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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.

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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.After administering the pretest, examine results for trends.

Look for particular pockets of information that students already know as well as those where there is no prior knowledge. Also, look for students who score particularly low or high on the test, as these students may need small group remediation or enrichment.When working with a student one-on-one, either in the classroom or in a tutoring setting, you also have the ability to tailor instruction for that student’s specific needs. Administering a diagnostic assessment at the beginning of individual instruction provides valuable information about what those needs are. For example, if you are working with a student on literacy skills, it is helpful to use a diagnostic assessment tool or questionnaire to determine the child’s current reading level, what reading and writing skills the child has already mastered, how the child compares to other students in his or her age group, and what the child’s attitude towards reading and writing is.

Knowing this information will guide not only what you teach the child but also how you teach him or her.

Lesson Summary

Diagnostic assessment is a method of evaluation used prior to instruction to determine students’ strengths, weaknesses, prior knowledge, and skills. It is especially beneficial to students and teachers because it helps guide instruction in a meaningful and efficient way, encourages groupings of students for remediation or enrichment, and sets a baseline for student learning throughout a unit or course of study.

Common uses of diagnostic assessment include the unit pretest, which looks at what knowledge and skills a student brings to a unit prior to instruction, and individualized assessment prior to one-on-one instruction.

Diagnostic Assessment Facts

  • Diagnostic assessments help both students and instructors.
  • A unit pretest aids in lesson planning and determining students’ existing knowledge.
  • Engaging in one-on-one instruction provides opportunities to tailor lessons and enhance student learning.

Learning Outcomes

Make sure that you can perform the following tasks when you’ve studied the lesson on diagnostic assessment:

  • Determine the need for diagnostic assessment in evaluating student knowledge
  • Discuss the benefits of diagnostic assessment
  • Note the importance of individualized assessment for one-on-one education

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