What is the Gesell Developmental Observation-Revised?

The GDO-R is an observational assessment tool for young children that can help parents, educators and other professionals understand child behavior in relation to typical growth patterns. Gesell assessments have been used as standard measures for child growth and development for over 85 years. Unlike tools that assess I.Q. or academic skills, the GDO-R measures language, cognitive development, fine and gross motor development, social-emotional and adaptive development. A trained examiner conducts this standardized procedure by observing and recording a child’s behavioral responses and comparing them with age related norms. In addition to direct responses to the various tasks, the examiner also considers the child’s processes, organization, method, overt behaviors and verbalization while engaging in the tasks in order to determine their overall developmental stage relative to their chronological age.

What is Developmental Age?

Developmental Age (DA) is an interpreted score based on in-depth, systematic observation of the child during the GDO-R assessment. It is determined by a trained examiner using accepted developmental patterns of behavior, language and cognitive process associated with chronological age. Thus, a child’s Developmental Age reveals how far along a he or she is on the physical, emotional and social paths of development irrespective of their literal, chronological age. Many children do not experience consistent growth across the various areas of development and few children exhibit behaviors that are entirely characteristic of any one Developmental Age. For example, a 4-year-old child may exhibit behaviors and cognitive responses more like a typical 3½-year-old, which can be completely normal. Similarly, a child’s language skills may reflect an older Developmental Age, while his or her motor or social skills may be more characteristic of a younger age. A Developmental Age provides a unique profile for each child and provides more information about what a child is capable of in various domains of development. With this knowledge, teachers can customize appropriate curricula for every child with appropriate expectations.

Why does the Gesell Program require training to assess children using the GDO-R?

We believe that a child is more than a score. Dr. Gesell himself said that “The examiner who is truly imbued with a developmental point of view is keenly sensitive to the past history of the child, and looks upon the… examination, not as a series of proving tests, but as a device or stage for evoking the ways in which this particular child characteristically meets life situations.” Our in-depth workshops provide examiners with comprehensive information about child development and how to understand a child’s behavior in multiple contexts (home, school, assessment, etc.). Workshop participants observe live demonstrations and gain hands-on practice administering and scoring tasks and determining a Developmental Age.

Will the GDO-R give me a numerical score?

It is important for any test examiner to be able to interpret a child’s assessment results in a meaningful way as well as how it relates to some established criterion and/or the relation to his or her peers. Numerical scores can help teachers determine how a child performs compared to other students and can provide a way to aggregate children’s performance within or across groups of children. Each child will receive a numerical score on each GDO-R task based on his or her performance on the items that comprise the task.

To aid in the interpretation of the task scores, each task will have a benchmark that reflects the performance that can be expected of a child in each age band. In addition to the task score and benchmark, the technical data supporting the GDO-R—based on a large, diverse, national sample of children—provides the percentage of children meeting the benchmark for each developmental task (cubes, copy forms, completing a drawing of a person, etc.) and the p-values for each item in each age band. The technical data provides information that aids in comparing an individual child’s performance to a sample of same-age peers.

If the Gesell Early Screener (GES) is easier and shorter, why would I use the GDO-R?

The screener provides a quick, first look at children ages 3 to 6 year-olds. It can be completed in approximately 15-20 minutes and provides a broad picture of where the child is compared to other children of the same age. It can flag areas of concern or need for a more in depth assessment of a child. The GDO-R, for ages 2½ to 9, is a comprehensive observational assessment of the child, and when combined with information from the accompanying Teacher and Parent Questionnaires, provides a multidimensional assessment system. The GDO-R provides in-depth information about the child and includes scoring and interpretation for a Developmental Age.

Ideally, the Gesell Screener and GDO-R are used together in an early childhood setting. All children entering preschool or Kindergarten can be screened first using the Gesell Screener for a quick indicator of skills and behaviors, and then later given the complete GDO-R in order for the teacher to fully understand the child’s development and to plan appropriate curriculum.

How can I be sure that the 2010 data sample is representative of the children in my school?

Understanding a child’s developmental profile is an important step in understanding how to customize appropriate early school curricula and experiences. Demographic data collected from the 2008-2010 GDO Study approximates the US Census distribution at a national level. A sample of public, private, urban, and suburban schools, including 55 sites spanning 23 US states participated in the study collecting child and family data for over 1,300 children ages 3-6. The Technical Report from the GDO Study includes additional details regarding sampling procedures and all related statistical analyses.

I teach/study developmental theory but I'm not that familiar with Dr. Arnold Gesell. Why is Gesell theory important?

Arnold Gesell, PhD, MD was a pioneer in child development, beginning his groundbreaking work in the early 20th century. He developed a set of norms illustrating sequential and predictable patterns of growth and development, used as the basis of the Gesell Developmental Observation. Dr. Gesell was the first director of the Yale University Clinic now known as the Yale Child Study Center, as well as the nation’s first school psychologist. He was also a founding member of the National Association for Nursing and Education, now known as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Working at Yale from 1911 to 1948, Gesell used innovative methods of observation and cinematography to delineate the process of the ages and stages of normative development. Gesell was the first to recognize these stages, which have since become well established in modern day pediatrics and psychology. Gesell sought to document the process of growth for the whole child, believing, as we do today, that “a child is more than a score.” Additional details about Gesell’s maturational theory are provided in the updated GDO-R Examiner’s Manual, along with how this theory ties into the work of other well-known theorists such as Piaget and Vygotsky.

What can I do to speed up or enhance my child’s development?

Your role and responsibility in your child’s growth and development is very important. First realize, however, that developmental growth and learning, while not automatic, is a natural process that proceeds at different rates in different children. Certain developmental skills are typically achieved within a range of ages but not according to a rigid schedule or timetable. A child may be anywhere within that range. A child should not be pushed to develop more quickly – development is a fluid process that cannot be rushed. Experiences can enhance development, but cannot speed up a child’s rate of growth. Regardless, you can and should engage your child in a large variety of enriching and meaningful experiences that enable him or her to grow more fully in skill and confidence, within his or her own developmental stage. Positive early experiences are critical for brain development, helping to prepare a child for better learning at later ages.

What is developmental observation or assessment, and why is it important?

Developmental assessment is used to determine whether a child has reached developmental milestones and can accomplish the major associated tasks. Individual children’s responses are matched with normative patterns of behavior for each age. The responses yield a description of the child’s Developmental Age in contrast to chronological age.

An important aspect of developmental observation or assessment is that it can highlight areas of concern, and administered over time, can monitor consistency among developmental domains. When developmental assessment reveals signs of difficulty, re-screening should follow after a short interval. Persistent signs of difficulty indicate the need for a referral for diagnostic assessment.

Understanding children in light of their developmental age can help to adjust expectations, inform curricula, design spaces, and establish practices that are developmentally appropriate and supportive of the natural unfolding of the growth and development process.

For more information regarding the role of assessment or screening order Gesell’s Guide for Parents and Teachers: Understanding the Relationship Between Families and Schools booklet from our online bookstore.

My child was assessed at a school. Can you provide me with the results or compel the school to do so?

Gesell's role in the assessment process is to standardize Gesell Assessment System tools and procedures, as well as train individuals in appropriate administration and interpretation. In our workshops we encourage examiners to be completely transparent with families when it comes to the utilization and interpretation of results.
From our GDO-R Workshop Manual: "Parents and Guardians have a right to know and understand the assessment process used with their child. Before administering the GDO-R, parents should be notified of the upcoming assessment. Following administration, parents should be invited into the process of considering results".
However, we hold no jurisdiction over schools and schools do not share their assessments with us. We do not have the power to make examiners share results with us nor with you. We encourage you to speak directly to schools, and refer them to our recommendations.