Successful Pre Assessment Can Lead to Successful Differentiated Instruction, Learning and Assessment


I am a big fan of differentiated instruction and learning strategies being that our classes especially in the online environment are very diverse. With differentiated instruction and learning will hopefully involve differentiated assessment for a truly optimal differentiated educational implementation and outcome for all involved. However, in order to embark upon any form of differentiated instruction, learning or assessment, the differentiation in question must be probably identified and known not only by the teacher, but optimally by the school and student as well.

The utopian version of this scenario is when successful pre assessment and then subsequent, successful differentiated instruction, learning and assessment is obtained.

As Emily Pendergrass (2013) states in her article titled, Differentiation: It Starts with Pre-Assessment “If teachers want to create flexible groups that address students’ needs, they need to pre-assess.”

Pendergrass then continues to discuss an observation of and in-depth discussion with a teacher which she summarizes the differentiation in a section titled, “A Look into Lily’s Classroom.  It starts out with Lily giving her students a pre-assessment or quiz, Lily then arranges the graded quizzes into three groups: students who got all the questions correct, students who missed one or two questions, and students who missed more than two. Her practice of giving daily short quizzes during the body systems unit began two years ago. After students took the quiz at the beginning of the class, Lily quickly assessed their understanding of the concepts and organized them into groups that differed day to day, depending on quiz results.”

Pendergrass continues and summarizes the experience into Four Lessons Learned:

  1. We have to build a learning community founded on trust and respect.
  2. Teachers must use pre-assessments to make decisions
  3. We can apply this lesson structure to any content.
  4. Teachers could start with one or two lessons per unit; the following year, they could expand on their growing repertoire of differentiated materials. Each lesson does take some additional planning. But becoming a master differentiator does take time. Just start small, and go on from there.

As Catherine Brighton discussed pre assessment in her article titled, Pre-Assessment in the Differentiated Classroom, “Pre-assessments, or assessments that typically occur at the beginning of a learning sequence, can take a variety of formats and can range from completely separated from the instruction or can simultaneously serve as instruction and assessment. Depending on the purpose, a teacher can use a pre-assessment to a) Elicit information about students’ readiness to learn skills and concepts; b) Gather information about students’ preferred modes of learning (including learning styles and grouping preferences); and c) Gather information about students’ attitudes about the learning, areas of interest within the study, and initial questions about the learning.”

She goes on and identified three examples of pre assessments


Here is another link that offers a list of many forms of pre assessments: Pre Assessment Ideas.

I am a big fan of pre assessments. One thing that I always do is in the form of a questionnaire which I administer in the beginning of every class session. It will not only ask about the student’s experiences, skills and even learning styles it will ask about their additional interests they may have so as to be able to relate the course material to these other areas in hopes of increasing the student’s motivation and engagement

For every online class I teach now, the first assignment built into the course shell is always a discussion question asking for their biography and introductions. Additionally, there are some key questions that should be answered relating to the class topics to give the instructor a preliminary understanding of each student in regards to the class material. This information is valuable for the online instructor which offers them their first glimpse of the student fi they have never worked with the student or a more tailored understanding of the student if they have worked with them before. Furthermore, the information obtained can be used throughout the entire session as a form of pre-assessment. It is always beneficial for the instructor to follow with a response to each student with even some questions to get more information if need be or desired. Many online instructors then will use this information for subsequent differentiated instructional strategies based on this information. Some may even go so far as to make a spreadsheet for each student with the pertinent information from the biography, subsequent interactions, assessment data and overall informal progress reports. While there are many analytics that can produce some of this data for them, it is this individualized attention to detail that makes the difference for each individual students’ success.

There are many automated options available for the online environment such as polls, surveys and quizzes where the information can be automatically graded, tallied and even graphed or charted.

As Brighton suggests, in order to efficiently use these tools, a teacher must be focused and clear about the intended learning outcomes including the necessary knowledge, skills, and understandings that are being assessed, the information most useful to know from students with the appropriate instrument to gather the information, keep the pre assessment as concise as possible

Overall, getting to know and understand the student from the onset with the pertinent information related to the differentiation via pre assessments makes way for the opportunity for a successful teaching and learning experience provided the instructor adapts their responses, one on one outreach and assessment feedback appropriately for maximum affect.


Brighton, C. (2009). Pre-Assessment in the Differentiated Classroom. Retrieved from

Pendergrass, E. (2013) Differentiation: It Starts with Pre-Assessment. Retrieved from


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