What About Those CATs?

No, this is not about the furry companions many of us have or the wildly popular Broadway musical. The CATs I am talking about here are Classroom Assessment Techniques. All of us teach our students how important formative assessment is in developing curriculum for young children. Hopefully most of us use some sort of formative assessment in the college courses we teach. If not, we should.

Nothing is more frustrating than to teach a topic, give an exam, and have the students do poorly on it. Was it the way we taught? Was it that the students could not follow what we were teaching? Were some concepts just harder than we thought? Formative assessment will tell us what the students know BEFORE that big exam and allow us to see if our instructional style is working and/or if we need to cover a topic again to cement the learning.

Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross is a great book with a wide variety of formative assessment options. Many of your institutions may have the book in the library or access to it via interlibrary loan. It is not particularly expensive (under $40 on Amazon) but if you want to check it out before buying it, that would be the way to go.

The book provides ideas for 50 different CATs. For each there is a description, purpose, level of required time/energy for both faculty and students, suggestions for use, examples, pros, cons, and caveats.

Some of my favorite ideas from the book are:

One Sentence Summary

  • Select an important topic that your students have recently studied and that you want them to be able to summarize
  • Working as quickly as they can, have your students answer Who Did/Does What to Whom, When, Where, How and Why? in relation to that topic.
  • Have the students then turn their answers into a grammatically correct (if long) sentence that follows the WDWWWWHW pattern.

Example: Vygotsky’s theory of zone of proximal development

Application Cards

  • Identify an important and clearly applicable principle, theory, generalization, or procedure that your students are studying
  • Decide how many applications you will require. One is enough but no more than three
  • Pass out small index cards or slips of paper. Remind students to come up with fresh applications, not ones they have heard or read about.

Example: Taking into account the effects of poverty, tell the implications for your teaching practice when working with this population.

RSQC2 Otherwise known as Recall, Summarize, Question, Connect, and Comment

  • Recall: At beginning of class ask students to make a list in words or simple phrase of what they recall as the most important, useful, or meaningful points from the previous class
  • Summarize: Direct them to summarize as many of the most important points as they can into one summary sentence that captures the essence of the previous class
  • Question: Ask them to jot down one or two questions that remained unanswered after the previous class
  • Connect: Ask students to explain in 1-2 sentences the connection(s) between the main point(s) of the previous class and the goal(s) of the course
  • Comment: Invite the students to write an evaluative comment or two about the class (I enjoyed most/leas….I found _______most/least useful….During most of the class I felt….)

All the above CATs are listed as low to medium time/effort for both faculty and students so they are good ones with which to start.

There are other great formative assessment ideas out there. Do you use any of them? If so, share your ideas here in the comment section. We can all learn from each other.

Expanding Early Education with Federal Grants -What are Preschool Development Grants? (Guest Blogger: Linda Dauksas)

Preschool Development Grant support states to 1) build or enhance their infrastructure to provide high-quality preschool programs and 2) expand high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities. The states that were awarded grants are expected to serve as models for expanding preschool to all 4 year olds from low and moderate-income families.


There are two types of Preschool Development Grants:

Development Grants are for states that currently serve less than 10 percent of 4 year olds and have not received a Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant. States with Development Grants have ambitious and achievable plans to implement and sustain high-quality preschool programs that can reach and serve additional eligible children in one or more high-needs communities. Year 1 Development Grants were awarded for the following amounts to the following states:

Alabama $17,500,000.

Arizona $20,000,000.

Hawaii $2,074,059.

Montana $10,000,000.

Nevada $6,405,860.

Expansion Grants are for states that currently serve 10 percent or more of four-year-olds or have received a Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant. Year 1 Expansion Grants were awarded in the following amounts to the following states:

Arkansas $14,993,000.

Connecticut $12,499,000.

Illinois $20,000,000.

Louisiana $2,437,982.

Maine $3,497,319.

Maryland $15,000,000.

Massachusetts $15,000,000.

New Jersey $17,498,115.

New York $24,991,372.

Rhode Island $2,290,840.

Tennessee $17,500,000.

Vermont $7,231,681.

Virginia $17,500,000.

Illinois received the second largest amount at twenty million with matching funds coming from the State of Illinois. Dollars will flow through to selected school district and agency partners.

Expansion Grants used a number of criteria including: number of children with very high educational needs; lack of existing publicly-funded programs for preschoolers; capacity to link these new programs to a continuum of early education services; partnerships between community-based organizations and school districts; and readiness to open new classrooms in the Fall of 2015.

This new program builds on existing quality components from Preschool For All and adds some additional requirements including; a full school day of instruction, comprehensive services including connections to health, mental health, dental and social services, intensive family engagement, supports for promoting social emotional competence, at least 60 minutes/day of physical activity and instructional leaders with specific early childhood expertise and expertise in serving culturally, linguistic and ability diverse children.

Dollar sign

Grant dollars are anticipated for four years. During which time the state will contribute approximately $128 million as matching funds for the state’s overall Birth to Five Initiative. Illinois proposes reaching an additional 13,760 eligible young children by the end of 2018.

Increasing the number of children and families served in Illinois necessitates the need for more Early Childhood professionals including Early Intervention providers, teachers and instructional leaders. College and universities across the state have a heightened responsibility to prepare professionals to deliver these high quality services and positively impact our state for years to come.

The school districts that received a portion of the award for year 1 are:

Community Name Subgrantee
Addison Addison SD 4
Aurora Aurora West SD 129
Aurora East SD 131
One Hope United
Indian Prairie SD 204
Bolingbrook Valley View CUSD 365U
Carpentersville CUSD 300
Children’s Home & Aid
Chicago Chicago Public Schools
Cicero Through a Child’s Eyes
Decatur Decatur SD 61
Elgin SD U-46
Jefferson County Mt. Vernon SD 80
Joliet One Hope United
Monroe & St. Clair Counties Metro East Preschool for All
Normal McLean County Unit SD 5
North Chicago North Chicago SD 187
Rock Island Rock Island Reg. Office of Education
Rockford Rockford SD 205
Rockford Head Start
South Suburbs of Chicago Lansing SD 258
Dolton SD 148
Dolton SD 149
Posen-Robbins SD143.5
West Chicago West Chicago SD 33
Wheaton/ Warrenville CUSD 200

You can learn more about these grants by visiting the following sites.