Acing the Test: How to Assess with Differentiation in Mind

student showing artworkPart III in the Current Series: “Building a Differentiated Classroom”

Meeting the individual needs of each learner in a classroom can be daunting. Trying to assess them all fairly, while considering different learning styles and modalities, can seem downright impossible. These simple tips will help any teacher evaluate student progress without compromising authenticity.

Plan for informal assessment.
Create a personal, easy-to-use system for making quick daily notes as you notice behaviors, hear comments, and observe students’ struggles or successes. Your informal assessment tool may be a set of colored index cards, one for each student, on an O-ring. It also may be a clipboard with sticky notes individually labeled with student names, a notebook that will never be far from your reach, or even a small pocket tape recorder that allows you to take spoken notes about what you want to remember later. Have your method in place and ready to record observations on day one. This informal record will prove invaluable when determining student progress over time.

Create student work folders.
Decide how and where you will collect and file student work samples. Whether you use expandable folders, manila folders, mailbox cubicles, a stack of pizza boxes, or hanging files in a milk crate, the system needs to be orderly and accessible. Keep a camera in your desk for those assignments that are best recorded in photographs.

Keeping a record of student work is a great way to capture student improvement throughout the year. At the end of the year, the work samples can be compiled into portfolios and displayed for parents during a special afternoon to showcase a year’s worth of learning.

Provide options.
When assigning projects or homework, try to provide several options to appeal to different learning styles. Visual learners might enjoy creating posters or 3-D representations, auditory learners can give an oral report, bodily-kinesthetic learners can create a game to teach the class, etc. The more choice students have, the more differentiated–and accurate–their assessment will be.

Cultivate teamwork.
Brainstorm assessment and teaching ideas with special-area teachers, such as art, music, P.E., and library teachers, who will be valuable resources for reinforcing and expanding student learning outside the walls of your classroom. Share their observations during parent conferences to provide a well-rounded portrait of student progress in all areas of learning.

This is part three in a four-part series on differentiated classrooms. The next segment will cover the first 30 days of school.

Post Author: This post was submitted by Scholastic and adapted from The Scholastic Differentiated Instruction Plan Book.

What are some of your best differentiated assessment tools? Leave a comment to share your ideas! One comment from this four-part series on differentiation will be selected to win a School Box gift card, and another comment will earn a Scholastic book of your choice…so comment away!


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