Checking The Check-list

A word on using checklists for development….

Educators need tools and methods to communicate children's development with families. But I am concerned about the use of some Development Checklists used for this purpose. Screening, growth and development tools are very carefully researched scales and lists that have been the result of standardised testing and research of thousands of children from different populations. So when I see a new colourful word doc checklist pop up, marketed to educators (sometimes for a fee), I am wondering about the authenticity of the source, how much the author (compiler) paid for that testing, scales and information (in some of the poor quality examples I've seen, likely not anything) and if the source(s) of the compilation is recent and credible. Sometimes there's lists floating around and freely shared, like the dreaded 'School readiness checklist'. Some of these have been evidently popped together by a handful of Foundation year / Prep teachers who'd like children to arrive on day one of that transition year to school, already institutionalised, obedient, compliant, and reading. If you have to use these then make sure those checklists / screening scales are legit and insist you know the source. Imagine the implications for you as an educator if you use a list that has very little empirical evidence. 

If you're considering using a checklist or developmental screening tool. First ask yourself what the purpose of that is or what is the goal you are seeking to achieve. Then consult the NQF and EYLF for a some answers about how else you could reach that goal. If you are in need of some evidence based tools, here's some I recommend (in the order they're listed). 

* Government health websites have relatively up to date information, like this QLD health Red Flags early identification guide or this format if  you'd prefer, and associated Developmental Milestones or this brief guide.
* Also, if you are looking for an evidence-based method for detecting and addressing developmental and behavioural problems in children check out the Parents’ Evaluation of Development Status (PEDS)
* This ACECQA document - Developmental Milestones and the EYLF and the NQS - was developed by Community Child Care Co-operative Ltd. 
* The Raising Children Network is a good start for your learning in this area. But use a critical eye here as well, some of their recommendations around behaviour do not align with guidance approach. 

My intention, here, is not to quash the dreams of anyone attempting to make a fast buck by redesigning documents given to them over their years of practice and selling them back to educators (although this post is partly inspired by that practice). The reason for the post was actually sparked by working with a dedicated team of educators who were using a checklist that had some absurd expectations of a three-year-old that was not developmentally 'appropriate', at least not in this century. They did not know the source of the information but they assumed it was accurate as they had purchased it off the web.

Additionally, I am concerned when I see checklists provided by Primary School teachers to Early Childhood Educators with a checklist of things the teachers must ensure are happening before the child steps foot in their classroom. Expecting all 3-4 year olds to write their name is not just ridiculous but also potentially dangerous. School readiness checklists are not necessary when we're using Early Years Learning Frameworks to guide our practice.  It is a scary and dangerous moment when children are being assessed against a checklist that was developed with inaccurate information.

We are, no doubt, a diverse bunch in education and care and we all work differently. That’s ok. Personally, I prefer to see assessments of children’s learning against an approved learning framework. However, some of my most respected colleagues assess against developmental checklists and plan for domains as well as curriculum learning outcomes. And, I might add, they do that exceptionally well. Thankfully we have a flexible yet comprehensive National Quality Framework with which we all base our foundations on and reflect upon. Yes, while our practices are diverse and flexible - I don't believe we can say “there is no wrong way”. Unfortunately, there most certainly IS a wrong way. When it’s done wrong in a cafe, someone gets a crappy cup of coffee. When educators are doing it wrong… the result effects children. I won’t have that. And I know you won't either. Together, we got this. 

Happy web surfing.

Sandi :)

Some more for specific states and regions:

Victoria - Abilities Based Learning and Education Support (ABLES) program