How to Assess & Improve Students' Subject Matter Knowledge

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  • 0:04 Evaluating Achievement
  • 0:58 Diagnosing Foundational Skills
  • 2:01 Ongoing Assessments
  • 3:16 Providing Remediation
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn ways that teachers can use diagnostic and formative assessments to support student achievement towards mastery of subject matter content.

Evaluating Achievement

As teachers, it's our job to make sure students are understanding and learning as we progress through our lessons. Many things can inhibit a student's ability to learn, including gaps in their knowledge, preconceived misconceptions, or an inability to relate to the topic. It's our responsibility to continually monitor our students and address these issues as they come up, adjust our instruction, and give meaningful feedback to the students. We do that through assessments. The type of assessment we use will depend on what we hope to get out of it.

Achievement tests are assessments that are used to measure students' content knowledge. Diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments are types of achievement tests. Diagnostic and formative assessments are used to find gaps in students' learning to help teachers improve instruction. Summative assessments are used to evaluate student outcomes. So let's find out more about how teachers can use assessments to improve students' subject matter knowledge.

Diagnosing Foundational Skills

''What kind of test should I give if I want to find out what students know before planning a lesson?'' Diagnostic assessments are pretests that provide baseline information about students' skills and abilities. Diagnostic assessments can be used for any content area and may be teacher-made or formal assessments that are purchased by a testing company. Examples of diagnostic assessments include anticipation guides, KWL charts, and pre-tests. Diagnostic assessments are helpful in diagnosing a student's foundational skill development so that teachers can identify problem areas that may prevent a student from moving forward.

For example, Jeremy's class is given the STAR Early Literacy diagnostic assessment during the first week of school. According to this assessment, Jeremy's structural analysis skills are below grade level. Since his teacher sees that this is a problem-area for Jeremy, she pulls him and other students with similar gaps and puts them into small group instruction targeted on building multisyllabic words with affixes, three to four times per week, until they all reach grade-level proficiency.

Ongoing Assessments

An important question you might be asking is, ''How will we know if they're getting what we're teaching them?'' Formative assessments also help teachers make instructional decisions, but in a different way. Formative assessments are informal checks for understanding that are given throughout a learning experience that offer teachers the opportunity to monitor and adjust their lessons. Some examples of formative assessments include checklists, pop quizzes, anecdotal notes, questioning techniques, and tickets out the door.

One of the things that gets in the way of students' learning is their preconceptions and misconceptions about a topic. Research has shown that students tend to reject, or not relate to, concepts that don't fit with their existing outlook of the world. Frequent formative assessments force students to bring their preconceptions and misconceptions to the forefront so that teachers are able to address them.

For example, many of Mr. Sisson's second grade students came to school believing that the sun disappears at night. Lessons about the earth's rotation fell on deaf ears until he asked the students to signal thumbs up for yes or thumbs down for no to the questions, ''Does the Sun move around the Earth?'' and ''Does the Earth move in relationship to the Sun?'' Once their flawed thinking came to light, he was able to use demonstrations and role-play to clear up the confusion.

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