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An Antidote to Learning Loss: Unlocking the Potential of Pre-assessment

By Rachel Ball
An Antidote to Learning Loss: Unlocking the Potential of Pre-assessment

As classrooms around the globe reopen and students return to their in-person learning settings, teachers across grade levels and contexts will be confronted with the common challenge: How to assess and address the learning gaps that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic? Fragmented schedules and school closures during the past year and a half led to large scale disruptions in traditional learning. Now, teachers must tackle the challenge and pressure to maximize instructional time and learning gains as students assimilate to their classrooms. The power of pre-assessment is a valuable resource in all teachers’ toolboxes that can assist teachers as they establish instructional priorities and goals for students.

 Three Guidelines for Using Pre-assessment in the Classroom

In order to maximize the impact of pre-assessments, Guskey and McTighe (2016) provided recommendations for effective implementation: 

First, teachers should clearly articulate the reason and rationale for the pre-assessment. Teachers should be clear about the information they hope to glean from the results and should be transparent with students about the process. Teachers should, “Emphasize that the information from the pre-assessment is intended to help you better understand how to address students’ needs, connect to their interests, and excite them about the forthcoming topics” (p. 41). 

Secondly, teachers should have a clear plan for how the results of the pre-assessment will be used. A range of dispositions may result from the pre-assessment, some of which may include, “reviewing essential knowledge and skills students may be lacking, addressing misconceptions students may harbor, providing specifically targeted instruction to the class, linking the content to students’ interests if appropriate, and differentiating instruction for individuals or groups when needed” (p. 41).

Finally, teachers should be resourceful when employing pre-assessments to ensure they capture efficient and valid data. Teachers should be discerning when determining the frequency and method of pre-assessments they use. Pre-assessment data should not, however, be limited to only a teacher’s purview. 

Communicating Pre-assessment Information with Families and Students

Relevant pre-assessment data should be communicated to families in a way that helps them understand instructional goals and next steps for their child. Additionally, it should help to initiate an honest dialogue about baseline student performance, but it can also lead to a discussion about how parents may support their child’s academic progress at home. As a word of caution, be sure to communicate assessment results to families in a clear, digestible manner. If there are learning gaps to be addressed, families should understand how you plan to support their child’s growth. It is not enough to just let parents know that gaps exist. Furthermore, there may be opportunities for students to be involved in setting their own learning goals based on pre-assessment data. Teachers can provide strategies for students to interpret and track their own progress to help them develop ownership in their personal growth.

Using Pre-assessment Data to Drive Instructional Planning

Pre-assessment data should shape a teacher’s decisions regarding instructional goals and pacing.  Specifically, this information should guide any adjustments and revisions to curricular pacing guides. When pre-assessment data reveals learning gaps, a vertical examination of content may be warranted so teachers can ascertain which foundational concepts need to be revisited and retaught. It is not enough to rely on tried-and-true curriculum pacing guides in the year ahead; instead, pre-assessment data in combination with the curriculum guides will be a valuable mechanism for making informed instructional decisions and determining where adjustments in pacing are needed.

Decisions about curriculum and student readiness will not be the only considerations facing teachers as students return to their classrooms. There will inevitably be new students to meet, classrooms to arrange, lessons to plan, relationships to build, content to teach, and paperwork to process. Teachers must prioritize their time in order to maximize their instructional impact. Pre-assessment may require more resources on the front-end for effective implementation. However, well-designed pre-assessments can prove to be a powerful ally to teachers to meet students’ needs and address the anticipated learning gaps that exist.

Guskey, T. R. & McTighe, J. (2016). Pre-assessment: Promises and cautions. Educational, Leadership 73, (7), 38-43. 17.


Rachel Previs Ball, Ed.D. currently services as the director of the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine and Environmental Science while also working on special projects for Stronge & Associates. She previously served as principal in a public school district in Virginia.  She received her undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate degrees from The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

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