK, Head Start (HS), Early Head Start (EHS), Montessori, and other state or private-backed assessment tools.

Topic #2 Practical Strategies in Authentic Evidence-Based

My Assessment Journey with Children in Transitional Kindergarten

My Academic Journey in ECE

In my academic journey and previous Early Childhood Education (ECE) employment, I learned that one’s teaching practices include applying philosophies, human development, family engagement, developmentally appropriate practices, and the environment (the third teacher) in teaching young children.

Soon after I completed my Master’s Degree in Human Development and Educational Leadership, I found out that the school district program I was teaching in was being dissolved, so I had to move to another school. There, the ECE program staff were laid off, we were redesignated to TK classrooms, and the district is paying for my Multiple Subject Teaching Credential program.

Currently, I am student-teaching in my own classroom. Normally, student teachers are assigned credential mentor teachers, but for us in ECE, who already had many ECE teaching years behind us, they didn’t assign us a mentor teacher. Currently, I am student-teaching in my own classroom. Normally, student teachers are assigned credential mentor teachers, but for us in ECE, who already had many ECE teaching years behind us, they didn’t assign us a mentor teacher.

My TK Journey

Once I started working in Transitional Kindergarten (TK), I quickly discovered many differences there compared to ECE classrooms. First, the teacher ratio was higher than in preschool. It was a  surprise that I had to learn new math and social-emotional curricula. I was shocked that we were not using the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP). I quickly realized that I was on a learning curve.

Overall, I was confused that I could not bring my own funds of knowledge to the TK program! This situation placed me in disequilibrium. 

I knew the DRDP is well thought out and uses Universal Design for Learning. These principles show the value of individualism, culture, diversity, and the child’s range of skills. The DRDP also includes children with special needs. I firmly believe that the DRDP is the best practice for assessing and for tracking children’s progress at every development step. 

To address my disequilibrium, I reached out to a mentor teacher from my Master’s Degree program to guide me, help me adjust to the differences between ECE and TK. Ultimately she has been a sounding board to help me stay sane! She helps me process and strategize in this new environment.

When we started, I wanted to know how these changes would suit my experience and developmentally appropriate practices (DAP), which I have used for many years. This mentoring has meant a lot to me because I felt alone in this TK world. I didn’t feel appreciated at first. 

My personal mentor helped me reframe my expectations for the environment, for working in the school district as a TK teacher, and for identifying ways to validate that my approach was truly useful and important for these children. I learned to reset my thinking so that I saw obstacles as opportunities, not triggers.

Three Pedagogical Approaches

I take three pedagogical approaches to teaching and assessment. They are Play-Based Learning, Maria Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. These approaches complement each other well. 

As I will describe in my journey, I’ve seen the value of children learning in play-based environments as they spend time engaging, collaborating, interacting, and socializing with each other. 

I have DRDP assessment data to prove that teaching this way promotes the development and values of the whole child. The DRDP data validates that authentic assessment is the most natural approach. Young children are not meant to sit down and be given a test to assess their knowledge. Further, the assessments and observations are most authentically done through collaboration with the child, and everyone involved. 

In the Play-Based Learning (Sandall et al., 2019) approach, all children play in the learning centers, play games, and explore the environment. Most of the day is spent on what each child wants and chooses to do.

In the Maria Montessori (Craycroft, 2023) philosophy, hands-on materials are placed in the environment, and child-sized furniture and home items are readily available for children to choose. Montessori is known for promoting a natural environment, using cool colors and natural wood. I love the intent that Maria Montessori had for the outcome of education. The children learn through an intrinsic approach vs. being extrinsically motivated.


Reggio Emilia’s (Flavin, 2020) philosophy adds another layer to the pedagogical methods mentioned above. Reggio strongly emphasizes collaborative learning, an environment that is inviting to children, is flexible and open-ended, and includes project-based learning. Teachers here are seen as partners, whereas in Montessori philosophy, teachers are seen as guides. In all three philosophies, the third teacher is the environment.

My Teaching Approach

I combine these three philosophies to address the whole child. They provide the perspective to holistically meet each child’s needs, which aligns with my beliefs. Additionally, I let the families and children know that the classroom belongs to them. 

For example, the classroom looks empty on the first day of school, and I have nothing posted on the walls. The classroom setup is done intentionally with the children and their families during the school year. The room will soon be filled with the children’s artwork, pictures of the children exploring the learning centers, photos of documentation, their artwork, the family’s collage, and charts that we have discussed as a community. We talked about kindness, what it looks like, and what it sounds like. The environment in the classroom and outside must be set up and ready for the children to explore their learning. 

In addition to these three philosophies, I also use Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD). GLAD is used for developing social skills. This strategy helps the children understand what kindness is, and then they discuss what it looks and sounds like.

I use a T-graph to record the children’s information. This is posted on the wall at the height of the children’s view. As the children, or any adult in the environment, have something to add, we add it.

Approach to Assessment 

As the children’s facilitator of learning within their environment, I have observed that children respond well because they use the materials to explore. Through that exploration, they are learning. For example, when solving a problem using the Teaching Pyramid, the children refer to the pictures posted on the wall to help solve their problems.

It is true that the environment is the third teacher, and is set up intentionally with materials that are age appropriate. The children take ownership and know that in the classroom and outdoors, they have a sense of belonging, and that play is their way to explore.

I also give children opportunities to assess and regulate themselves. By giving children these opportunities, they build self- confidence, are encouraged to use independence, and their imagination is stimulated. This helps them problem-solve, learn at their own pace, and cultivate internal motivation more than being externally motivated.

For example, if a child needs to walk around the classroom, they are allowed to do so. If the child realizes they do not want to come to the circle (they assess themselves), we agree together, that they can use a sand timer and stay for the first ten minutes. The child usually gets so engaged with what we are doing during the circle, that they forget about the ten-minute timer.

When the timer is empty, the child uses self-regulation to decide what they want to do. They can leave and do other activities quietly. If they remember, and the ten minutes are up, they can choose to stay or to go to a quiet table already set up with self- selected, self-directed, and self-correcting materials. In this way, the child is taking ownership of their activities.


Overall, the children are assessed according to their developmental milestones and by me getting information about what each child can do. I use the Preschool Learning Foundations and its related curriculum, and Developmentally Appropriate Practices (NAEYC, 2022), to help guide me.

These are the steps in my assessment protocol. These steps help me validate what each child has learned in the environment.

  1. Through observation, I gather information about each child so I can discover what the children are interested in. 
  2. Once I know their interest, I plan activities for their age level and place the materials and activities in their environment. 
  3. Through children’s play, I observe them, getting information to find out what they know, what else they are interested in, and where they need support. 
  4. As I watch, I document the children’s work. I accumulate artifacts such as videos and photographs and work samples then record their growth and development throughout the day. 
  5. Once I gather information through observation, I better understand what support they need from me to bring them to the next level of learning. 
  6. I can develop and plan DAP educational activities at each child’s level so that they each have individualized instruction for their development. 
  7. I use an electronic portfolio called Learning Genie to document. Learning Genie is an application that both the educator and families can use when it comes to engagement, assessment, messaging, and Dual Language Learner (DLL). The information is shared with the parents/guardians so everyone can follow the child’s progress at school and home in real time.

What Has Assessment Shown Me?

Assessments are needed so educators, parents/guardians, and families can make informed decisions about supporting the child’s development and growth. Authentic assessment is done through observation, which helps me learn the children’s learning styles, where they need support, and when to provide individualized and responsive scaffolding.

Tools In my Assessment Protocol

  • The California Preschool Learning Foundation (PLF) Volume 1, Volume 2Volume 3 and California Preschool Curriculum Framework (PCF) Volume 1Volume 2Volume 3
  • The eight domains: Approaches to Learning/Self- Regulation, Social and Emotional Development, Language and Literacy Development, English Language Development, Cognition, Including Math and Science, Physical Development/Health, History/Social Science, and Visual and Performing Arts. 
  • The Desired Results Developmental Profile 2015 (DRDP) is an observational tool I use that occurs over time in the home, classroom, and childcare environment. 
  • Family Engagement is essential for each child’s growth and development. families collaborate with me to support their child by making an individualized plan, as is typical in Montessori philosophy. 
  • Having the children and families be involved with the documentation is an integral part of assessing the child’s growth and development. For example, families use Learning Genie and things the children do at home are sent to me by the parents. Also, they often bring work samples from home to be shared in the classroom.

Where I am Now in my TK-Assessment Journey

Through observation and assessments, I can better understand each child’s strengths, challenges, and extent of learning in home, school, and outdoor environments. I can also communicate with parents/guardians about what their child is developmentally able to do and what support each child needs. All this while authentically staying true to my Early Childhood Education (ECE) teaching philosophy. 

Authentic assessment must be part of what we do as professionals working with younger children. By observing the children, we can learn so much from them. As well as getting to know the families and connecting all the puzzle pieces for each child’s learning. 

Collaborating as a teacher with the parents/guardians is a must to help develop and guide each child. That is how we see the accurate picture of the whole child by using several assessment tools, as described in this blog. 

In conclusion, I hope this blog will guide you, dear teacher, to implement authentic and developmentally appropriate ways of assessing the children in your classroom. 

I have shared with you about how assessments have worked for me in my TK journey. It was essential for me to be authentic and to apply what I have learned as a teacher working with younger children. 

I believe that teachers know what to do. They may need support to practice it, of course. I also know that teachers have it within themselves to find a way to authentically assess children using observations and by collecting input from others in the child’s life.


Brianna Flavin (2020, February 24). What Is Reggio Emilia? Your Guide to This Child-Driven Approach. Rasmussen University. reggio-emilia/

Craycroft, M. (2023). What is the Montessori Method of Teaching? Carrots are Orange Blog. philosophy/ 

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2022). Developmentally Appropriate Practices in Early Childhood Programs. edition 

Sandall et al., (2019). The Powerful Role of Play in Early Education, as cited in California Department of Education, 2022.

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