Pre-assessment in Differentiated Instruction

An important part of differentiated instruction and assessment is determining what students already know so as not to cover material students have mastered, or use methods that would be ineffective for students. The goal of pre-assessment is to determine a student's knowledge, understanding and skill prior to the unit of study. These are assessments for learning and include diagnostic or pre-assessments that the teacher uses to help guide instruction and benefit each learner. They are informal and provide qualitative feedback to teachers and students to address strengths and needs during the unit. Pre-assessments should be conducted several weeks before the unit of study and should not be graded. Chapman and King (2005) note that when "teachers strategically administer pre-assessments before planning their lessons, they can address the students' strengths and needs during instruction." Pre-assessment can be conducted in two ways: 1) by identifying learning preferences and interests (i.e. Gardner's Multiple Intelligence test, or Visual, Auditory, or Kinesthetic learner), and 2) by identifying knowledge of student understandings (i.e. checklists, quizzes, class discussion, portfolios, entry/exit cards, anticipation guides, journals, self-reflections). Both of these types of pre-assessment are used to design student tasks, particularly when a student might require support, enrichment, or have different learning styles, intelligence, or interests. Teachers can also determine, locate, and compile appropriate resources and decide timelines/priorities for upcoming units.

The goals of differentiated instruction are to develop engaging tasks that challenge and enhance learning for each student. Instructional activities are flexible and based and evaluated on content, process, product, and learning environment. This instructional approach and choice of content are driven by the data from students' assessment results and from the outcomes of other screening tools. Pre-assessments can gather information about each student's strengths, comforts, or areas of weakness. This leads to appropriate differentiation that accommodates each student's learning needs and preferences. Assessments should be used as a tool to create clear, and meaningful instruction that guides each student towards challenging but not frustrating activities.