Six Traits of Quality Pre-Assessments


In her study on the “The Eight Great Gripes ” of gifted students, Judy Galbraith identified boredom with school as gripe number two.

The stuff we do in school is too easy and it’s boring.

This complaint is completely understandable. How many meetings have you sat through, going over material you had already mastered? Have you ever understood something quickly, but had to trudge through 45 more minutes of examples and explanations?

For our gifted students, their school career is a long stretch of those meetings. Many of them remember the topic you’re teaching from pervious years, learned about it outside of school, or simply understood your lesson right away.

We’ve got to move them onto something else.

The only way to find these students is to pre–assess. Here are six traits of a quality pre-assessment:

1. Focused

Pick a reasonable sized topic to pre–assess. An entire unit is too large. You won’t find many students who can demonstrate mastery of such a large topic. However, a single day’s lesson is too small and will bury you in paperwork as you try to pre–assess on a daily basis.

Find a chunk of material that would take a week or two to cover. This will give you a chance to spread out testing as well as develop a decent–sized activity for those students who do demonstrate mastery. Plus, this chunk is small enough that several students can be expected to pass the pre–assessment. We don’t want to discourage students by constantly announcing that no one passed.

As an example, for my 6th graders, a pre–test covering all decimal operations would be too large. This is an entire unit. The topic of “Adding Single-Digit Decimals” might be too small, since it’s a one–day lesson and was covered in previous grades. However, I might give a pre–assessment covering all cases of “Adding and Subtracting Decimals.” This is a “chapter sized” chunk and might take two weeks to go through following the textbook.

Naturally, this would look very different depending on your grade–level and curriculum.

2. Quick!

By keeping your pre–assessment focused, you can make the testing procedure nice and quick – for you and your students. Students needn’t take a forty question unit test to show they can add decimals.

Can they demonstrate mastery of with five questions? Ten questions?

By keeping it quick, you also alleviate the burden of grading and recording this paperwork.

Finally, this lowers students’ frustration level. A giant test is intimidating and discourages effort. A quick, focused assessment encourages students to do their best, even if they can’t always pass.

3. Comprehensive

On the other hand, make sure that your quick assessment adequately covers all aspects of your curriculum.

For example, to pre–assess addition and subtraction of decimals, I want to test the edge cases, not the low hanging fruit. Think of the errors that separate expert understanding from basic understanding, and test those.

Decimal Operations

If a student can answer these questions correctly, I know they have mastered these decimal operations at a 6th grade level:

  1. 0.3 + 0.8 = ____
  2. 1.7 + 0.45 = ____
  3. 5.731 + 1.29 = ____
  4. 3.0 – 1.25 = ____
  5. 0.05 – 0.005 = ____

Notice that I don’t waste any of my questions testing “0.1 + 0.1″. I get straight to the meat that really demonstrates mastery.

In this case, I might also add a couple problem solving questions as well, to make sure students can apply their understanding of decimals.

Punctuating Quotations

If I’m pre–assessing “punctuating quotations,” here are five examples to punctuate that will separate the experts from the beginners:

  1. I like candy said Joe
  2. I said Joe like candy
  3. Do you like candy asked Joe
  4. Joe asked do you like candy
  5. Do you Joe asked like candy

A final note on being comprehensive: beware multiple–choice questions. It’s too easy for gifted students to “figure out” the right answer when it’s right in front of them. And you don’t want students guessing their way through your pre–assessment, either. Plus, you learn a lot about your students’ understanding by seeing their work without any scaffolds.

4. Built On Existing Materials

I bet your curriculum came with all sorts of quizzes, extra–problems, test–prep, etc that you rarely make use of. Dust off those ancillary materials and mine them for good questions. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

5. Guiding

Your pre–assessment should do more than separate the class into two groups: mastery and non–mastery. It should also inform your lessons.

Maybe only three students successfully passed the pre-assessment. But did everyone get questions one and two right? This should change the way you teach that material. Move quicker, skip it, do a more creative activity, etc.

Likewise, did you notice some students miss those “easy” questions? Perhaps that will alert you to students in need of some extra help during instruction.

6. Sensitive

Your gifted kids like to score 100%. However, most students will not even pass a pre–assessment, especially when covering new or difficult material.

Prep your students for this. Explain why you offer the pre-assessment. Explain that a poor grade never enters the grade book. Only post or announce names of students who pass the pre–assessment, never those who don’t.

Also, do not demand perfection. A student who achieves 90% shouldn’t be forced to sit through all of your lessons. If a student misses one question, I’d include them on that specific lesson or give them a quick explanation when I show them their test.

Where To Go From Here?

Once you’ve developed a quality pre–assessment, you should spend time analyzing the results. Look for patterns. Adjust your plans.

For those who “tested–out,” you’ll need to develop a high–level, alternative assignment to utilize their mastery. Or perhaps you have an ongoing project that they can spend time on. We’ll discuss these options in a later article.

Photo by Katerha