The current unknowns far outweigh the answers when it comes to questions about what school will look like come fall. What will teaching and learning look like? What precautions will need to be taken? How can online, remote learning be improved? Among the critical concerns is how we can understand what students know and what they will need to learn.
The dramatic shifts required this school year and next will undoubtedly change the information available to teachers. The information about new classes of students will be different; conflated with attendance, effort, and other variables, and will most likely demonstrate the differences between the highest- and lowest-achieving students that are amplified by the abrupt switch to remote learning and summer learning losses.
It will be critical for teachers and students to consider where they are now, identify where they need to be, and to develop plans to bridge these gaps. This process is at the core of formative assessment. Educators should plan for the integration and continuous implementation of formative assessment processes throughout the school year to help them to make real-time instructional adjustments to meet learners where they are. The start of each new unit presents opportunities to collect evidence that can be used to plan the most efficient and effective use of instructional time. This formative assessment opportunity is often referred to as pre-assessment.
Pre-assessment has numerous benefits. For teachers, the development of a pre-assessment helps them identify critical and related content for a new unit such as prerequisite skills and knowledge. The evidence from pre-assessments help determine where to begin with the new topic and to identify groups of students who may need more help or additional opportunities to stretch their learning. For students, they can provide a bigger picture of where the learning is going, connect new learning to previous learning, and allow opportunities for them to share knowledge and skills that come from their families and communities that connects to the upcoming learning.
Pre-assessments consider the big ideas of an entire unit and plot out where you hope students will be in their learning and understanding by the end of the unit. While daily formative assessment focuses on a specific learning intention, a pre-assessment may cover a wider range of content, drawing on key ideas from previous units of the current year or even previous years that will be needed to support the new unit. Pre-assessments should effectively:
Effective Pre-Assessment in Practice
Student self-assessment and peer-assessment are key aspects of formative assessment and can be used with pre-assessment tasks and activities to collect deep information about what students know and can do. Similarly, opening up classroom discussions can uncover student misconceptions and allow students to share knowledge and skills that students have that come from their families and communities or their “funds of knowledge.”
Pre-assessment strategies are often used in person with students, however, these strategies can also be adapted using online programs and apps. For example, students could individually or collaboratively create concept maps using programs such as PowerPoint® or slides. Similarly, a brainstorming session could be completed virtually using online planning tools that allow you to visually group similar ideas and themes. Word clouds, word walls, or word maps provide visual representations of student ideas and existing knowledge that could also help organize student thinking.
In a time where remote, asynchronous learning may be the new normal, considering ways to use technology to enhance pre-assessment opportunities will be critical.
Importance of Responsiveness
The final and most important characteristic of a pre-assessment is that the results are analyzed, interpreted, and used. While pre-assessments should not be included as part of a grade, students will quickly learn to not pay attention to pre-assessments if they realize that they have already learned the specific material they are being assigned. Here are some suggestions for reviewing the information that support analysis and use:
Formative assessment and pre-assessment strategies are always important for responsive teaching. However, in this next school year they will be more essential than ever as teachers work to ascertain what support individual and groups of students need to succeed.
Caroline Wylie is a director of Research in Research & Development at ETS. Christine Lyon is a lead research project manager in Research & Development at ETS.