Pre-Assessment for Differentiation

” … teachers must use pre-assessments to make decisions … Pre-assessment enables us to base our flexible groupings on data and not on feelings”, states Emily Pendergrass, a lecturer in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University.

As an EAL teacher, pre-assessment is an integral part of the practice: students who are considered for EAL status must take a pre-assessment (a.k.a. entrance English exam) to see if they will be placed in an EAL program. This works well to differentiate language deficient student from those who are not, but even then there is a large range of students that fall within the EAL spectrum. As such, a student who is a remedial learner will struggle in the same class as an intermediate one, should they not receive any differentiation and/or scaffolding.

When students arrive to my class at the beginning of the year, I have no idea what their full capabilities are, regardless of what the student file states. The only way for me to find out is by giving them a pre-assessment to determine their abilities. In a normal setting, I would assign a “vacation comic”, where students draw 6 panels of what they did during the summer vacation, with 2-3 sentences for each panel. After, all students will present their comic to either a partner, small group or class.

In the middle of the term, however, pre-assessment is also necessary. It is important to always understand what students know and need to learn so that they can be properly challenged and set up to succeed. Thus, when we begin a unit that will have a summative reading assessment at the end, I sometimes give a vocabulary pre-assessment to gauge how students’ lexicons are working e.g. this one made with Quizlet based on one of our textbook readings. Once that pre-assessment is given and graded, I can have a better idea of how I need to group my students, or differentiate their assignments to have better individualized materials.

As an example, here is a mind map made with Wisemapping that explores 3 different scenarios for 3 different groups of students. Planning for differentiated tasks can be time consuming at first, but with experience and a library of activities built up over time, it can soon become a seamless process. In my example, I split the students up based on how they scored on the vocab quiz into high, mid, and low scoring groups.

I have the higher scoring students working individually or in pairs to play an online game based on a more challenging reading, and answering questions. They will also have to produce more advanced grammatical structures, and if time allows, will finish with mini-presentations. It should be noted that all of this is supplemental to the unit, so they will not be working ahead of other students, necessarily.

The mid-scoring students will reinforce their learning by reviewing the reading and completing their understanding of the text. They will be put in groups and tasked with creating new quizzes based on the reading which they will circulate amongst themselves. This will serve to give the students ownership over their work and encourage them to move forward in their task.

The low scoring students will be working closely with me. They will start by reviewing the vocab and grammar online by using games. They will move on looking back at the original text, and identifying their mistakes and trying to relate to the grammar through discussion with partners. Finally, they will synthesize their information and create posters displaying their gained knowledge.

These activities will, in theory, help to both support and supplement the students’ core learning. I think that were I to implement these in class, it would take a good amount of coordination, but would pay off in student involvement and learning.



Image borrowed from

5. Pre-assessment Ideas – Differentiation & LR Information for SAS Retrieved 1 July 2017, from

Pendergrass, E. (2014). Educational Leadership:Getting Students to Mastery:Differentiation: It Starts with Retrieved from


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