What is Diagnostic Assessment? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is Diagnostic Assessment?
  • 0:55 Benefits of Diagnostic…
  • 2:14 Examples of Diagnostic…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joelle Brummitt-Yale

Joelle has taught middle school Language Arts and college academic writing. She has a master's degree in education.

In this lesson, we will explore a form of pretesting known as diagnostic assessment. We'll look at its definition, benefits, and examples of diagnostic assessments used by educators.

What Is Diagnostic Assessment?

Imagine being a teacher in a new classroom. You begin teaching a lesson only to be met with stares of confusion from your students. When you ask the students if they understand what you are teaching, they reply that they have no idea what you're talking about. Now imagine teaching that same class after conducting a pretest to determine what the students already know about the topic. Which scenario sounds preferable? Which would result in a better experience for both the teacher and the students?

Diagnostic assessment is a form of pre-assessment that allows a teacher to determine students' individual strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, and skills prior to instruction. It is primarily used to diagnose student difficulties and to guide lesson and curriculum planning.

Benefits of Diagnostic Assessment

As you may have surmised, diagnostic assessment benefits both the instructor and the students. First, it allows teachers to plan meaningful and efficient instruction. When a teacher knows exactly what students know or don't know about a topic, she can focus lessons on the topics students still need to learn about rather than what they already know. This cuts down on student frustration and boredom.

Second, it provides information to individualize instruction. It may show a teacher that a small group of students needs additional instruction on a particular portion of a unit or course of study. He can then provide remediation for those students so that they can fully engage with new content. Similarly, if a teacher discovers that a group of students has already mastered a large portion of a unit of study, he can design activities that allow that group to go beyond the standard curriculum for that topic through independent or small group study.

Finally, it creates a baseline for assessing future learning. It shows both the teacher and the students what is known before instruction has occurred. Thus, it sets a baseline on a topic. As the students move through instruction, they can see what they are or aren't learning, and the teacher can provide remediation or enrichment as needed.

Examples of Diagnostic Assessments

Diagnostic assessments can come in many different forms. A couple of common uses of this tool include unit pretests and diagnostic assessments prior to individual instruction.

One of the simplest and most powerful classroom-level uses of diagnostic assessment is the unit pretest, which occurs prior to instruction on a particular unit of study to gather information about what students know about the topic. When giving a unit pretest, be sure to focus on the core concepts and skills that you expect students to know and be able to demonstrate at the end of the unit. Many textbooks and curriculum sets have pretests you can use or adapt.

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