Alternative Approaches to Assessing Young Children
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3: Naturalistic Assessment

Study Guide Questions

  1. What is the rationale for using naturalistic assessment?

  2. What are the three salient characteristics of naturalistic assessment?

  3. How do underlying theoretical perspectives and assumptions influence naturalistic assessment tools and procedures?

  4. Identify the formal and nonformal tools that practitioners might use to conduct naturalistic assessment in an early childhood or early childhood special education program.

Answer Key

  1. Naturalistic assessment provides opportunities for a child to perform skills across multiple domains of development in the context of child-initiated, routine, and planned activities. Naturalistic assessment is conducted in a natural environment and, therefore, is likely to provide an accurate picture of the child’s true functioning needs. It also allows children to use materials that are familiar and/or culturally appropriate, and the tasks resemble real-life activities that tend to maintain the child’s attention and cooperation.

  2. a. It is an instructional context in which multiple opportunities for the child to perform skills across domains of development occur or can be embedded in the context of child-initiated, routine, and planned activities.

    b. Caregivers and others who interact with the child on a regular basis observe the child and record assessment information.

    c. Naturalistic assessment addresses functional skills that will enhance the child’s independence and social interactions across environments.

  3. Ecological approach: An ecological approach provides the basis and the context for assessment within the child’s typical environment and emphasizes the nested and interdependent systems of which the family is a part.

    Developmental theory: Naturalistic assessment addresses developmental functional skills that facilitate a child’s independence and control of his or her environment. Tools based on age-related sequences of developmental milestones are designed to assist practitioners in determining target behaviors and intervention activities.

    Applied behavioral analysis: Naturalistic assessment draws from applied behavioral analysis to describe the environmental conditions necessary for eliciting desired behaviors. Discrete skills are operationally defined so that they can be observed, measured, and quantified.

  4. Formal tools that may be used are criterion-referenced or curriculum-based assessments. Nonformal tools that may be used are interviews, anecdotal notes, and parent report.

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