The Baseline assessment is the measure of where students are when they arrive to our course relative to where we need them to go by the end. The purpose of our pre assessment isn’t to “confirm that they don’t know” but rather to answer the question of, “What do they know coming into this course?”
Let us consider how we might do that. Assessments are tools to learn about student skills and abilities. Maybe we need to assess the skill set of our students because better understanding that will let us know how equipped they are to access the content of our course. Maybe we need to look back at some of their academic history to see where they have been and how they did with that content. Maybe we need a combination of skill based pre-assessment, historical information, and content knowledge.
There are times when we need to see what content they come to us knowing because they have had it previously and we want to see what they have retained. For example, if I am a Global 2 teacher I may want to assess foundational Global 1 content knowledge. However, if we have no reason to believe students may have an understanding of particular content, what do we gain by asking them to demonstrate this lack of understanding? For example, if I am teaching Physics and students have never had any previous instruction on physics can’t we assume no content knowledge rather than administering an assessment of this content?
Let us be more considerate of student and teacher time by constructing a pre-assessment that gives us insight into student learning. Perhaps information about critical math or science skills needed to access Physics would help us understand where students are when they begin our course. Maybe a look at how students performed on previous science and/or math assessments will give us the insight we need. With proper information we can set rigorous and relevant goals for students on our summative assessment and use the information from our pre-assessment to drive our instruction as we move students toward those targets.
The pre-assessment is a diagnostic tool which gives us a starting point to design our instructional year. As we work throughout the year we can use formative assessments to chart student progress on the trajectory toward their goals. In an assessment system we can meet student needs more effectively by understanding better where each student is and where we would like each student to be by the end of our course.
Michelle Helmer is a Staff Development Specialist with the IES Team at Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES.