Providing differentiation so that all students can learn the state standards from their current readiness level might mean reading the same material but at a lower reading level than the student's chronological grade level, or it might mean reading with a partner and stopping at regular intervals and taking notes on what the pair knows so far. It might mean a tiered lesson in which different groups are working at their readiness level, yet learning the same curriculum.
In order to know where student readiness begins, teachers need to have an arsenal of pre-assessment tools. What follows is the best six that any teacher can use to assess readiness. All of these assessment tools are readily available online, and most are free.
San Diego Quick Assessment -
The first three pre-assessments are for reading. If students are often reading material at their frustration level, they will not be able to comprehend. Knowing a student's reading level is the first step towards finding appropriate text that allow them to learn the same content as their peers.
The San Diego Quick Assessment (SDQA) allows teachers to get a ballpark reading level, so they can utilize other reading tests to more precisely pinpoint the student's accurate independent, instructional, and frustration reading levels. An independent reading level is just that – the reading level of text that the student will be able to read on their own without any support. An instructional reading level is one in which the teacher will need to preload vocabulary and set the stage by providing background information. A frustration reading level is one in which there are too many unknown vocabulary words on a page in order for the student to maintain comprehension as they read.
The SDQA is simply a word inventory. The student reads the words in each column, while the teacher records the miscues. When the student cannot pronounce three words or more in one column, the teacher can end the administration and tally the scores to get a ballpark independent, instructional and frustration reading level.
Running Records -
In order to get a more accurate picture of a student's reading ability, one needs to sit with them and perform a running record test. Based upon the ballpark levels determined in the SDQA, the teacher can utilize leveled reading passages and have the student read aloud, recording the time taken to read the passage and miscues. Then, one asks the student comprehension questions to determine if the student comprehended the passage.
Running records helps to determine not only an exact independent and instructional reading level for each student, but it also helps the instructor determine if the student is capable of fluent reading on grade level, how well a student can decode unknown words, and sheds some light on vocabulary knowledge. If students are unable to decode or are not reading fluently on grade level, additional remediation is needed because they will get further and further behind in reading and will be unable to comprehend grade level materials adequately to synthesize information and create new ideas from the information. There are many great videos on YouTube that show teachers administering running records reading tests.
Name Test -
The Name Test is a test of decoding. If one has conducted a running records test with a student and finds they are not decoding words well, then one can pinpoint where to begin remediation with the Name Test. The test is short and just involves having students try to pronounce names. There is no use in remediating decoding the student already knows. They only need to learn the decoding rules they do not know.
Words Their Way Spelling Inventory -
This is one of the best spelling inventories because it is not just about learning to spell. Words Their Way is a developmental, Constructivist spelling program that has students learn how to spell by learning the rules through sorting and puzzling the rules out themselves, with tips sometimes from the teacher. This helps students to more powerfully learn the spelling rules. Also, the spelling inventory helps further pinpoint where students found to be unable to fully decode need help. The spelling program provides lessons to support learning the decoding rules.
Motivational Inventory -
Tomlinson stated that students also need to be provided with learning experiences that support their interests, unique learning style, and motivations. “Interest Inventory” is a motivation inventory that helps teachers quickly find out how to provide lessons that are engaging because they tap into things that students are already interested in. The inventory also helps teachers determine students' learning styles.
Bagel and the Napkin -
This small and powerful pre-assessment goes by other names as well. The idea behind the assessment is to have the students write about everything they know about a topic as a quick write before you begin a new unit. The reasoning behind this is to determine if students have adequate background knowledge to comprehend the unit; or if you, as an instructor, will need to provide more background information in order to help students understand the information in the new unit. Conversely, you may find that some or many students in the class may have quite a bit of knowledge about a subject already, so you will be able to accelerate the class, or some members of the class, through the unit.
The assessment is quite simple to do. Simply have students take a scrap piece of paper and draw a large square on the piece of paper. Have them draw a bagel or doughnut in the middle of the paper, one circle inside of another. Within the inner circle, they will write the name of the unit, such as the Civil War. Inside the larger circle, they will brainstorm everything they already know about the Civil War. On the napkin portion of the graphic organizer, they will state where they learned each item of information they know.
Once everyone has quickly brainstormed and filled out this graphic organizer, you can have students provide information on what they know. This sharing of information will likely help students share information with each other. Then, you will be able to begin your unit at readiness level of your students, by either providing more background information or by accelerating them through portions of the unit they already understand.
The Assessment You Create -
The best assessment is the one that you create for the unique needs of your classroom. Teachers need to create their own assessments whenever adequate assessments to fulfill their needs to keep track of student progress or readiness are lacking.
These six assessments help teachers pre-assess student readiness, interests, and motivation so that teachers can provide lessons that are right at students' levels of engagement and readiness to learn.