Reaching Out to the Lost Sheep – Assessment and Redemption

I have long been an advocate of assessment in catechesis. At the same time, I have always made it clear that assessment in catechesis is to be used as a tool to address needs (both individual and corporate) and to address deficiencies in the catechetical program. I don’t advocate using assessments to assign report card grades to kids in religious education and certainly not to determine if they are to “pass or fail” or to qualify for a sacrament.

As I mentioned last week, I conducted a final assessment of my 6th graders and was pleased with the results except for 3 students who did miserably. Last night, I offered these students redemption – another chance (Hey, the parish is named Most Holy Redeemer!!!) and they responded quite well (at least 2 of the 3…one was absent).

First, as soon as these 2 arrived, I took them without fanfare to the room across the hall, showed them their assessment results, and told them that I was sure they were not happy with their scores, neither was I, and neither would their parents be. I explained that they were getting another chance to show what they know. With my aide supervising them, they first  had a 20-minute prep period to locate, in their Finding God textbook, the answers to all of the test questions using this copy of the assessment with page numbers indicated.

Meanwhile, I went back across the hall and worked with the remaining students to create farewell posters for our DRE, Arlene, who is retiring. The posters expressed thanks for teaching us about the sacraments, the Mass, morality, and prayer, and the kids cut out pictures from their Finding God textbooks to illustrate the posters…the posters turned out very nicely.

Meanwhile, I periodically checked on the 2 young men working on their assignment. When they were finished with the 30 minute prep period, I collected their books and sheets, provided them a clean copy of the assessment, and gave them 30 more minutes to complete it as I went back across the hall. I am happy to report that both responded quite well: one went from a 49% to a 98% and the other from a 36% to an 89%! In fairness to those who took the assessment only once, I then lowered their assessment score one grade so they ended up with a B+ and a C+ respectively (that letter grade is not used anywhere else…it is simply a way to report their progress on the assessment in a manner that is familiar to them). I explain to all the kids that anyone who earns a C or higher on the assessment is showing that they are progressing in a satisfactory manner in their faith formation as far as knowledge of the faith is concerned.

I explained briefly to the 2 boys that retaking the assessment in this manner was not punishment but a chance for them to redeem themselves because our goal is make sure that every child comes away knowing that they have deepened their knowledge of their faith and grown closer to God. They both responded very positively and rejoined the rest of the class for the closing prayer in good spirits.

Thoughts and comments about how you might handle such situations differently?

P.S. The DRE is arranging for the one fella who was absent to have an opportunity to re-take the assessment in the same fashion under his parents’ supervision since we have no more class time available for that.

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. Two years ago, my DRE asked us to use the end-of-unit tests. I’d done some testing in the past, but not consistently. Of course I did as I was asked, and my approach was to:

    -Create a study guide that covered all the material for the test. Study guide doubled as a way to take notes and learn essentials of the faith.
    -Go over the study guide in class and answer questions.
    -Put a copy with answers in the hands of parents.
    -Let anyone who’d missed class take the end-of-unit test open notes.
    -Go through the assessment and explain the answers, with each kid grading *his own* paper, no assigned grades.

    And all this while also making provision for a student with learning disabilities.

    And that was it. No grades. My thought was that the process of taking and self-grading the test was in itself helpful to the student for clarifying misunderstandings, and I could see by the reactions who was missing questions and who wasn’t. In a course where students come from very diverse RE backgrounds, I didn’t want to penalize the kids who didn’t have all the answers or didn’t test well. I thought it was great. Very happy with how it went. I had good feedback from parents.

    Then I had a mother come to me in the middle of the summer, long after the end of the school year, introduce herself (we’d never met), and tell me how much her daughter dreaded the tests. How miserable my class was, and how stressful it was.

    Ack! If I had known the poor kid was scrupling so much (turns out she’s prone to perfectionism), I would have changed up tactics. Too late for that student for that year, but it definitely taught me the importance of getting agreement from parents about what the goals of the class will be, and how those goals are going to be met.

    (For this student, I would have actually recommended she take the other section of the same grade, which is taught in a completely different, non-academic style. Kids who like facts and history like my class, and my colleague’s class is better for kids who need a lot of discussion and sharing time, which was what this student really needed more of. But I didn’t know that. Nuts.)

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Jennifer. Very good point about communicating with parents about expectations. Who would have guessed that a child would be that stressed about a non-graded assessment? We live and learn, right?

    • How did you adapt for your learning disabled student? This comes up a lot in our Sacrament Prep classes, and usually I end up teaching individually any special kids that the catechists can’t handle in their regular classes.

  2. Just to share: In my parish here in India – we have Catechism Lesson plans divided into 2 terms n before the closing of each term -we have classwise Quiz based on the lessons taught with emphasis on Bible Quotes,References —-
    We then grade them n the highest scorers are given Certificates n prizes…
    Since the children are studying Religion/Moral Science in their respective schools -at the Parish level -we do not burden them with pressure of ‘Studying’ for a formal exam —but we do stress on class participation during the lesson while having discussions n sharing

  3. Glad to hear those 2 responded well and finished in “good spirits”. I hope the 3rd will take the encouragement and not give up. May God bless you for your deep care for your students!

  4. We interview each student after First Communion classes. This works well, because the parents are there and can see what their children know and don’t know. The only “penalty” for doing poorly on an interview is a repeat interview with a list of questions to take home and study. We usually have about 90 kids, and three of us divide up the interviews, taking siblings together, and allowing friends to come together also, which makes them more comfortable. I wish we could use this method for our regular RE students, but there are over 500 of them!

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