1. Elliot Hecht

    I think in general it is great to give different tests based on some of the things you mentioned but at some point there does need to be a standard to which everyone is held.

  2. Mary

    While I certainly agree with you that students need to be given the opportunity to show their understanding in different ways, I see common assessments as less about understanding and more about demonstration of mastery. Teachers should be given freedom to assess their students regularly on their comprehension of specifcs in the classroom–in any form that works for them and their students. Students should have opportunities to show understanding in formats that highlight their strengths. However, I also believe it is necessary to have intermittent common assessments that allow students to demonstrate applications of skills. This allows teachers to collectively reflect on the strengths of their approach to the curriculum, to recognize gaps, to modify instructional strategies. It allows for colleagues to review student work blindly, with a focus on the standards and the degree to which they are being met. It allows students to develop an understanding of skills that need further development. Common assessments shouldn’t be the only measurement, but I think they have a place in the process.

  3. Josh M

    I think you are definitely on the right track. I teach in a cross-curricular program focused on project-based, personalized learning. As a team, representing 6 different content areas, we focus each unit on specific outcomes, standards, and skills and allow the students to show mastery of their learning in many different ways. I am fairly confident that as a team we can assess learning and mastery of a common outcome that students present in many different ways. If the goal of “common assessments” is to assess teaching, then stick to a one size fits all model. If the goal is to assess student learning and mastery then use common understanding.

    • Jenn

      Do you have a blog or access to some of your planning or ideas? Cross curricular, project based learning is something I have been looking into lately and am certainly looking to learn more and find more resources.

    • Courtney Carpenter

      I would love to hear more…would you be willing to chat about how that looks for your school? What state? Blog? PLN to connect? Etc>

    • Shannon

      Josh – it sounds like our programs are fairly similar and I couldn’t agree more! I would love to connect sometime to share ideas. What age range is your program?

  4. Great post. I think the key is the idea of common understandings that you mention. So here’s my take.There can be common assessments that still ask students to demonstrate their learning. For example, in an English exam, I can ask. What new understanding do you have about human nature based on your learning in this course? In your answer, draw from three specific course materials (texts, characters, discussions, etc…). In a History course I can give students a passage from an article and ask them to Identify three connections they see in the article and what they have learned in the course. If this same assessment was given in 6 different grade 9 classes, each of whom have studied different things and had different class discussions, the responses would be very individual and very much a demonstration of their own learning of course materials. So if we need to have the “same assessment” because we are worried about what parents would say (not that I believe that should be a justification), the questions need to be open ended enough that each student brings their own unique learning and perspective to the response. And it has to be an application of that knowledge rather than a regurgitation of it. This would be far more interesting to mark, but definitely takes more time than marking a content-based, straightforward response which may be why it isn’t as common a practice as it could be.

    • I love this post and the challenge to the idea of ‘common assessments’. I agree with Jennifer here because we need assessments that match what we want students to learn and be able to do. Jennifer provides great examples. When common assessments are confusing multiple choice questions or other types of questions that require us to ‘teach to the test’, there is a problem. That problem exists across the country and requires us to spend precious learning time teaching students how to drag and click, how to interpret intentially confusing questions, and less time on the things that will actually make a difference. Thanks for this post George and thank you Jennifer for your great work!

    • Shannon

      I think we just have to acknowledge that part of what you’re assessing here is there ability to express their understanding in writing. If they’re able to still communicate their understanding in a variety of different ways (not just writing) then the common understanding becomes more accessible to all students. I understand that sometimes the skill being assessed IS the ability to write, and then this would be fine, but if it’s not, is there a place for a different way to approach the assessment based on the student?

  5. Tika Epstein

    As a person who has worked with hundreds of K-5teachers to create common assessments, you have made me really think. We create common formative assessments for each standard and Summative assessments for each cluster. We create assessment norms in order to ensure we are taking everything under consideration. We also take into consideration students’ IEP accommodations. After assessments are given, we analyze the data to determine next steps. We use individually created quick checks to determine if students are understanding instruction. I believe we are taking the needs of all of students’ needs using our PLC assessment cycle. I look forward to reading more from your blog.

  6. Steph

    I think it depends on the purpose of the assessment. If all teachers are teaching to the same targets/standards and are using a common assessment to determine where students are in relation to the standards, then a common assessment is a great tool. However, if the assessment is scored and entered into a gradebook, then it has been misused. I do believe that we can differentiate instruction and still give the same assessment in the end – as long as the format of the assessment doesn’t hinder performance towards the standards assessed.

  7. Ian Davies

    I think an essential difference between formative and summative assessment has not been taken into account. With Summative, teachers, students, parents, leaders all require some kind of benchmarking to make informed educational decisions about funding, resources etc etc simply to ensure that strategically we can best support and enhance the learning of students. Benchmarking is also important to see where students are against students from other locations and even countries (if following same curriculums). It also means that teachers can evaluate better the effectiveness of their teaching. None of this is a ‘weapon’ to be used within the standards debate. It is simply good practice. Formative assessment however can be used by teachers to develop, recognise and deepen persona skills and strengths. It can lead to faster use of metacognitive awareness by students to take some responsibility of their learning. This need not lead to terminal grades. Finally, assessments that are written should be collaborative across all teachers who teach a common course and allow for differentiated responses through criterion based marking rather than multiple choice testing. I teach in an international school, so perhaps my take on this might be different.

    • I think that sounds like good pedagogy anywhere, not just international schools.
      We definitely need to keep in mind the difference between formative and summative assessment even if we don’t need to benchmark. It ensure that grades have any kind of meaning across classes. If we are stuck with grades, we may as well try to give them consistency.
      I wrote a more developed version of my arguments and would love your thoughts.


  8. I think the key component is having “Common Understanding” for not only the students but also the teachers in regards to what mastery is.Teachers can still have PLC data discussions around a multi pathway assessment as long as they have a “Common Understanding” of what mastery of the standard looks like.

  9. Daniel

    Yes! Common assessments are misleading and inaccurate in my experiences. They are a way to easily quantify what students have “learned” or memorized for parents administrators and excel spreadsheets. I gain a much better understanding of where my students are in there journey to “mastery” of the standards from listening to them present their product than I do standardized test results.

  10. In my classes, I have common overarching learning goals with success criteria. Each student demonstrate these common understandings and skills differently with different inquiries. I don’t use common assessments often, but when I do, they are similar to how Jennifer Class-Todd described in her reply.

  11. While I believe all assessments need to have a specific purpose, I also believe in student voice and choice. We teach in a 4/5 Personalized Learning environment, and we developed what we called “Learning Models” as a form of summative assessment. We present kids with the standards that they have been exposed to, and they can demonstrate mastery of those standards in any way they choose to. Some prefer a test. Some prefer a video. Some prefer portoflio-style. Some prefer a Google Slides presentation. They generate their own examples of what the standards mean. This definitely raises the level of expectation. While our system still “requires” certain common assessments, we do what we can to present “common understanding” opportunities whenever possible.

  12. Erica

    We starting doing check sheets for understanding. Teachers can comment and take notes. The journey to understanding is so important to understanding not just the answer. You cannot standardize instruction or learning, so why would you standardize assessments.

    • Susan Mackey

      “You cannot standardize instruction or learning, so why would you standardize assessments.” Excellent comment, Erica!

  13. Interesting and timely question George. Like many districts, our teachers and admins are working to update and improve our grading practices. The comments here are rich with explanations of the purpose of common assessments. Ideally, common understandings drive the creation of common assessments. Some would say that differentiation harder to create without the assessment data that PLCs use to drive instructional improvement. As a proponent of self-determined learning, I support providing each student with personal learning opportunities. The reality is many schools are just beginning to dive deeper into these conversations. I like your term “common understandings”. David Perkins says “lifeworthy learning” is driven by big questions and big understandings, things that drive lifelong, personal learning. As I read through the comments, I think about Will Richardson’s recent challenge to us, “are we expending a lot of energy trying to get the wrong things right?” My conundrum; in teacher-centric cultures do formative assessments contribute to instructional efficiencies and effectiveness? If so, at what expense to personal learning? If common understandings help drive learner-centric practices, then maybe this should be the starting point for PLC conversations? Things that make me scratch my head and wonder.

  14. Hi George,

    Well, you certainly got people reflecting and sharing!

    I read through the replies, and 2 things come to my mind.

    1. Could we not ask students to build a digital learning portfolio based on specific criteria/standards and use that to measure (individual) student learning/matery AND the impact of our pedagogy? Much more accurate then a one-time assessment in my opinion. For me, a portfolio = perpetual learning.

    2. What about providing constructive, on-going feedback? In my experience, common assessments are very often administered at the «end» of a learning unit. What happens after that?

    Thanks again for making the thought gears grind!

  15. Not too long ago I wrote a post on reasons for assessing project based learning with a (somewhat) traditional test – http://www.rosscoops31.com/2016/12/21/4-reasons-assess-pbl-somewhat-traditional-test-hackingpbl/. Here’s a quote from it to consider:

    I have heard the cries of those who claim, “Students should be able to demonstrate their knowledge however they want!” I disagree. Throughout the school year a wide array of opportunities should exist, but at certain points students should be “forced” to communicate what they know in written/essay format, as this is a valuable skill in and of itself. Also, when assessing and grading in other formats – e.g., videos, posters, various apps, etc. – let’s make sure not to prioritize flash over substance.

  16. Catherine Day

    I read your post with great interest and gave the question quite a bit of thought. I have to say that I’m totally with you on this. Everyone runs around screaming how we must differentiate for students which will ensure that we reach all of them. Excellent! I wholeheartedly agree. Now…let’s cut them off at the knees when it comes to assessment…
    We have to get away from the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND mentality which hammered on the standardized testing issue (besides…aren’t those tests a measure of how WE are doing…not the students?) and get back to what our students need…teaching for understanding in a way they need and allowing them the autonomy to demonstrate that knowledge. This is why the combination of UDL and Differentiation is so powerful! Each student can show how they know something in their way. You may be able to communicate it through a written test? I may be able to draw it out. However, if we are demonstrating the same understanding. how do either of us fail? We don’t!
    Does this take more effort on our part? Yes. Is utilizing these easy? No…being an Innovative educator never is! It is met with resistance and skepticism. We also fall flat sometimes. Is everything the student gains (like the fact that the learn and the self-esteem they get from showing that they DO know and did get it) worth the trouble! Indeed!

  17. Hey Pal,

    First, hope you are well! It’s been a while.

    Second, LOVE the pictures in your sidebar. They make me smile every single time.

    Third, a quick reaction as a guy who promotes common assessments as a part of the PLC process: Common assessments to me aren’t about the students at all. They become the starting point for conversations between teachers who are reflecting on their instructional practices — and unless the assessments are “common,” those conversations aren’t all that productive.

    They are also about holding teachers accountable for teaching a basic set of shared skills/content to kids so that students in one class aren’t getting a drastically different learning experience than students in another class.

    I’m all for allowing kids to demonstrate mastery in a thousand different ways and I think that’s something schools rarely do.

    But I also believe in the power of a common assessment to drive conversations between groups of teachers on what they are doing well and where they could be doing better.

    Any of this make sense?

  18. Elise

    Great conversation here about something I think about a lot. I think the real problem is that it is true that there are uses for common assessment (most are mentioned above). It is also true that to throw in summative assessment mandated from a wider group than the classroom the assessments need to be easy to administer and grade in a quick, even handed way. This leads to tests like bubble tests and the modern computer equivalents. Once you need to create the test to these parameters, it is no longer in a format that has relevance to real life beyond practice for similar tests in the future. The later tests, in our current system, are gate keepers to higher education, but fantastic test taking skills otherwise mostly only help an adult be good at filling out forms. Given all of that, my struggle is how few common assessments will satisfy the benefits they give, and what is the least harmful way to administer them? In my district there is a continuing back and forth about this, with some wanting 6+ benchmarks on top of the state test, and others (me!) wanting 1 writing benchmark and the state test. I wonder how to determine at what point the effort, money, time, and mindset message to students is balanced with the benefits of common assessment?

  19. I find some of my teachers have a hard time to differentiate in the classroom as well as effectively administering formative assessments that really understand what it is the students have learned and where to go with the data received. We have had PD and staff meetings to address these issues, but some have yet to show the administrators during our informal and formal walk-through and evaluation. What do other schools do for PD to help their teachers with differentiated instruction?

  20. Hi George,

    Interesting idea! You make an important comparison.

    To answer your question: I think you are right on track. Our district began the process of switching to standards-based grading and common assessments is a hot topic. Asking students to show mastery in the classroom often comes in various formats. The challenge I foresee with various modes for assessment is how to ensure teachers are evaluating common understandings the same.

    I’ll be back to see your follow-up blogs on this topic!

  21. Miriam

    Hi George,
    Great conversation and it really makes me think about my own assessment practices. As a teacher in Ontario, our focus is on developing Learning goals and Success Criteria (often co-created with students) to measure student progress towards the skill, supported with frequent descriptive feedback. When I read about Common Assessments, it sounds like teachers are determining common questions for an assessment that all students will respond to. I wonder if we don’t get mixed up the difference between equal and fair. Isn’t the best question, the one that gives a teacher the best insight on what a student understands?
    I agree with the writer that suggested that conversations are the best indictor of student understanding. That has certainly been my experience. When teachers explain that there just isn’t enough time for conversations with students, we need to get creative with assessment, such as a strategy called inside/outside circles, consider tracking success criteria using technology. I think the key is to anchor assessments to the success criteria we are looking for, which should be agreed upon in advance, among teachers and students. In this way, conversations, observations and products can all be assessed using “common understandings”.

  22. Please let me know if you’re looking for a
    author for your weblog. You have some really good posts and I believe I would be
    a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d
    absolutely love to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine.
    Please blast me an e-mail if interested. Thank you!

  23. Hi there,
    I agree with this. I would like to see students demonstrating their learning in a variety of ways. So the common assessment should mean the goal / standards at the top of the test should be the same and it should be open for students to choose how to demonstrate their learning. As much as possible I would like see assessments more as creating based on the knowledge… I’ve seen common assessments – word problems, as much as it is common assessment, it’s a disservice to our students…

Comments are closed.