Diagnostic Teaching & Testing
Educational diagnostic testing is a form of assessment that occurs before instruction begins. The purpose of administering diagnostic tests is to try to determine what students already know about the concepts and skills to be covered by instruction. The tests are not graded. The tests can determine if differentiated instruction is need, and discover students' preferred learning styles as well as their strengths, weaknesses, and misconceptions. Diagnostic tests are designed to closely follow what will be asked on a summative assessment and can be used to predict how well students will perform on high-stakes tests used to meet No Child Left Behind guidelines and state standards. In this respect, they can be considered a combination of both summative and formative assessments.
Keywords Adequate Yearly Progress; Diagnostic Testing; Differentiated Instruction; Formative Assessment; High-Stakes Testing; Learning Styles; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Standardized Testing; Summative Assessment; Test Bias
Educational diagnostic testing is a form of assessment that occurs before instruction begins. The purpose of administering diagnostic tests is to try to determine what students already know about the concepts and skills to be covered by instruction. Diagnostic tests are not graded.
Diagnostic tests can also be called pre-assessments, predictive assessments, or diagnostic pretests. Educational diagnostic testing can be used to evaluate students' level of academic achievement and learning potential and can sometimes lead to additional assessments if warranted by students' responses. Standardized tests and instructor-constructed assessments can be used as diagnostic tools to determine students' level of prior knowledge. One-on-one interviews may also be used as a diagnostic tool. Using diagnostic testing can help instructors plan differentiated instruction, lesson plans, teaching strategies, and other classroom techniques to help all students in the classroom achieve their academic potential.
Diagnostic testing can be a very useful tool for instructors, because it can tell them where their students are with respect to what they are planning to teach them. For example, an instructor is planning to begin mathematics instruction with how to add and subtract fractions. If diagnostic testing shows that the entire class has already mastered that concept, but not how to multiply and divide fractions, then the instructor modifies the lesson plan to begin with multiplication and division of fractions. If diagnostic testing shows that half the class has mastered the concepts and half has not, then the instructor may decide to implement differentiated instruction. By beginning instruction with where students are, additional instruction time is gained which can be used to go over concepts the class has not mastered more slowly or cover more concepts than originally anticipated. Conversely, if the instructor was planning on beginning instruction with adding and subtracting fractions but diagnostic testing shows that students have not mastered simple addition or subtraction, the instructor should begin there.
A purely diagnostic assessment can be used to profile students' interests and help determine their preferred learning styles. Diagnostic testing can also help instructors plan their instruction and develop curriculum by helping to determine whether or not classroom instruction is closely aligned with federal and/or state high-stakes tests. Since these assessments are intended for diagnostic or predictive purposes, they are not graded (McTighe & O'Connor, 2005).
Using Diagnostic Tests Efficiently
In order for diagnostic testing to work, instructors need to identify what competencies they want their students to have mastered. Based on that information, they must decide what tasks students should complete in order to determine each student's level of readiness regarding the competencies. Instructors can then go over their lesson plans and make any necessary adjustments. Some instructors may not plan their first lesson until they have seen the results of the diagnostic testing and can analyze exactly where students are with respect to prior knowledge.
Diagnostic pre-assessments can come from standardized assessments or be instructor developed. One possibility is to take the skills from summative assessments, which reflect what instructors think their students should know. This is accomplished by looking at specific skills and concepts the test is looking to assess and then developing the diagnostic test. This is also a good way of checking the effectiveness of instruction once the summative assessment has been given, because instructors can easily see what their students knew before instruction began and compare it with the post-intruction summative assessment results (Wormeli, 2006).
Diagnostic tests should not be too large or complex and should only look to assess specific skills and concepts. For example, instructors could have their students solve three math problems that represent what will be taught. When creating diagnostic tests, instructors should consider the following:
• What skills are to be assessed,
• Whether the assessment allows students to demonstrate mastery of those skills,
• If every component of the skills accounted for in the assessment,
• If students can respond in a different way than expected and still show mastery of the concepts, and
• If the assessment is a test of the process or the content (Wormeli, 2006).
Diagnostic testing can be both formal and informal. Formal diagnostic testing includes standardized tests that can be used to assess particular skills, giving objective data on skill levels. However, the validity of such tests can be debated, and there is some concern about test bias. Additionally, standardized tests may assess more or fewer skills than those that will occur during instruction. The formal approach to diagnostic testing can be implemented within a classroom, a department, or within a school. It can also occur within a school district, state, or nation. Informal diagnostic testing approaches can provide more flexibility, such as one-on-one questioning or small-group testing; but they still must follow the principles of diagnostic testing, meaning that they must assess only what is slated to be taught in the classroom and cover all concepts and skills (Highland Learning, n.d.).
Diagnostic Testing in the Classroom
Diagnostic testing must be aligned with predetermined learning objectives and should be built into the regular classroom routine. The assessments should be relatively short, valid, and free from bias. In order to accurately use diagnostic testing, instructors must be willing to modify course content and their teaching methods based on the information they receive from the assessments. This could mean covering subjects and concepts assumed to be already mastered, or not covering concepts that were originally planned if the skills and concepts have already been mastered. Instructors should also take care to assure...
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