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Ironically, the teachers I work with claim that they don't pre-test because of time. I don't think they understand that they could buy back a lot of that time if they find out what students already know and eliminate the lessons on those outcomes from their unit plans. I pre-test in math for every unit. I don't always pre-test for theme units, but I at least do a KWL chart for every new unit I teach. I build the lessons for the unit around the questions kids have in the "w" section. I have found pre-tests a great way to demonstrate growth in kids who may not achieve at the same levels as their peers. They might end up with only a 65% on their math test, but when they started with 5% on the pre-test, that shows incredible growth compared to the kid who might have 95% at the end but started with 80% in a colleague's class (we flex group our kids).

Ms. Q

I'm going to say it's not because we don't want to pre-test, it's that we haven't learned the best way to do so. It's all about data collection and analysis and teachers are usually not given the time, tools, or resources to successfully complete this vital step in teaching.


I work with many teachers who are more than willing to try something like this, if only they had the knowledge about how to do it well and the time to do it right.

As a support teacher, I frequently offer to my colleagues that if they will take the time to give the pretest, I'll do the analysis and figure out where the curriculum can be compacted and where they can save time in their instruction. More often than not, after seeing how useful the data is, they are sold on the value of taking the "extra" time to pretest.

David B.

Perhaps the pre-test is not the issue but the need to adapt or rewrite lesson plans after the information on the pre-test is known. If they do not pre-test they need not alter the lesson plans that they have used for numerous years.

Kevin W. Riley

I'm not sure if I would define the issue as the need to pre-test. My teachers are masters at differentiation because they have such strong data. We give our students the MAPS test-- an on-line formative assessment system developed by the NorthWest Evaluation Association (NWEA). Our students are assessed each quarter but they don't really know it because we refer to it as the "MAPS Game". It's a game! And from that data, our students-- from first grade through 8th grade-- are then able to chart their own growth, monitor their own progress, and adjust their goals. We follow this process religiously. All 42 teachers for over 1000 kids. The MAPS Game yields a score called a RIT. The RIT score defines 1) the specific competencies that have been mastered for their grade level...according to each state's standards; 2) which competencies or skills the individual students needs to focus on next; and 3) which skills in the continuum they aren't quite ready for next.
So every teacher knows EXACTLY where each student is at any given time in the school year. And of course, the students and their parents know too.
We then regroup our students, every day, according to their RIT scores. Don't panic... we aren't tracking them. In fact, these are highly fluid groupings that require tremendous coordination and collaboration among teachers. The students continue to rise to each new level as they master the preceding standards... in exactly the same way that martial arts students pass through colored belt levels on their way to an eventual black belt.
When teachers have the expertise to use formative data, to differentiate instruction, to collaborate, and to create innovative ways to deliver services-- schools are more effective in meeting virtually every child's academic needs.

Carl Anderson

I agree with David B. Most of the teachers I know who are reluctant to use pretests don't see how they could possibly alter their lectures and presentations or create new handouts and worksheets in time. Plus, by not pretesting and covering all the info themselves teachers can be assured all students really did receive the same information.

Another group of teachers who are reluctant to use pretests see conceptually how they could be useful but lack the pedagogical models to put them into action. They never had teachers who did this with them. The longer I have been teaching the more I come to view my own education as a barrier to being a better teacher.

As teachers we have to unlearn what we have learned about pedagogy and construct new models for ourselves based on a new understanding of how people learn and what the realities of the classroom are for our students. My current methods look nothing like anything any of my own teachers used with me. This has taken a lot of hard work and a reconsideration of what the role of the teacher is and what the purpose of school is.


I used comprehensive pre-testing of students in my high school English classes both at the beginning of the school year, and prior to new material. What STOPPED me from doing that was my administration's insistence that we all teach the same material (from a purchased curriculum program) to all students in each course/grade level at the same time. It made my pretesting and all the differentiated instructional work I had done worthless.


Renee, your story saddens and frustrates me to no end!
I do not know what I would do without pre-testing. Its the only way I know not to waste my time in the classroom.

A major assumption that comes along with the notion of pre-testing is that knowledge resides in the student and that we will design our lessons based first on their knowledge, not on ours. It turns the idea of teacher as keeper of knowledge on its head.

Challenging that idea can be pretty scary. To do it properly we need teacher PD that goes beyond why we should pre-test but touches to the core of why we are teaching to begin with. Once we start to go there, it usually becomes pretty apparent why we need to pretest. At least, that is what I have seen.

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