Using Diagnostics to Set Goals and Select Standards

6 Apr

The Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) structure provides an opportunity for students to design their learning around skill areas that need the most improvement. In order to do that, students must understand their strengths and weaknesses so that they can determine which skills and content to focus on. Diagnostics can give students and teachers a baseline from which to work. Even though teachers center instructions on standards, we rarely make them apparent to students.  The diagnostics serve as an “initiation to standards though I don’t immediately label it that way.  The nitty gritty of the standards comes later. Initially, I tell students that there are a few general skills and content elements to the curriculum that I need to assess throughout the course. (For me as an English teacher, they’re reading, writing, and speaking/listening–the exact categories of skills outlined in the Common Core Content Standards for Language Arts Literacy.)  Students simply need to know that they will be responsible for working toward improvement in those areas.

I introduce the idea of diagnostic assessments to get a pulse on their abilities. Traditionally, diagnostics mimic final assessments as closely as possible in both structure and content. However, when using the ILP, the teacher may not know what the final product will look like ahead of time. Therefore, the diagnostic must cover the content and skills that the students will be responsible for knowing by the end of the unit/course. It should provide enough items in each content or skill area to get a strong reading of students’ abilities. I like to align the assessments with the standards and group questions by standard area so that the students and I can easily determine strengths and areas for improvement. With my English classes, I have three separate diagnostics. I ask students to actively read a text and answer questions to assess their reading skills. The next day, they discuss the same text in small groups, during which I assess their speaking and listening abilities. Lastly they write an essay that connects this text to their summer reading in order to assess their writing and language skills. In classes without a summer reading assignment, I ask students to find an article that connects to or refutes the ideas in the reading diagnostic text, and they write about those texts. The diagnostic assessments speak to the exact reading, speaking/listening, writing, and language skills that I will summatively assess at the end of the first unit. To kill two birds with one stone, I also connect all three of these to the content and themes of the first unit.

Depending on how you and your students plan to use the ILP, diagnostic baselines can be used to determine areas of focus for full classes, small groups, or individuals. If you want to use the ILP for full classes, you can use a diagnostic to determine which standards are weakest for the majority of students, and you can consider which standards must be addressed before students can move on to more complex skills or content. If you want to use the ILP for small groups, you can group students based on strong and weak areas in a multitude of ways. And of course, the diagnostic could be used to establish individualized learning goals. No matter the format, these assessments help establish learning experiences that cater to student needs.

If you would like to see a sample writing diagnostic, click here. This particular sample has a  brand new rubric that I’ll use with a sophomore English class.  The one I previously used was adapted from New Jersey’s High School Proficiency Assessment because we mimic that test in our course midterm exam. This new (though untested) rubric linked here speaks much more directly to the Common Core standards. Feel free to use it or adapt it to fit your needs. I just ask that you adhere to the Creative Commons license, and please comment below to let us know how it goes!

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