At the beginning of the school year, we are often asked about math pre-assessments:
- Does Maneuvering the Middle have pre-assessments?
- Should teachers give pre-assessments?
- If yes, what are some best practices?
It is likely that your school already has something in place like MAP or benchmark testing. In those cases, I would say that your pre-assessment is good to go. If you’re interested in other approaches to pre-assessments, then keep reading.
What is a Pre-Assessment?
Pre-Assessments are typically a test students take at the beginning of the year or unit. The data can help teachers make decisions about lessons, pacing, and differentiation.
Pros of Math Pre-Assessments
Pre-assessment data can provide teachers with the information they need to make strategic decisions about the support students will require. Perhaps, across the board, students performed low on proportional relationships, a teacher may add extra days to their unit on proportions.
According to the Tar Heel State Teacher, pre-assessments provide students with evidence of their growth and prime students for their upcoming learning. I completely agree! Keep reading to see this in action.
Cons of Math Pre-Assessments
Students are over tested. According to the Washington Post, “the average student in America’s big-city public schools takes some 112 mandatory standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and the end of 12th grade – an average of about eight a year.”
Your school may already require multiple benchmarks in addition to the state tests. Does testing foster a love of learning? A pre-assessment would easily eat up at least one class period. Time is precious!
If your students are taking one big, comprehensive pre-assessment at the beginning of year, that is an exorbitant amount of data to comb through. A question to ask yourself is, “Will I actually look at this data to make future decisions about instruction?” If I were being 100% honest, this would be overwhelming for me. And is it fair to tailor instruction of a unit covered in the spring based on something students did in August?
If pre-assessments are given at the beginning of the year, then your data will reflect the “summer slump.”
Math Pre-Assessment Recommendations
Ask yourself, “Why do I want to pre-assess?”
If you are pre-assessing because you think this is something you should do or something your students expect to do, then you are likely better off spending that class time in other ways.
Avoid one large pre-assessment. Shoot for a short pre-assessment at the beginning of a unit with content specific to the unit you are about to begin. The timeliness will ensure that you can actually use what you observe.
- Marissa McCarthy, an All Access 6th grade teacher, only pre-assesses on 3 units – decimals, fractions, and the coordinate plane because those are covered in 5th grade and built upon in 6th grade. She gives students 4 problems at the beginning of the unit. At the end of the unit, she gives the exact same problems. “Students love seeing that they went from 1/4 to 4/4. You can use Maneuvering the Middle’s editable unit test to do this!” Or our end of year assessments to pull questions from.
Consider only pre-assessing previously taught content – not new to the grade level content! For example, in 7th grade, probability is introduced. If students are assessed on probability, they are more likely to miss questions due to lack of prior knowledge. However, a short fraction assessment that covers simplifying and multiplying fractions would do the trick. This data could tell me if I need to spend an entire lesson reviewing fraction multiplication or if I can jump straight into probability.
Short on time? Perhaps, you have 45 minute class periods, and you do not have the time to devote to extras. You can completely avoid pre-assessments by using existing data. Use the state assessment data that already exists! We work so hard to prepare students for a state assessment that we almost never look at that data. If you can, review the data reports of your incoming students (this may be trickier if your students come from a different school).
- Don’t spend too much time on the knitty gritty – look at overall trends.
- Find where a misunderstanding may impact your grade level content.
- You can even use this data to decide if you need to include pre-assessments for future units.
There is no one right way to pre-assess or collect data from your students. Do you give pre-assessments?
Food for thought: What if you make a pre-assessment on Quizizz or some other fun online game and then it kind of combats the con of over assessing. It’s also an easy way to see who got what right or wrong.