5 tips for assessing young students

Assessing young students can be tricky. You’re competing with short attention spans and developing language and motor skills, on top of the ongoing demands of every student in your class
Reading Time: 3 minutes
November 4, 2020

How often do you see a class of 6 year-olds sitting at their desks quietly completing a written assessment? Never. And that’s not only because getting 6 year-olds to sit quietly and focus their attention is hard. It’s because written assessments are not the best way to measure the progress of students that young.

Assessing young students can be tricky. You’re competing with short attention spans and developing language and motor skills, on top of the ongoing demands of every student in your class (who inevitably need you just as you sit down to assess a student).

When assessing young students we need to make sure that the format of the assessment will not only be manageable in your classroom, but will also take into account the very nature of young students to provide an accurate picture of their learning and progress.

So how should we go about assessing young students? We’ve put together our top 5 tips below.

Try non-traditional modes

Young students learn differently to older children and adults. They develop knowledge in experimental, interactive and hands-on ways. We see that in early learning through activities that involve play, manipulation of objects, listening to and acting out stories, singing, moving and talking. This is exactly why we should try assessments in non-traditional formats that allow students to best express what they know, rather than confining them to written or oral tests. Try activities or games that give you the opportunity to observe students demonstrating their knowledge. Not only are they more likely to engage, they can show off more of what they know without the limitations of their language or motor skills. 

Consider language development

Young students are still developing their language skills. Which means they may understand a concept, but don’t have the language to verbally communicate it or the writing skills to write it. When assessing students, consider how you word questions and different ways you can explain what you’re looking for them to do. Also make sure you give students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding outside of using verbal or written language. 

Begin with the end in mind

This may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often it is forgotten. Assessments should only exist so that student learning can take place. We shouldn’t assess to tick a box. We should assess to get the information we need so we can support our students to progress in their learning. So when planning assessments make sure you have a clear understanding of exactly what you want to know. Are you trying to determine what students know about an upcoming concept? Or are you assessing progress on a topic you’re wrapping up so you can fill gaps if needed?  Whatever the case, have the end goal in mind so you can develop the most effective assessment for students, rather than wasting time gathering information that you won’t use to inform future practice.

Keep assessment short

Young people are still learning how to process all of the stimuli that is happening around them. Particularly those in their first year of schooling, who are not used to the many distractions that exist in a classroom setting. These students often have little control over their reactions which means they can become bored quickly or easily distracted. As mentioned above, this is one of the reasons why assessing young students can be challenging. To avoid this, keep assessments short. Perhaps incorporate a variety of short assessment activities across a day or two. This could involve the whole class, or one-one-one time with you. Keeping these tasks short will help students stay engaged and give you the best possible chance of assessing them. 

Give students the opportunity to show you what they know

Young students won’t understand the concept of assessment. Even if we present an assessment activity as a time when they need to ‘do their very best’ students might feel unnecessary pressure. As mentioned above, there are lots of ways to incorporate assessments into classroom activities, but remember to also make sure that these ‘informal’ assessments are implemented in a way that really gives students a chance to show you what they know. That might mean undertaking shorter assessments more often, or considering the time of day that will be best for the individual student. Young students are less able ‘show up’ for a test like older students, so make sure you consider how to get the best out of them to get a true picture of what they know.

Looking for a better tool for assessing F-4 students? Check out Early Insights, the flexible F-4 assessment tool, today!

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