This paper engages with assessment practices in Aotearoa New Zealand. Te Whāriki, the internationally recognized early childhood curriculum framework, lies at the root of contemporary narrative assessment practices, and the concept of learning stories. We outline historical and societal underpinnings of these practices, and elevate the essence of assessment through learning stories and their particular ontological and epistemological aims and purposes. The paper emphasizes early childhood teaching and learning as a complex relational, inter-subjective, material, moral and political practice. It adopts a critical lens and begins from the premise that early childhood teachers are in the best position to make decisions about teaching and learning in their localized, contextualized settings, with and for the children with whom they share it. We examine the notion of effectiveness and ‘what works’ in assessment, with an emphasis on the importance of allowing for uncertainty, and for the invisible elements in children’s learning. Te Whāriki and learning stories are positioned as strong underpinnings of culturally and morally open, rich and complex assessment, to be constantly renegotiated within each local context, in Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond.