Using Leveled Math Assessments for Differentiation

How am I using leveled math assessments for differentiation...let me count the ways!

I'm so in love with my leveled math assessment resources for 4th grade math and 5th grade math and I think you will see why as I share all of the ways I've discovered myself using differentiated math tests. Hint—my leveled math assessment resources aren't just being used for testing in my classroom! Think of these as differentiated and tiered math resources at your fingertips!

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The variety of ways I've found to use the math assessment sets for differentiation is just one of the reasons I LOVE these things! If you are just now popping in on my leveled math assessment series, you can take a closer look at what a leveled math assessment is and 7 reasons I'm committed to using leveled math tests to support differentiation in my classroom.

Wait... math assessments that aren't just for testing?

Yes! The original vision for my leveled math assessments was to have 3 versions of each assessment in order to implement a pre-assessment, midpoint in the unit or post assessment, and/or a follow up assessment for reviewing concepts later in the year or to provide another opportunity for students to show that they are proficient in our grade level goals.

In addition, each individual assessment has three levels of questions that increase in difficulty (leveled "building blocks," "goals," and "stretching beyond") which allows me to provide differentiation and easily group my students for small groups based on their mastery of the skills and concepts.

Since designing my leveled assessments, I've discovered so many other ways that I've naturally decided to use the assessments in my classroom for differentiation in math.

How I use the three versions of my leveled math assessments really depends on my students' familiarity with the concepts being presented in the assessment. Today I'm going to share a lot about how I used my division assessments resource, since that was our most recent unit.

Examples of How I Use Leveled Assessments for Differentiation in Math

1) After introducing and practicing with a concept that is truly new content for students.

In 4th grade, students encounter so many new concepts--larger multiplication and division to name two biggies!  Given how unfamiliar students are at the beginning of our multiplication and division units, it made little sense to give students a traditional pre-assessment. I saved my "Version 1" assessments for midway through the unit. I taught students one method for dividing 2 and 3 digit numbers by a 1-digit divisor and how to use multiplication to check the answer.

After students had a few days of practice, I gave them all three levels of the Version 1 assessment. {We've had discussions all year about the three levels we use in math and having a growth mindset; students understand that the assessments get increasingly more challenging and they know that I am using the information to decide how best to teach them}.

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I told students that this was really just more practice, rather than a true pre-assessment, so they could ask me for help. During the assessment, I helped students as needed so that they wouldn't get frustrated, but took note of who needed help at which point in the assessment.

{Often during a math assessment situation, I will offer students assistance if they are really stuck, but I will sign my initials beside of the problem to remind myself that I helped them. If you must grade your students with a number, I suggest counting these questions as 1/2 credit or no credit depending upon how much support you provide.}

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After checking the assessments, I was able to quickly plan for differentiation and grouped students into four groups--struggling with dividing 2 digit numbers by 1 digit, my "almost got it" group did pretty well with division but still needed practice to fully master the steps, my "got it" group was ready to learn how to divide by 2 digit divisors, and some of my kiddos already grasped how to divide by 2 digit divisors (although I had not taught that yet!) and were ready for some enrichment activities.

2) As a Traditional Pre-Test to guide math differentiation.

Use Version 1 assessments as a traditional pre-assessment when you know students have had a fair amount of prior experiences with the concepts. 

Different from their experiences (or lack of) with dividing whole numbers, 4th grade students have usually had a lot of rounding and place value experience, so {at the beginning of the year} I pre-assessed them with my place-value leveled math assessments prior to getting into my unit. I was able to see that many students had mastery of 3rd grade place value and rounding concepts, most could handle the 4th grade "goals" pretty well, and quite a few could go beyond with larger numbers and showed mastery of the "stretching" level questions.

Guess who's time I stopped wasting with whole group instruction...yep! All of theirs!

My "stretch" kiddos received enrichment work and my "building blocks" kiddos did some work with a number line and other manipulatives to develop a deeper understanding of why and how we round.

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If my students showed mastery of a level of understanding, I post-assessed him/her using the next level or two of the place value and rounding assessments. For example, this child showed great mastery of the "building blocks" level for rounding numbers but tapped out at the "goal" level.

When it came time to post-test, I gave him the goal and stretching beyond questions {from Version 2 so that the numbers were different} so that he could show mastery of the "goal" level and to give him the opportunity to show even greater understanding at the "stretch" level if possible.

3) Differentiation during classroom practice.

Use the Version 1 for practice in the classroom. This could include using problem sets for a review or extra practice station.

{I know I called the usage of my pre-assessment in #1 above "practice" when explaining the task to my students, but for me, it really was an assessment of where they were at that point in their learning. This third way of using the leveled math assessments is truly meant for class practice.}

My students were really struggling with understanding word problems where they had to interpret the remainder--they just weren't getting the point! Pulling out my Interpreting Remainders Word Problems assessment was the perfect way to

  1. help students continue to practice division with increasingly more challenging problems and

  2. further teach a new skill I was trying to help students understand (what to do with remainders in division word problems).

I decided to use Version 2 because the assessment theme is a "Love of Reading" where imaginary students are setting goals for how long it will take them to finish popular books. The remainders represent the number of pages students will have leftover. My students had to verbalize that the child would have to read a few pages more on a given day in order to finish the book by their goal, realizing that the remainder represented pages that had not been read.

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4) Differentiation while reviewing before a test.

Have students complete one of the versions you have not yet used {1 or 2} in class or at home for homework as a review before your test. Allow students to keep the "practice test" as a tool for studying. If you have them complete the review assessment at home, you can assign it as homework early in the week, answer any questions on a "review" day, and use how they did on their homework to guide your differentiation during in-class review before the post-assessment.

If you work well with your grade level team, this is the perfect opportunity to group your students across the grade level for a flexible math day where one teacher teaches the "building blocks," another focuses on reviewing the "goal" level, and another provides enrichment for the students who really have a strong hold on the concepts.

5) Differentiation with Homework

The truth is when I created 3 versions of each assessment, each with three levels of questions, and made assessments for 5 different concepts within Division and Multiplication, I made more assessments than most teachers will be able to use in one year...that is if you only use them as a traditional test.

However, I've used some of my question sets for homework, knowing that I loved the problems and the practice they provide, that my students could benefit from the extra exposure, and that we would never get to use them all if I only used them in the classroom.

This especially works great with the multi-step word problems question sets. I want my students to complete all of the word problem question sets for practice {because it's dang hard to write word problems, so let's use them!}, but for assessment purposes, I really only need to have them complete one version for division or multiplication as a unit assessment. Because I've embedded word problems into every unit of study, I will still be able to see growth in this area.

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6) Show assessment questions on the smartboard to discuss problems and ways of thinking with students. 

Taking note of problems that would be appropriate to pull up on your smartboard, refer back to during lessons, and/or have students discuss with a small group, you can use these problem sets during your lessons to gain more insight into students’ understanding and to allow students to learn from one another.

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The rounding problem show in the image above is written in such a way that it requires thoughtfulness and deeper understanding of rounding concepts. This question was PERFECT to use at the start of one of my rounding lessons!

7) Differentiation during End of Year Test Prep and Review

I will be pulling from many the leveled assessments again prior to our End of Grade testing for any of the concepts my students continued to struggle with (although I had to move on). I will even be able to differentiate my test prep by creating small groups for different concepts based on the data I have collected with my leveled math assessments.

I've also created leveled summative assessments test that will be put to great use during testing season. I have a "building blocks," "goals," and "stretching beyond" summative assessment covering all of the concepts in the specific unit of study. This will really allow me to provide differentiation with my math test-prep because I will be able to  give students a summative assessment at their level. For any students who are still at the building blocks level, I will be able to focus my time on building them up to mastering the skills on the "goals" summative assessment.

If you grab my leveled assessments, how do you get started? 

For a pre-assessment before getting deep into your math unit, you can print all three levels of the Version 1 assessment for a given concept and have students go as far within the levels as they are able to. Because of the way the leveled assessments are designed, you can see where your students “top-out.” This is a great option when you know your students were introduced to the concepts the previous year {building blocks} and for planning to meet the needs of your gifted students {stretching beyond}.

We should also be careful not to assume that our gifted students had a high level of mastery of all math concepts, and these assessments really provide you with evidence of how deep their understanding goes. When we completed the rounding assessment, one of my highly capable students looked at me and said, "I feel like this is the first time a math test is making me think." Wow! What a compliment!

If you know the content is fairly new to students, you can print only the “Building Blocks” and “Goal” levels of Version 1 and have students complete the assessment—but if saving paper is not an issue for you, why not print all three levels to give students a chance to stretch? However, if you find again and again that the “Stretching Beyond” questions are not worth the class/assessment time until students have been given the opportunity to practice and master more of the content, feel free to exclude them from your pre-assessments.

Differentiation During Assessments with Leveled Math Assessments

To further differentiate your assessments, if you have students who are well below grade-level, simply pre-assess them using the “Building Blocks” part of the assessment and use your small-group, stations, and class time to focus on helping them build up to being proficient at the “Goal” concepts.

Some Final Suggestions

Because you have three versions of each assessment at your fingertips, you can use them in so many ways to fit your math differentiation needs and purposes at the time. You should not feel that you are trying to use all levels or all versions of the assessments during the school year {and especially to TEST your students to death}, but that you have them available to you as needed.

  • After checking the pre-assessment, share results with students and have them think about where they are on the continuum of understanding. Remind students that the goal problems are 4th grade goals that you will be helping them master in the upcoming unit and that the “stretching beyond” problems are more challenging than what is truly expected of 4th graders. (Use conversations about their performance to encourage a growth-mindset attitude towards learning in math.) The pre-assessment should not be for a grade but to gather information to assist with your differentiation plans for your math block and to show students where they are in their understanding of that specific concept.

  • After grading the post assessment, have students compare their pre-assessment to their post assessment and discuss the growth they see. Share this growth with parents by sending home both test versions (have students date each assessment when they take them and note “pre” or “post” assessment in the corner of the test). Prepare students to discuss their growth with parents by allowing them to talk with a partner about what improvements they see and what they still need to understand. I also included a data chart that students can use to record their performance.

  • In general, I want to find a way to expose my students to one of the assessment versions before testing them in a "final" test setting.

  • I have students record the date and the way the assessment was used at the top of their paper. They might write "pre-assessment," "practice," "homework," or "post-test."

Overall, using leveled math assessments is meant to be a positive experience for students. By having multiple exposures to the “assessments” at different times in the learning sequence and using these resources in a variety of ways, my students have the opportunity to see and feel the growth they are making in their mathematical understanding and mastery!