Assessment is a tricky
thing. Many people, including
educators and students, hear the word assessment and
think “test.” However, assessment is much more than
that—it’s a way to gather, interpret, and use information in
many ways and at many times during the school year.
Every teacher needs a bag of assessment tricks to gather
the data necessary to teach effectively and differentiate
instruction to meet the needs of all students.
Assessing Before Teaching
Teachers assess before teaching to determine students’ prior
knowledge. If results show students have already mastered certain content, teachers can alter their
lesson plans so they are not presenting material
that students already know.
Consider these alternative pre-tests to inform your
Word Splash. A Word Splash is similar to a Word Web. The
subject of the unit goes on the center of a page and the
students take turns contributing information related to the
subject. The recorder writes down all the contributions on the
paper; no one makes judgments regarding the responses.
When the activity is finished, you have in front of you
the information your students know about the topic.
Now, you can assess the students’ knowledge as well as
misinformation. The Word Splash becomes a checklist to
inform your instruction.
Journaling. You can incorporate journals as part of the
assessment process throughout the unit. Ask students to
respond to open-ended or specific questions about a topic
prior to the targeted lesson. When you review the journals
you can learn about each student’s thought processes
and knowledge and tailor the teaching and activities as
Assessing During Teaching
Assessment during teaching is often informal. The following
techniques are useful during instruction to determine
student understanding and knowledge.
Ongoing Questioning. Take a few minutes before
instruction to construct thoughtful, open-ended
questions about the content you are teaching. Ask these
questions during a lecture or incorporate them into smallgroup
activities. Your goal is to determine the level of
understanding the students have about the given topic as
you teach the content.
Ticket Out the Door. The Ticket Out the Door is a quick way
to assess student understanding of an integral part of a unit
or assess how the students are feeling about their learning
Ask students to complete the sentence, “I still have a
question about ____” and turn in their completed sentence
as they exit the classroom. Review their responses to quickly
monitor where students are in the process of mastery. Also
ask students to complete the sentence, “The point of today’s
lesson or activity was ____” to assess whether they
are making the appropriate connections.
Based on the information gathered
from the Ticket out the Door
activity, you can adjust
instruction for the next class.
Assessing After Teaching
The unit has concluded and it is now time for the test. Or
is it? The conventional test is not the only way to assess
students’ mastery of content at the end of a unit.
Student-Made Tests. Have the students make their own
tests and trade them with each other. Yes, they are still
taking a test, but they are more motivated because it came
from their peers. You are assessing students less on the
results of their performance on the test, and more on the
test they created. Their understanding of the information
will come through on the questions they formulate.
Collage/Poster/Diorama. Let the students be creative!
Have them list the 5–10 major points of the unit and then
choose one to illustrate in some way. In history, it might
be a major battle of the war. In language arts, it might be
a favorite chapter of a book. In math it may be an active
illustration of applying decimal division. In science, it might
be the parts of a leaf.
Allowed creativity and choice, students are more
likely to show what they know in ways you may not have
Essay. Ask the students apply what they learned by
answering a question such as, “What would you have done
if you were the main character? Explain how you would act
similarly or differently.” Another question might be, “How
might you use this information in the real world?”
When they answer questions like this, students not only
demonstrate their simple understanding of information,
they also respond on a higher cognitive level and exhibit at
a deeper level of understanding.
By assessing students in a variety of ways, teachers can
get new insights into their knowledge and the way
they learn. That knowledge can help teachers
differentiate instruction in the classroom
to meet each student’s needs—and
that leads to greater success in the
Patricia A. Lutz is a professor in the elementary education department of Kutztown University in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. She taught middle grades mathematics for 19 years. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org