Diagnostic Assessments
Joanne presented her findings at ISTE 2015.

*The following post is inspired by Joanne Long’s experience with using Edulastic.

Joanne took a paper-and-pencil algebra placement test and made a digital version. The benefits of this transition to digital assessment included richer question types, greater insight into student knowledge and problem-solving skills, and access to rich (auto-generated) reports. In short, Joanne found a new way to administer effective algebra placement pre-assessments (also known as diagnostic assessments) that were more engaging, illuminating, and time saving. 

What are Pre-Assessments?

Pre-assessment allows you to evaluate student understanding before you begin teaching. Laura Greenstein, author of What Teachers Really Need to Know About Formative Assessment, gives a great definition of pre-assessment on her blog:

Pre-assessment is an action or strategy at the start of instruction that displays student’s incoming knowledge and skills and in turn informs teaching and learning. It can occur at the start of a lesson, the beginning of a unit, or the introduction of a new idea, concept or skill.

Why Use Pre-Assessments?

Using pre-assessments before learning activities gives you a window into students’ knowledge, skills, and misconceptions—but it also provides a great baseline for measuring learning progress over time.

Pre-assessment can be used to rouse student curiosity, inspire critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and engage students in new ways of learning. The knowledge students display on pre-assessments can inform lesson plans and even algebra placement insights (like Joanne Long hoped to achieve). The key is to identify the correct level each student is at. However, doing traditional placement and/or pre-assessments can take a considerable amount of time.

Traditional Pre-Assessments and Placement Assessments

Pre- and placement assessments done offline are paper-pencil and usually feature limited question formats (think Multiple Choice and scantrons with a peppering of written responses).

In Joanne’s case, each question she used in the algebra placement assessment was tethered to one or more Common Core standard—and she had to manually place the grades into a spreadsheet summarized by student, teacher, and individual questions. The grades were also summarized by CCSS, cluster, and domain. Needless to say, this process was very time consuming (see the four images in the carousel below).

Benefits of Digital Diagnostic Assessments

Using technology speeds things up. While you can use pre-assessments that don’t leverage technology, I’d like to quickly cover benefits for doing these assessments online. In the context of algebra placement, Joanne points out that you want to “avoid the mistake of putting students in a class that is either too easy or too rigorous.”

Avoiding this mistake can be supported by rich question types, real-time monitoring of student performance, and exceptional reports.

Tech-enhanced question types. Going beyond Multiple Choice allows teachers to administer local assessments that are creative and feature multimedia snippets to drive engagement. You can also test your students’ higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills with real-world problems (and closely review the evidence they provide for their answers). These question types also boost students’ digital literacy skills and prepare them for the rigor and format they’ll face on summative tests.

Real-time assignment analytics. It’s not easy keeping track of student performance during an assessment. Tracking student responses in real-time while they’re working on the assessment allows you to direct the students. For example, you can ask them to slow down, show their work, or assist them when they’re struggling with a question or concept. The live assignment results make it easy to view student cards and drill-down to see their performance on individual questions.

Making meaning with data trends. Having access to mastery reports—showing real-time progress—opens a digital window into seeing how your students are progressing over time on an array of standards. This is perfect for tiered interventions, identifying where instruction needs support, and tracking school/district benchmarks.

In the End…

You can assess your students’ mastery of multiple standards—while also testing their use of different cognitive processes across diverse question types. This goes a long way whether you’re conducting a placement assessment or pre-assessment because you can check for proficiencies, evaluate earlier knowledge, and gain insight into frames of mind. Moreover, every educator involved saves time because they no longer create spreadsheets to house the performance data. This frees them to focus on improving their instruction strategies and content.