Pre-Assessing With Purpose

A pre-assessment is the foundation of a Competency-Based Progression as it allows students and teacher to focus on what is most needed
193 teachers like this strategy
Using Googleforms to Pre-assess

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 BetterLesson's "Mastery Map and Standard-Based Peer Tutor" strategy linked below 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 BetterLesson's "Progress and Mastery Tracker" strategy 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.
    • Or you can use a simple googleform as in the exemplar below. To learn more about setting up a pre-assessment in a googleform, watch the video at the top of this strategy.
  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 BetterLesson's "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.

Pre-Assessing with Purpose For Distance Learning

Veronica Freeman
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Pre-Assessing with Purpose in a distance setting is important to streamline the workload for students, personalize instruction for students, and help support them to narrow the focus of their learning. Although much of the strategy already includes technology,  a regular schedule and cadence of assessment and goal setting will support students to stay on track when at a distance. 

Implementation steps:

  1. Create a student-facing document that helps students track their level of mastery in each of the standards/competencies covered by the progression. Students should have their own copy and have edit access.

    • In a Google Doc, list standards/competencies students are expected to master. Include a column or space where students can note scores or check off their progress.

    • In a Google Sheet, list standard/competencies students are expected to master. In the adjacent column, insert a checkbox option or place to note their assessment scores.

    • In modifying for a low tech environment, print and mail this document for students to track their progress. 

  2. If students have not previously used the assessment platform, use a synchronous meeting to introduce the website to students. Allow them to begin the pre-assessment so that teachers can troubleshoot any issues.

    • When modifying for asynchronous settings, record a tutorial using Loom. Share the recording with students in your communication platform. 

  3. Regardless of prior experience with pre-assessment, lower the stakes for students and explain the purpose of  pre-assessments to students. Ideally this is done in a synchronous setting where students can ask questions. If not possible, record this explanation to students. Share within your communication platform.

    • In an asynchronous setting, set a deadline for students to complete their pre-assessment. 

  4. Provide results and feedback to students through email or share a copy to each individual student. Share the student-facing document to each individual student so that they may update their starting level of mastery. 

  5. Create a Mastery Map in a shared Google Doc for all students to access. Students can add their names to the standards that they have already mastered. 

  6. Use Jamboard or Flipboard where students can share their SMART Goal with the class. 

  7. Establish a schedule or cadence for students to reflect on their mastery. For example, every Monday they can edit their Mastery Tracker and update their Goal on the Jamboard/Flipgrid. 

  8. Identify groups of students with similar levels of mastery. Invite these students to small group synchronous meetings.

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Pre-assessing the level of mastery of students before teaching them a new unit or curriculum can be an excellent way to tailor support of new content for students with disabilities.   

Pre-assessments are, however, often overwhelming for students’, and challenging to use for students in practice.  Effective pre-assessments require a variety of skills: emotional regulation, executive functioning (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.), written expression, reading, and/or verbal skills.  In order to support students with disabilities who have difficulty in these areas consider the following modifications:


  1. Any pre-assessments given to students should strive to mimic the final assessment environment as much as possible.  Thus learning teachers should provide any test accommodations (read aloud, extra time, reference sheets, etc.) for students with disabilities as they would for a summative assessment.

  2. Teachers should thoughtfully plan a variety of pre-assessments to give students with disabilities multiple access points to engage with content.   In addition to traditional paper-based assessments, teachers should consider oral or visual assessments, take-home reflections and/or multiple choice exams. See the "Differentiation: It Starts with Pre-assessment" resource in the resource section below for more information.

  3. Teachers should consider building by-in for all students by grading pre-assessments based on effort.  For example, a teacher may tell students that while the pre-assessment won’t be graded for mastery on content like a final assessment, it will be graded on how much thinking is shown through math problems or reading annotations. 

  4. Teachers should think carefully about the approach of quality over quantity when designing pre-assessments, i.e. in which ways can an assessment be modified for students to allow the most time to be spent on the high leverage tasks?  This could look like students with disabilities only responding to the first three questions on an assessment or giving them the opportunity to provide their answers verbally as opposed to in written form on an assessment.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

Pre-assessments are a valuable tool for teachers to understand where students are at the start of a unit of study and as a tool for learners to track mastery. While it is imperative to determine what knowledge and skills English learners are bringing to any given topic; assessments must aim to differentiate between linguistic and content competence so they are fair and accurate gauges of what learners can do. 

English learners are required to use all domains of language: reading, writing, speaking and listening in order to complete assessments and develop SMART goals. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:


  1. Accommodate created assessments. Work to lessen linguistic load so that English learners are able to grapple with the content of the question, rather than supplementary language. Use language level data to help guide accommodations. The best way to choose accommodations may be to refer to local standardized testing accommodations for English learners. Be conscientious in choosing accommodations, not all are helpful to all learners, and too many or the wrong ones may overwhelm learners. Other examples include but are not limited to: limiting task types, using simplified language, defining key and idiomatic vocabulary, reading aloud or using text-to-speech software. See the "Descriptions of What English Learners "Can Do" at Various Language Levels" and the "Quick Tools for Assessing English Learners in Content Classrooms" in the resource section below for more information. 

  2. Create an alternative assessment. Consult with English learners’ language specialist. Discuss what information you are looking to learn from your English learners and work together to design an appropriate assessment or use resources from the language specialist. See the "Assessing English Learners in Subject Classrooms" resource in the resource section below for more information.

  3. Use graphic organizers, word banks, and sentence stems when learners are reflecting and creating their own SMART goals. Use 1:1 check-ins to ensure learners are on-track.

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