Observation, Screening, Assessment, and Documentation

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About this Competency

Observation, screening, and assessment include processes for gathering, interpreting, applying, and sharing information in a manner that recognizes children's strengths and builds upon their previous experiences. They are important tools for understanding children individually and in groups, and for the purposes of planning environments, curriculum, and other learning experiences. For example, to support effective observation and assessment practice, the CDE has developed a tool called the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP), which is aligned with the preschool learning foundations and the infant/toddler learning and development foundations.

In general, this competency area addresses the knowledge and skills that early childhood educators need in order to conduct responsible, ethical, and effective observation, screening, and assessment of young children and the identification of special needs. It includes an understanding of the goals, uses, benefits, and limitations of various assessment approaches. Also included are the importance of, and strategies for, working with families when using observation, screening, and assessment; principles of developmentally appropriate, culturally and linguistically sensitive, and individually meaningful observation, screening, and assessment; the relationship between observation, screening, assessment, and decision making and planning; program evaluation; confidentiality and privacy; and the role of early childhood educators or other professionals in these processes.

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California Early Childhood Educator Competencies

California Early Childhood Educator Competencies Wheel

Framing Questions

Framing questions identify some of the major themes in this competency. They provide you with a starting point. As you explore this competency, add your own framing questions for issues you want to further examine.

  • How does observation let you in on who a child is and the nature of the child's experience in the program
  • How can documentation give children a voice?
  • How can your everyday observations and study of documentation be used to meet assessment tool requirements?
  • How does observing and studying documentation assist you in scaffolding children's learning and assist you in examining child development theory?
  • How can you partner with families to further your understandings of observations and documentation?


Keep these dispositions in mind as you explore the Framing Questions. If you mindfully adopt these dispositions, you will realize the Desired Outcomes for Practitioners and for Children.

  • Values the importance of observation, screening, appropriate assessment, and documentation.
  • Respects children's individuality and the cultural diversity of all families.
  • Reflects on how personal perspectives or biases influence the use of tools and instruments and the process of gathering and interpreting information about children and families.
  • Values observation as a basis for decision making.

Desired Outcomes for practitioners

If I have these dispositions, then I will…

  • redefine assessment to mean learning about the learner rather than filling out the forms.
  • realize that when the environment is my ally, there is time for observation and documentation.
  • use observations, documentation, and assessment to support children's cultural competence.
  • see myself as deserving of time in the workday to reflect on observations and documentation and value my own learning in the process.
  • experience wonder, joy, and discovery in all aspects of my daily practice.

Desired Outcomes for Children

If teachers and caregivers have these dispositions, then children will…

  • experience joy in learning and an eagerness to participate in all aspects of the program.
  • see themselves as competent learners.
  • see and tell stories about themselves and know that they are known.
  • see and tell stories about others that help them be friends.
  • get help with the things they're trying to learn and do.

Keys to Reflection and Inquiry

The CompSAT Keys to Reflection and Inquiry offer you a protocol to use in whatever setting you work as an early childhood educator. Learn how you can integrate the six Keys into your work. Select one of the Keys below to practice reflecting with questions related to the competency area of Observation, Screening, Assessment, and Documentation.


Choose from one of the Keys below to view additional information related to this Competency!

Build Your Portfolio

Journaling — A very personal statement of growth.

Portfolio screenshot

Journaling is a great way to record your experiences, keep track of your questions, and make sense of your choices and their outcomes. Journaling lends itself nicely to portfolio work. It's largely a narrative format, but can be enhanced by the addition of photos, sketches, and doodles. Journaling can be done on the computer, or can it can be done using plain, blank notebooks, a pen, and colored pencils.

View the Portfolio Sample

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