A Pre-Assessment Guide

Five Steps To Ensure Lessons Are At The Correct Level Of Difficulty

Teaching a lesson without knowing what the students already know is like salting your food without tasting it first. Not a good idea!

Using pre-assessments is a great way to check assumptions about students’ current levels of understanding. Often teachers learn though pre-assessments that they assumed students know more about a concept than they do. Pre-assessments also can support teachers in catching a “high-flyer” who may need enrichment opportunities.

However, crafting pre-assessments can be a lot of work and often get skipped due to lack of time and understanding. The following steps can be used with beginning teachers or experienced teachers who struggle with teaching at the correct level of difficulty.

Step One: Select the standard that needs to be covered.

Start by selecting a standard that students have not yet learned, is significant in learning, or is in the logical progression of content development.

Step Two: Deconstruct the standard or performance objective.

Divide the language of the standard into two categories: Do (the process / verbs), Know (the content / nouns). The standard will now be deconstructed into manageable chunks. When first learning this process, using a t-chart can be helpful.

Step Three: Investigate the content development from grade to grade.

Research the development of the standard by investigating how it is approached in each grade level. Using the state standards or district pacing guides, locate the grade level where terminology and skills from the standard are introduced. What’s the foundation of this standard? Then locate the further development of the skill, beyond your grade level, to better identify the purpose of the standard. What’s the end-game of this standard?

Step Four: Write a learning sequence.

To create a learning sequence, deconstruct the prerequisites from prior grade levels, add them to the “do/know” t-chart, and then consider if there are additional process or content skills that need to be added. This information comes from an understanding of your students as well as knowledge of the content. Beginning teachers may need support from grade-level colleagues or an instructional coach for this step. (This is also a great activity to do in PLCs or grade-level planning meetings.)

Once all process and content skills are identified, order them in a logical progression. Again, this can be a valuable grade-level planning activity.

Step Five: Determine where to begin instruction.

For each process and content skill, write an assessment question or questions. The pre-assessment should have at least one question for every skill. Teachers can also write a performance task with requirements matched to the content and process skills. This can be a more efficient and authentic means of gathering the information.

Writing effective assessment questions is a valuable skill. Teachers need to be supported in making sure they address the full range of rigor when developing their questions. Frameworks such as New Jersey’s Assessment Rigor and Depth of Knowledge Analysis may be helpful. (Leaders looking to support teachers with increasing the rigor of assessment questions should check out MCESA’s course, DOK3 and Assessment for Leaders.)

Once the assessment is created and administered, teachers can then evaluate the results to determine where to begin instruction for the majority of the class, how to group students appropriately, and who will need additional support or opportunities for enrichment.

Although this may seem like a time-consuming process, when done correctly, more students learn the content more efficiently. This saves time in the long run and ensures mastery. It also supports students with feeling more successful and with teachers feeling more effective, which, after all, is even better than perfectly salted food!

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