The hidden secrets of a pre-test.

Hi, I’m Erin, and I am totally an assessment nerd.

Graphic that says "Assessment is comprehensive, uses a variety of sources and techniques, authentic learning experiences are designed developed and evaluated, criteria are established for assessment

To many, that may sound like I just love giving tests–but it is so much more.

During one of my previous lives doing one-to-one and small group sexuality education with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), creating assessments was my favorite, and arguably the most crucial, step in tailoring the knowledge that needed to be given to the learner’s assets.

Welcome to my pretest rationale.

Arguably, pretesting is my favorite. Knowing the learner’s base knowledge, what deficits are present, and their comfort with the subject matter are the three basic needs the assessment fulfills. There is also research that shows a correlation between “unsuccessful retrieval attempts” (aka, bombing a pretest) and better information retention. However, there are many other reasons to pretest.

Attitudes about sexuality topics can be discerned from listening closely to the words used, how body language shifts, and which topics are passed.

For example, someone who passes on questions about sex acts they have participated in may be communicating a number of things: they are embarrassed to talk to a stranger about these things, they feel shame about the way sex acts have happened, they may be a survivor of sexual assault or abuse (which is more likely than not in the IDD population), or they might not understand what you are talking about.

This idea of an open interview speaks to the explanatory model of assessment (Skinner, 2007, p. 305). By using the explanatory model of assessment, the types of phrases and ideas used by the learner to answer questions, compared to interviews with care staff and team members, will indicate where misinformation and negative attitudes are originating from so they can be addressed subtly and without creating an adversarial environment, or, conversely, the positive and affirming language that could indicate previously unidentified allies for the educator to rely on for support.

A tried and true method of assessment for me, which relies on the explanatory method of assessment, is the body Q&A. I created what are basically magnetic paper dolls, with layers of clothing to remove and an internal layer of the musculo-skeletal system with some bonus internal organs.

I place this activity at the end of the pretest. Because we will eventually be looking at naked bodies, male and female, I like to have the interview part of the assessment as a buffer. I use that time to build rapport and establish trust and respect.

When I bust out the visuals, I begin by explaining that these are drawings of people and that they have on several layers of clothing (my people have both an outer clothing and underwear level). It is important to me that I let the learner know that I am going to defer to their comfort level regarding seeing naked bodies. This added level of control can take what could otherwise be a very uncomfortable and triggering event and gives power to the learner.

While this assessment tool’s purpose is to determine knowledge around anatomy, it serves a sneakier purpose: the development of a shared lexicon. Rather than saying, “Point to the clavicle,” I prefer to point at a body part and ask, “What is this?” Winifred Kempton, one of the pioneers in sexuality education for people with IDD, repeatedly stressed the importance of developing a shared lexicon. Creating a common lexicon for providing instruction (e.g. using the medical terminology penis, but the learner only knows the colloquial dick) and allows the educator to sandwich terminology to introduce medically accurate terms (Kempton, 91, p. 99). The educator can also use this opportunity to expand the learner’s lexical base. If the learner knows “dick” and you are teaching “penis” you can also ask the learner if they know any other names for that part of the body. This is a popular activity with sexuality educators, but when employed in an assessment, it arms the learner with more information. If someone in their life says “wiener,” knowing that wiener means dick means penis is a useful chunk of information in sexual negotiation.

More ways to teach new vocabulary.

There is another benefit to using the anatomical assessment tools. I include the internal organs slice, not only to test knowledge, but because it gives insight into the learner’s capacity for abstract thinking. This may not seem like a valid measure to assess abstract thinking skills, but follow me with this: Arms, legs, external genitals, teeth, and eyes–these are things we can see and touch. They are concrete anatomy. Now take the lungs, heart, brain, uterus, and kidneys. We know where they are because people have told us. Most of us have not seen or touched out internal organs. As far as our own tangible evidence of what exists beneath our skin, we could be filled with fairy dust and wood shavings.

When looking at the internal slice as part of an assessment, there are a few levels of questions that can asked. Start with, “What is it?” If someone is excelling at those questions, you might also want to ask the learner what the body part does. If that is also an achievable set of answers, you could ask how a part functions and what other parts the function involves.

If done in a deliberate way, the pretest can give so much information!

  • Learner knowledge level on concrete topics
  • Learner dis/comfort with different topics, graphic images, etc.
  • Learner’s level of abstract thinking skills
  • A road map for developing the education plan
  • A common lexicon to work from to communicate lessons
  • Learner’s attitudes about different topics
  • Potential Allies and Roadblocks present in the care team
  • Hints toward past trauma and a warning about possibly triggering topics
  • A solid argument for why proceeding in one way may be more effective than another.
  • Demonstrable rapport, respect, and higher comfort with the learner because you were sensitive to their needs and encouraged them to make their own decisions during the assessment process.

Looks like a pretty high outcome for about 45 minutes of work.

References and Resources

Letter-sized Anatomical models for download.

Legal-sized Anatomical models for download.

The Special Education FLASH Curriculum Assessment Tool.

Kempton, W. (1991). Sex education for persons with disabilities that hinder learning: A teacher’s guide. Santa Barbara, CA: James Stanfield Company, Inc.

Skinner, D., & Weisner, T. S. (2007). Sociocultural studies of families of children with intellectual disabilities. Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 13(4), 302-312. doi:10.1002/mrdd.20170


This piece is reblogged from If you have interest in sexuality education, you should check it out.

More about erinbasler

Fat Feminist Sex Educator.