1. George, as usual, thanks for pushing my thinking (though you probably won’t read this). A few quick points: (1) Bill Ferriter is spot on. Rick DuFour used to say you couldn’t even call it a PLC if there aren’t common assessments. The problem is, a lot of times teachers, for one reason or another, don’t see the value in the assessments and they are simply given out of compliance. (2) Yes, if a student struggles tremendously with writing, the assessment won’t produce valid data (unless you could build in the necessary accommodations), and essay format would probably not be the way to go. This idea is covered in the book, as you know. (3) Finally, if I never “forced” any of my fourth graders to demonstrate their understandings in written format, they could have gone the entire year without learning this skill (which may be even more important than the content itself)…The same can be said for video reflections and promos, which are becoming more and more significant in todays world. So, at some point, shouldn’t we “force” students to make these as well? All we’re doing here is combing content with current/relevant literacies. And, literacy should be taught all the time, by everyone.

    • George

      As said in my post, I read all comments 🙂

      The point that I am making here is that there is a distinct difference between assessing the skill of writing and assessing knowledge of an objective through the skill of writing.

      Some students understand concepts in science, but their writing does not necessarily reflect this. Are you assessing their writing ability of a concept or their understanding?

      I agree with you that literacies should be taught in all subject areas, but are we teaching the ones most relevant to what we want, as opposed to what is most beneficial to our students? Do you see video creation in all classrooms or is this reserved only for some?

      The focus here is on the discussion of common assessments not on skills we teach. I agree, and have stated that if we only teach the kids the curriculum we have failed them. That being said, if we make everyone use the same form for a “common assessment”, is that mostly to the benefit of the teacher, not the student?

      • Matt Arend

        I echo the original thoughts Bill shared, which you referenced. Common assessments, when used correctly allow teams of teachers to reflect on instructional practices and discuss how one teacher may have taught something and how her students responded versus how another teacher may have done it and gotten a different response.

        Ultimately, it’s balance right? I don’t know that all assessments need to be common assessments, but there is a place for them. In my experience the most difficult part and part that goes unaddressed is the creation of the common assessment. Teachers and admins are not appropriately prepared to create these common assessments, or provided time to do so. With that being the case, teachers use assessments that are already prepared, found within the curriculum planner or created by another teacher for another group of students. If you are planning and teaching with the “end in mind” you want the assessment to be something the teacher creates, not someone else.

          • Matt Arend

            Which assessments? The common assessments or the assessments students/teacher use day to day to demonstrate understanding?

            If it is the latter, I would hope teachers are giving students choice. But I am not naive….room to grow.

        • Assessment comes from the Latin, “assedere” which means to sit beside. Feedback is the most important part of the process. I agree with your comments Matthew as I agree with Bill Ferriter’s response as well. When I responded to George’s original prompt, I was thinking specifically about the final exam and how many teachers scramble to teach to teach to that, despite the fact that they may have gone about teaching to the standards differently based on their own student interests and needs. By the time students get to that final exam, however, students should have had multiple and varied opportunities to demonstrate their learning. Co-constructing assessments and moderated marking are ways we can ensure that our common assessments are created with the end in mind and ensure that they assess the big ideas in the Curriculum. We can involve students by co-constructing success criteria so they know what the assessments mean. My wonderings continue to be: to what extent are our common assessments dictated by standardized tests, if a teacher is not involved in a PLC, when/where is time built in to supporting that teacher, how many common assessments are necessary? Thanks everyone for the conversation!

  2. Hi George, great post, and much appreciated.

    As an addendum, not a rebuttal or critique… I am an avid proponent of PBL, or rather, PBLL (project-based language learning), and I train many teachers how we teach in a PBLL approach. I propose to World Language teachers that we need to consider how we can assess students in addition to their projects beacause in PBLL, the products students create are rehearsed, not spontaneaous. I assess the projects, or rather, using rubrics, students most often self-assess and reflect on their learning. All that counts in a big way. In addition, though, I want students to have the opportunity to show what they can do with the target language in spontaneous contexts after the projects have been presented so that they can know that they are able to communicate in new situations because of the product they have helped to create. The end point actually lies beyond the project in real communicative situations, which are not rehearsed or planned, because that is real life. This is meant simply as another thought on the place of assessments in a pbl alingned unit. Just another aspect to consider. Thanks again for the posting, George!

    • I agree with PBLL. I’ve done some transitioning in my classroom towards this (although, I didn’t know there was a name and movement for it! Exciting!) The only difference we have (I think) is that I give feedback on the products, I don’t “assess” them. I assess their learning separately. Their grade isn’t based on their products.

      I’d welcome feedback on my process from someone who’s been thinking through this longer than I have. I posted on my own blog about it and have linked the first draft of the product planning guide I work through with the students. Looking forward to connecting!


  3. I am wondering if, as part of an agile learning process, the educator would not have a set of criteria to achieve the goal and the learner then negotiates the way that they can best demonstrate their learning according to the set of agreed criteria, that may be in the form of a rubric. Then the educator and learner have negotiated a satisfactory outcome to demonstrate knowledge. Self-determined learning – PBL, Genius hour, Inquiry.
    Obviously not for skill and drill but a daily scrum in a learning pod could achieve great things!

  4. Kathleen McMahon

    I agree that there is a need for common assessments as a means to inform instructional practices among a group of teachers and as one source of feedback for a student. However, using a common assessment as the only source of information about what a student has learned or accomplished is not providing a total picture of that student. Over time, an educator should design and offer a variety of opportunities for a student to share their understanding of a concept or topic and a student’s choice and voice should be present. Only then, can an educator have a clear view of a student’s understanding.

  5. I agree with Bill F that common formative assessments are critical for the teachers to see evidence of student learning, or lack of, then adjust instruction accordingly. I believe there is a higher use. The student must see evidence of their learning, or lack of, and make a response based on the feedback of the teacher. For students to truly invest in their learning they must see that hard work can pay off and success is attainable. John Hattie says that “teachers must become learners of their teaching and students must become their own teachers” Only through the formative assessment process is this transformation possible. A good resource is http://allthingsassessment.info the All Things Assessment website

  6. Where does transfer of understanding fall into this? I’m all for choice, but it’s not always realistic in any professional (real world job) setting. Surgeons must demonstrate their understanding in very specific ways. Firefighters must know the methodologies of rescue and perform exactly as prescribed. The list goes on. Does this mean they can’t innovate and create evidence of transfer in different ways? Not at all. But in each and every field, there are known criterias of success where adults must transfer their learning into a context not of their choosing. That’s life.

    So, I’d suggest balancing choice of understanding with transfer to a context not of ones choice. That may lead us to ask about assessment design and DOK levels of transfer, which is valid. Our assessments must require high levels of thinking and knowledge. Perhaps even with room for innovation and various demonstrations of mastery as a product of the assessment.

    I think you can still create valid measures of transfer and understanding with common assessments – especially when necessity (the assessment requires more of them then they may have chosen) breeds innovative thinking and transfer. Agreements? Disagreements?

  7. I think you’re exactly right. But, I do think grading (and progress) should be based on each individual student. Lots of students learn at different levels, even when they’re at the same academic level, which is why mastery learning is so important. To reach every student.

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