I have been asked by a few parents and students in the past week about the assessments that students are doing at Messalonskee Middle School (MMS). Teachers at MMS give pre-assessments to students so that they can determine what learning goals students are ready to learn. If a student is new to our district we do not have data that would indicate what learning goals that student is ready to learn. In that case teachers will pre-assess students on different topics and start them at a Learning Goal they do not know.
A student asked me this morning, why did I have to take a pre-assessment on two Learning goals I certified on last year? That is a great question. Many students and parents assume that once a learner certifies proficiency on a standard that they will not ever go back to that standard. That is not the case. We all know that when we learn something and then don’t use if for a while we may need a refresher to bring the knowledge back into our working memory. This is one reason why a teacher would pre-assess on a learning goal where a student has certified proficient. Teachers use these assessments to see if they need to spend time reviewing information with students or not. Here is an example.
If a teacher were planning on working with students on understanding characters can affect one another in a story, then the teacher would want to know if they needed to refresh students’ memories around how to find evidence (thoughts, actions, feelings, and comments made by that character) in a story to describe a character and their affect on others in the story. Without that being fresh in the learner’s mind, they will have difficulty understanding how characters affect each other.
Another reason for going back to standards that have already been certified is called distributed practice. This is an approach that is used a lot with skill work, or procedural knowledge. Learners need to practice procedural knowledge a lot at first, and will have to go back and practice that skill over time until it is solid in long term memory. For this reason, students will go back from time to time and work on these skills even though they have already been certified as proficient. Pre-testing makes it possible for teachers to know which skills have not been locked in to long term memory.
Assessments can also take many forms. Most people think of a paper and pencil test or quiz but an assessment can be a project, task, activity or even an interview with the teacher. The format is not consistent but the goal is to gain accurate information regarding the current level of knowledge and understanding of a Learning Goal.