A while back, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a teacher. Somehow, we got on the topic of assessments, and I mentioned that I like to pretest my students because of the wealth of information I receive when I do so. I was actually surprised to find out that she had no idea what a preassessment was, let alone the benefits it presented. That’s when I wondered if everyone knew.
What Is a Preassessment?
A preassessment is a test that you give students before you start a unit. It is often short, approximately six questions or so per standard you will be teaching. Now, I know. You may be sitting there thinking, “Are you kidding me? They are so over-tested already!” I totally hear you, and I agree. I think children are over-tested with the standardized tests and with the benchmark tests, but I’m not talking about those types of tests. I’m talking about a preassessment. Just hear me out. 🙂
Why Should I Use a Preassessment?
This is a great question. I’m glad I asked myself. This is the most important question on this page, so please read the answer. (It also helps you understand the part above about being over-tested.)
Preassessments, when done properly and used properly, helps teacher. Drop the mic.
Okay. I’ll pick up the mic because I know you are like, “Um, okay. I probably could have guessed that.“
No, but seriously, preassessments help teachers save time in their classroom – both in planning and in teaching, and it stops you from wasting the students’ time.
When you give a preassessment, you are identifying – ahead of the taught unit – what every student knows, understands, and is able to do (and the opposite). It helps you find the gaps, clear up any misconceptions or partial misunderstandings, and see who has already mastered the material (or needs scaffolding). This is differentiation at its best!
This helps focus instruction so you don’t teach things students don’t need, and they learn it correctly the first time. This is more critical now with the large diversity that fills our classrooms – ELL students, students with disabilities, students who are relocating (moving), students with gaps, disengaged students, and so on. Good teaching starts with what learners need to know. It makes learning time easier and effective in the long run.
How Do I Use Preassessments?
Ah…thinking about using them, huh? Good. Very good. As I mentioned above, you may want to prepare them ahead of time before the unit – but I suggest that it is given (in my opinion) a few weeks before the unit is started. This gives you time to get around to grading it. Well, you aren’t actually grading it and putting the grade in the grade book but checking it. You know what I’m trying to say, right?
Next, you will want to look over the now “graded” preassessments and start noticing trends. I always create a three-column chart with the labels “not quite,” “getting it,” and “really gets it.” Then, I write across the top the concept and start grouping students based on their preassessment. I also write down any notes or if I have any further questions I want to explore with any students.
Then, I determine the best kinds of activities that will help my students understand that concept based on where they are (what column I placed them in). I write along the bottom of that column possible activities that I could do. Sometimes I even think of the same activity but just adjust it differently – similar to tiering.
As I work through the unit, I work back to these preassessment column sheets that I created and check them. I also check in with students and even occasionally adjust things. I adjust because sometimes it turns out that once you start teaching, a student’s memory is jogged and all is good again – they just needed a refresher. Always keep assessing throughout the unit, even if just informally.
The beauty of this is that you are differentiating, meeting students’ needs (which will engage them more), and getting most of your planning out of the way early! Time saver! Woo-hoo!
And when you are done, you can then compare the preassessment with the end of the unit test to see how well your students learn (and that is a great feeling that you have taught well when you see that change, let me tell you!).
A Few Things to Keep in Mind:
#1 – Preassessments should measure the students’ comfort level with the prerequisite skills and the knowledge needed for the learning goals.
#2 – Give the preassessment before the unit so you have the current information about your students’ strengths and needs. Give yourself time to analyze the preassessments and plan for the unit accordingly. If you don’t plan lessons for that upcoming unit based on the preassessment results, then it was just a test. Then, we are back to the over-testing.
#3 – The preassessment doesn’t need to be long or complicated; short and to the point is fine.
I know that with all the things we have to do in a day, it can be time-consuming. Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Start with one unit or one subject area. Just give it a try and enjoy the experience. Work on it over the summer. (What!? No, I didn’t just say that!) The point is…don’t let this best practice pass you by!