Pre-Assessing With Purpose

A pre-assessment is the foundation of a Mastery-Based Progression as it allows students and teacher to focus on what is most needed
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About This Strategy

The idea of pre-assessing the level of mastery of students before teaching them a new unit or curriculum seems natural and sound: Knowing exactly what students know about a concept before teaching it to them can help make so many powerful adjustments, at the whole group, small group and individual level.

Pre-assessments are, however, often overwhelming for students, and challenging to use for teachers in practice. And if students do not see how pre-assessments gets used in practice, they lose even more interest in the process moving forward.

This strategy will help you see how a pre-assessment can be relatively simply built and administered in alignment with the competencies of a progression, and used as a springboard for a mastery-based progression, allowing each student to focus on what they need the most at the pace that feels right.

Implementation Steps

  1. Use the "Mastery Map and Standard-Based Peer Tutor" strategy in the BetterLesson Lab to help create a map of the different standards/competencies students should master in a given unit or year, and set up a student-centered system of support.
  2. Use the "Progress and Mastery Tracker" strategy in the BetterLesson Lab to help build a student facing version of a document that helps students track their level of mastery in each of the standards/competencies covered by the progression (unit, quarter, semester or year)
  3. Then create a pre-assessment aligned with the different standards or competencies of a given unit or progression. A website like Problem-Attic or Mastery Connect (both of which are described further in the tech tool section below) can make the creation of these pre-assessments much easier thanks to their expansive banks of questions and their ability to help teachers organize the data by standards or competencies.
  4. For this practice to become sustainable, it is recommended to have multiple-choice pre-assessments that could ideally be automatically scored online by one of the two tech tools suggested below for example.
  5. Introduce the pre-assessment to students by lowering the stakes: Explain to them that the pre-assessment is not going to be kept as a grade, but rather as a way to determine how much they already know regarding each competency of an upcoming unit. Each of these competencies can be learned during the upcoming unit so even a low grade is not a big deal, but if some competencies are already mastered, students will have the option to bypass working in these competencies if data shows it is not needed.
  6. Once you have given the pre-assessment and let the computer score and organize the data, give it back to students and allow them to:

    • Use their Progress and Mastery tracker to mark their current level of mastery in relation to each standard

    • Use the Mastery Map to place a marker in the standard where they are already at mastery and could be of support of others.

    • Use a reflection and goal setting protocol to draw their first objectives for the beginning of the unit. To learn more about reflection and goal setting, consult the "SMART Goals" strategy or the "Weekly Goal Setting and Reflection" strategy.

  7. Analyze the class data and identify:
  • Competencies that the whole class or the majority of the class has already mastered. This will help you determine elements of a unit/curriculum you could go through more quickly over or bypass if you are still electing to hold a whole group lesson every day
  • Small groups of students with similar levels of mastery in a given competency. This will help you pull small groups during self-paced learning time for example or organize a seating chart mixing or grouping ability levels when teaching a particular competency
  • Students who are already in the "acceleration zone" and have most of the competencies already down pat. They will get bored if you do not plan strategically for them, either by giving them more complex and rigorous activities or by unleashing them to work ahead in the curriculum at their own pace.

EL Modification

Traditional paper-based, written methods of assessment may limit ELs' ability to demonstrate their learning. In conjunction with traditional assessments, consider giving ELs the opportunity to demonstrate their learning through:

  • Conferences

  • Take-home reflections

  • Oral presentations or re-tellings

  • Learning logs

  • Graphic organizers

  • Cloze exercises

  • Visual/image representation

Coach Tips

Romain Bertrand
BetterLesson Instructional Coach
  • Try to prepare two pre-assessments before the year starts, for your first two units if you are still working with units. It will help you stay ahead of the pace for the rest of the year, once you see the benefits of the first two pre-assessments!

  • Again the key is to show your students and yourself that these pre-assessments won't collect dust this year. This is why it is important to make students update their tracker right after taking it and write a reflection and some goals. Already you will see an impact from that plus they will want to change to green the standards they are mastering as they progress through the unit.

  • Be explicit, even when teaching the whole group, when you make a change in your instruction based on the pre-assessment data. That will help your students see the value of taking an assessment before having started the unit. They should be able to explain to a visitor the different ways you use the pre-assessment data after a while.

Tech Tools

Mastery Connect

  • Masteryconnect makes it possible to create standard-based digital trackers for your classes as well as standard-based assessments that can be easily scored digitally if taken on the site directly or scanned by a webcam or a phone/tablet camera. The scores are then automatically versed into the digital tracker

  • Mastery Connect is a Mastery-Based digital tracker that makes the process of monitoring progress easier. Assessments can be easily delivered and scored on paper or digitally.



  • Problem-attic is an expansive database of test questions taken directly from State assessments. You can create an assessment in seconds, as well as an answer key. You can also deliver the assessment digitally or print out a PDF version of it.

  • In a mastery based progression, it is vital to be able to create quickly multiple versions of standard based assessments. This tool can help streamline this process