Common Assessments: Definition, Benefits, and the Role of Collaboration

Learn more about common assessments
Contributed By

Alexis Roesser

English Teacher and Department Chair for Salamanca High School

Common Assessments: Definition, Benefits, and the Role of Collaboration

Posted in Evolving Ed | September 17, 2018

A common assessment is any assessment given by two or more instructors with the intention of examining the results. Some goals of examining these common assessments are to have educators discuss and analyze their question-writing style and content, individual plans for student success, and an opportunity to look at what modifications need to be made during curriculum planning and classroom instruction.

Analyzing assessment data between two different classrooms can be like comparing apples and oranges. Let's say Mrs. Smith and Mr. Jones completed a unit on the Revolutionary War. Mr. Jones' students scored an average of 80 percent on their end of unit assessment, while Mrs. Smith's classroom average was at 73 percent. Upon first glance it would seem that Mr. Jones' classroom instruction provided more comprehensive content than his colleague.

However, were the two assessments examined for their rigor, reliability and question stems? Did one teacher's assessment contain wordy, confusing questions? How much writing was required on each assessment, and what rubric was used to grade student work? There are many factors that go into comparing the reliability of assessments, which are ultimately used in data-driven instruction for remediation and content progress.

In order to give a more accurate "apples to apples" data comparison, some districts are moving towards common assessments.

Types of Common Assessments: Formative Vs. Summative

A common assessment is simply a test that more than one teacher creates together and administers to all of their students across multiple sections or classrooms. It’s important to distinguish the fact that they are not standardized tests, but instead, created and owned by the teachers. It’s generally agreed upon that creating assessments in advance of lesson planning is best practice. So, whether summative or formative, ensure the teaching team is in agreement on what students will be responsible for mastering by the end of the unit.

Common Formative Assessment

Common formative assessments are designed and administered to gauge where students are in relation to the standards at any given moment. Think of them as assessments for learning, rather than assessments of learning—that’s summative. Common formative assessments generate immediate student achievement data to monitor progress and evaluate instructional effectiveness. The immediate data they provide is meant to guide teachers who may need to shift instruction to meet the needs of their students. Formative assessments are ideal for giving students timely feedback, but when these assessments are common, they also provide PLCs with critical data on all students as they progress throughout the course.

Common Summative Assessment

Summative assessments are designed to measure the sum of student learning. At the end of an instructional unit, for example, a summative assessment evaluates everything a student should have mastered compared to a benchmark or standard. Creating these assessments as a team allows all students to be measured against the same standard, evening the playing field across classrooms and sections.

Essential Questions

Along with driving PLCs, it’s essential to explore the following questions when it comes to creating common assessments based on student learning targets:

1. What do we expect students to learn?

The answer to this question should be your main learning objectives—usually the Common Core standards or the standards your school follows.

2. How will we know when they’ve learned it?

This is where common assessments—both formative and summative—come in. You’ll know when they’ve learned it based on the data from such assessments. This data will be used in your exploration of the next two questions.

3. How will we respond if they don’t learn it?

It’s time to consider interventions, reteaching, and reassessing students. Be sure to make students part of the study of their own data, so they have ownership of their learning.

4. How will we respond if they do?

Here’s the opportunity to stretch your students capabilities with enrichment through differentiated lessons and projects.

The purpose of exploring these four questions as a PLC is not only important for creating common assessments, but also for keeping everyone—teachers and students alike—on track with the essential standards they’re responsible for mastering throughout the course.

The Benefits of Common Assessments

Common assessments provide consistency in how students are evaluated. Educators who work together to create common questions, benchmarks, question stems, and grading rubrics are also looking at how all of these assessments line up with local, state, and national standards. This is a time-consuming process for one teacher alone, but teacher collaboration within a department or grade level to create common assessments can ensure greater consistency.

Another one of the benefits of common assessments is allowing teachers to prioritize skills and standards based on the group of students they are currently teaching. This also allows departments to prioritize standards, making sure that specific skills are hit at multiple points throughout the year if a student needs to master them for the next course.

Check out this video to learn more about the basics of common assessments and how they should be used in the classroom.

Teacher Collaboration and Common Assessment Creation

There are many factors to consider when beginning this process, but by following a thoughtful process (adapted here from Larry Ainsworth and Donald Viegut's Common Formative Assessments), you can ensure that collaborative common assessments will be worth your group's time.

  • As a group, unpack the content or grade-level standards. Since standards have a broad range of interpretations, your group should prioritize the skills you determine need the most attention and repeated exposure.
  • Identify what you want students to know and be able to do at the end of the unit. How will students demonstrate their proficiency? Will they write a formal research paper, construct a diorama, or write a play? This is also where common rubrics can be created where educators can decide what they feel is "proficient" for the assessment.
  • Check for differentiation to ensure that all students have the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of a skill or concept.
  • How long will the assessment take? Some assessments make take only one class period, while others may require a few weeks. Consult your pacing and curriculum to see if the assessment length cuts into needed instructional time.
  • Clear directions are critical. If students know a concept, but can't understand what's being asked on an assessment, you're not getting a true gauge of their mastery level.
  • Reflect and revise after each common assessment. What did you learn about your students achievement, where can you tailor instruction to meet needs and how can the assessment be better the next time it's given?

The Collaborative and Common Assessment Creation Process

In Rick and Becky DuFour and Robert Eaker's article "The Case for Common Collaborative Assessments," the argument is made that not only are collaborative assessments productive for students, they are also productive for educators and encourage teacher collaboration. Teachers tend to work in isolation, often as a result of the autonomy they possess within their own classrooms.

However, the article argues that teachers should work smarter, not harder. By combining the brain power of an entire grade-level team or department, you can divide and conquer the task of creating assessments, all while harnessing the great ideas and expertise of your colleagues.

Collaborative planning provides a more equitable look at student data, since teachers are comparing students results on the exact same assessment. This does not mean that educators have to teach exactly the same way, which is often a fear of teachers who value their creative independence. However, it does mean that you can borrow and implement your team's ideas within your own classroom if they are showing student data gains that you are not.

First Time Creating a Collaborative Common Assessment? Remember These 7 Tips

Keep these quick tips from in mind.

  1. Begin with the ending. What skills or content do you want students to master?
  2. How will students be graded? Creating rubrics is helpful here, as well as sharing the rubrics with students.
  3. Assessments are part of your curriculum, not stand-alone statues.
  4. Be on the lookout for bias. Can all students show what they know?
  5. Non-traditional assessments are OK! Plan for time in your curriculum for assessments that are not traditional exams.
  6. Don't forget the feedback! This data is critical to informing your future instruction and collaboration with your assessment group.
  7. Don't be afraid to tackle the deep structures of collaborative assessments. When you utilize the knowledge and experience of your colleagues, as well as the benefits of an equal student playing field, you'll be working smarter, not harder!

What benefits of common assessments have you seen in your district or classroom? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology

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