We know that within our class, our students have a range of abilities. This is certainly true when it comes to math. We have students who have already mastered math concepts and need enrichment, those who will understand new skills fairly quickly with some instruction and practice, and some who benefit from one-on-one support to learn new content. We know this means we need to differentiate math lessons, but we don’t always know how or where to start.
Enter math pre-assessment.
Using a pre-assessment, or 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 my pre-assessment data to gather resources and plan lessons, which hopefully means we’ll use valuable class time more 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-assessments 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 (waayyyyy too much math)
- it’s overwhelming for teachers (how do you break down all that information?)
- it’s time-consuming to grade (no thanks)
- it doesn’t account for the student growth that will occur during the year (and because of this, the data gets outdated)
After a while, 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, without overwhelming them. (Or myself.) By giving each pre-test closer to the time I wanted to start the 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 My 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. (You can also use open-ended questions in Forms, but you’ll need to grade those yourself.)
I also think that Forms are pretty easy and fun to create. And you can 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 your pre-tests is that it will help familiarize your 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
I don’t believe in assessment just for the sake of it. If I’m going to assess my students, I want to use that data. So for me, a huge benefit of using digital pre-assessments is that it’s easy to analyze the data. With Google Forms, you can collect students’ responses in a spreadsheet. They make it super 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.
Another handy feature of assessing with Google Forms is that you can share data easily with your teammates or math coach. This makes team planning a lot easier when you are looking at pacing or coming up with teaching strategies.
Digital Pre-Test Tips
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 recommend no more than 15 questions per pre-test.
Consider using multiple choice, true/false, and short answer responses that the computer can grade for you. 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!
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. Or perhaps each pre-test is a one-use resource. Totally up to you!
If you’ve been thinking about going digital with your pre-tests, I hope you’ve found some helpful tips here!
To save yourself time, you can check out my 4th grade math pre-assessments that are ready to go in Google Forms (aligned to the Virginia SOLs).