Have some fun with beginning-of-year baseline assessment! (1) Choose a lively format. (2) Keep it active. (3) Get kids involved. (4) Use to inform instruction. Your teaching will improve. And you will establish a positive classroom environment.
Baseline Assessment – Where to Begin
What should I assess? Answering this question gets you started. Think about what your students should already know. Consider what you’d like them to learn during the first six to nine weeks of school. The intersection of these two points gives you a good idea of what to assess. Take a peek at your standards to make the final determination.
For example, my incoming fourth grade math students should know basic numeration and operations with whole numbers. By the end of the first nine weeks, I’d like them to be fluent with numbers to 999,999, know their multiplication facts, conquer subtracting across zeros, multiply and divide four-digit by one-digit numbers. Okay, so what will I assess? Fractions? No. Geometry? No. I will assess whole number skills: numeration, adding and subtracting (which they should already know), multiplication, and division. I look at my standards and pull out twenty specific skills with multi-digit numbers that fourth graders must know. Those become my first-quarter targets. I create a checklist that will guide my instruction for the beginning of the school year.
Choose a Lively Format
Testing is serious business. I am a serious teacher. But what type of atmosphere do I want to establish at the beginning of the year? Not scary-serious. Instead, I want a goal-oriented, let’s-see-where-you-are, we’re-in-this-together type of atmosphere.
A piece of white paper with black print that says TEST on the top is not what I wanted. How about task cards? Hmmm, very lively. How about a monster theme? Definitely fun. Yes. I created twenty task cards. Each card covered one of the skills from my checklist.
Keep It Active
This was a little tricky. I wanted kids to feel comfortable and move around during the first days of school. But what if they cheated? I had to get over myself on this one. Yes, the results of this baseline assessment would guide my instruction, but if one child helped another, what was I really losing? Okay, my test results might not be perfect. But they’re never perfect. After all, kids who know the stuff sometimes make mistakes. And the child who was helped might actually be learning something. Isn’t that my goal?
I decided to stick with my traditional task card set up. The cards are placed in stacks on a table. Kids grab a few and take them to their desks. They chit-chat a bit. It gets a little messy. It’s comfortable. I love it.
Get the Kids Involved
Yep, I say it. “Hey, this set of task cards will let me know what you know and what you don’t know. I’ll be using this to figure out what I need to teach a little and what I need to teach a lot.” It’s no secret.
This year, I’m getting them involved even more. I went to the office store and bought a set of hanging files. Each child will keep track of his/her progress with these skills (and others as the year goes on) with a checklist. Two more sets of monster task cards will help me take the pulse of my classroom as we finish up with whole numbers and then again just before state testing.
These task cards help me create the goal-oriented, let’s-see-where-you-are, we’re-in-this-together type of atmosphere I want for my classroom.
Use Results to Inform Instruction
So what’s a teacher to do with this data? I look at my checklist horizontally, vertically, and in spots.
- Horizontally – Looking horizontally tells me who’s already mastered everything (or nearly everything) and who hasn’t. If the divide is large, I’ll definitely be grouping for math (at least for now).
- Vertically – Vertical gaps uncover skills that require some TLC. This tells me where I need to slow down. On the other hand, if everyone already knows a skill or two, can’t I in all good conscience skip those?
- Spots – Little spots tell me where someone has missed a skill. Maybe they were absent, or they didn’t feel well the day that skill was taught. In my grade, I always have spots for subtracting across zeros. Those little spots indicate the need for small group remediation. I find time to pull those kids to a table and work with them until they’ve got it.
The checklist stays on my desk until everyone has reached mastery of these concepts. Truth be told, that can be far into the year, long past the time that formal instruction of these skills has ended. And that’s okay. We just keep plugging away. After all, learning is hard business.
Isn’t it nice to know that baseline assessment doesn’t need to be dreary? Now I’m off to make my literature assessment a little more lively…