We know that within our class, our students have a range of abilities. This is certainly true when it comes to math. We know we need to differentiate math lessons to meet our student where they are, but we don’t always know how or where to start.
Enter math pre-assessment.
Using a pre-test to gauge students’ understanding of content and skills is a big part of how I plan math instruction. Math pre-assessments help me see where my students are before I even begin planning a unit. And that makes it much easier for me to differentiate.
Having a snapshot of what my students know and don’t know helps me to focus my instruction. It helps me set the pacing for a unit and know what skills to hit harder and which ones we don’t have to spend as much time on. I use pre-assessment data to choose resources and plan lessons, which means valuable class time is used wisely.
But it took me some time to figure out how to implement a pre-assessment strategy in a way that worked for both me and my students.
Where I Started
When I first started using pre-tests in math, my team and I made a long paper-and-pencil test with open-ended questions that covered every. standard. for. the. year. We gave it to students during the first week of school and there you go, that box was checked off the list.
Why doesn’t this work??
- it’s overwhelming for students
- it’s overwhelming for teachers
- it’s time-consuming to grade
- it doesn’t account for the student growth that will occur during the year (so the data gets outdated)
Over tine, I figured out that what I needed was targeted, shorter pre-assessments that focused on specific standards or topics. That way, I could get a clear picture of what my students knew and didn’t know. By giving each pre-test closer to the time I wanted to start each unit, I knew I was getting real-time data that would help me plan my instruction.
These shorter pre-assessments were a big improvement, but they still took a long time to grade. I still needed a way to make them more efficient.
Going Digital with Math Pre-Tests
That’s when I started using Google Apps™. Once I began using digital pre-assessments for my students, I never looked back. My favorite is using short, standards-based quizzes in Google Forms™. Google Forms is self-grading, so I saved tons of time. Plus, since it’s paperless, I didn’t have to lug home a huge stack of tests in my teacher bag.
I also think that Forms are pretty easy and fun to create. And so easy to re-use them the following year with just the click of a button! No wasting paper and time at the copier!
Another small bonus of going digital with pre-tests is that it helps familiarize students with the online testing environment. That’s key if your district or state uses computerized tests. You can include some questions that get them using TEI skills, too.
Using the Information from Digital Pre-Assessments
Another huge benefit of using digital pre-assessments is that it’s easy to analyze the data. Google Forms collects students’ responses in a spreadsheet, so it’s easy to see trends across the whole class and identify strengths and gaps for individual students. (Plus, there are pretty graphs.)
Taking a look at the data is really informative, and sometimes, really surprising. Knowing that your whole class struggles with place value, for example, is huge to know before you can dive in to teaching operations. Or maybe a handful of students already know their multiplication facts. Now, you know that they need more challenging activities while other students are practicing 6 x 7.
It’s WAY easier to start differentiating instruction in math when you have the data about what students know and don’t know.
One more thing I loved about making the switch to Google Forms was that I could share data easily with my teammates. This makes planning a lot easier when you are looking at pacing, planning teaching strategies, and diving into student data.
Tips for Using Digital Math Pre-Assessments
Whatever digital program, website, or app you use, keep in mind that your students may be unfamiliar with it. I recommend giving students practice time with the digital format and tools so you can be sure you’re assessing their math knowledge, not their technology know-how.
Keep it short and focused on a particular unit, topic, or set of related skills. You don’t want students just clicking anywhere on the screen so they can finish faster. I usually stick with a max of 15 questions per pre-test.
I prefer to use multiple choice, true/false, and short answer responses that the computer can grade for me. Self-grading pre-tests save you time that you need for planning how you’ll teach! That said, using some open-ended math questions can also be really informative (but you’ll have to grade those yourself)!
Also, there are multiple ways you can use each math pre-assessment. Can you recycle them for review activities at the end of the unit? Maybe use them again as part of your end-of-year math test prep? You could even tweak the questions and use them again for a post-test. Totally up to you!
If you’ve been thinking about going paperless with your pre-tests, I hope you’ve found some helpful tips here!