Currently, there is a shortage of qualified educators and support staff working in early childhood education. Early Learning Indiana, a nonprofit organization focused on high-quality, early childhood education for all children throughout the state of Indiana, is seeking to close the gap with an innovative combination of mini-assessments and online training modules that provide personalized, professional development.

Early Learning Indiana provides direct early childhood services in several centers, offers advocacy and support to childcare centers in Indiana, and is committed to developing high-quality educators and support staff to work with children in early childhood education. Early Learning Indiana selected Alpine in 2019 to support the development of its certification assessments for staff working in early childhood classrooms. The assessments needed to measure participants’ demonstration of the core knowledge and competencies specified by the state of Indiana. Together, Early Learning Indiana and Alpine successfully shepherded the project from assessment design through item writing and standard setting.

Simultaneous to the certification assessment work, Early Learning Indiana was creating online, professional development modules for early childhood educators and support staff. The purpose was straightforward: provide increased access to training in order to expand the workforce and to improve the capabilities of those entering the field of early childhood education. Early Learning Indiana shared their work on the online modules with the Alpine team and described their goal of providing personalized training, focused on the individual needs of those who want to enter the field.

Early Learning Indiana and Alpine collaborated to identify a solution that would permit this personalized training: a series of abbreviated assessments or “mini-assessments” that could be used to identify participants’ development needs.

“Due to the nature of our work, it is essential that our participants not only have the foundational knowledge and understanding of child development, health and safety regulations, and the principles of developmentally appropriate pedagogy, but also have the ability to translate that knowledge into enacted behaviors in the classroom. We are using the mini assessments as a way of identifying those participants who already have the necessary foundational knowledge that tends to be covered in our online modules so that their professional development can focus on the application of skills in actual classrooms,” shares Emily Rouge, Early Learning Indiana’s Director of Assessment and Evaluation.

To execute this idea, Early Learning Indiana and Alpine began with the existing blueprint for the certification exam and the framework for the professional development program. These materials were reviewed to identify a structure for the mini-assessments that worked with the existing training modules and exam resulting in the outline of the content for three mini-assessments. Alpine and Early Learning Indiana worked together to develop, review, and approve 18-25 items for each mini-assessment. Participants in the program take each mini-assessment 1 to 2 weeks before beginning the corresponding unit of development and training to inform the activities that follow.

“Alpine has been such a wonderful partner for this project. They have come alongside us with expert consultation and guidance and have provided us with creative solutions to meet our unique needs as our project has evolved. Their flexibility as been instrumental for this project and for our work with them,” says Rouge.

Two of the mini-assessments were ready for use with the first cohort of participants in the professional development program during the spring of 2021. For the next cohort, all three mini-assessments will be deployed. Early Learning Indiana staff uses these mini-assessments to identify the areas in which participants need additional training and support as well as the foundational knowledge that participants already have. Early Learning Indiana is currently working with organizations throughout the state of Indiana that employ large numbers of early education support staff to discuss expansion of the professional development and training program to a broader group of participants.

Like many organizations, Early Learning Indiana’s original intention was to utilize summative assessments in the form of certification exams. This type of assessment is currently used, but it is coupled with recently developed, mini-assessments to bookend preparation and training. These mini-assessments, used early in the lifecycle of preparation, serve to identify the existing knowledge and skills of those preparing for the workforce as well as training needs. This information is then used to provide participants with targeted support in their career development, personalizing training to individual needs. Ultimately the information gained from both the mini-assessments and the summative assessment supports the organization’s commitment to develop high-quality early childhood educators and support staff and the broader mission of increasing the prevalence and quality of early childhood education throughout the state.