Step 1. Where to Start on Your Road to Common Assessments
This lesson and chapter are appropriate for districts or schools wanting to establish a system of common assessments. In other words, they want teachers in similar classrooms to administer similar tests (e.g., all 7th Grade English teachers administer 7th Grade ELA Assessment 1 at the end of September, then they all administer 7th Grade ELA Assessment 2 at the end of November, etc.) so they can check students' progress, compare results to share what is working in their classrooms, etc. This lesson and chapter are designed to help you if you fit any of the following descriptions:
- starting from scratch (e.g., don't have any common assessment components currently in place, such as no pacing guides and no common assessments)
- some pieces in place (e.g., have pacing guides and/or some common assessments and/or a testing calendar, but do not have a cohesive and complete system of common assessments)
- system possibly in need of revision (e.g., you have pacing guides and common assessments in place but would like to evaluate them for possible revision or replacement)
Feel free to skip to the lessons that interest you, but most people who fit the above criteria will benefit most from following this "Implement a System of Common Assessments" chapter in its entirety.
3 Key Points to Remember
1. Involve Others During Implementation Planning
Involve other stakeholders in the implementation process. Some districts make the mistake of determining an assessment system without teacher involvement (like making a battle plan without hearing from those fighting on the front lines). Teacher leaders from varied grade levels and subject areas, curriculum heads, district leaders (EL, Special Ed., Assessment, etc.), site administrators, learning coaches, and Teachers on Special Assignment all have something important to offer. Also, your "hardest to please" staff members should be asked for feedback early so any concerns can be addressed, noting that tough questions are often helpful in ensuring the best approach possible.
2. Don't Let This Be an Isolated Event
Keep in mind that an assessment system should not be mistaken for (or presented as) an isolated event. To maximize the many benefits of assessments and Illuminate, their use should ultimately be integrated into other instructional endeavors at your school(s). Whether you are encouraging the use of differentiated instruction, moving forward with Response to Intervention (RTI), adopting new curriculum, utilizing Direct Instruction, or just plain wanting to improve your impact on kids, your common assessments can be crucial components every step of the way to make the process more efficient and more effective.
3. Break Back-and-Forth Habits
Many districts - with the best intentions - have jumped from one set of assessments to another, and/or from one set of assessment guidelines to another. This leaves teachers feeling understandably skeptical of the latest tests or guidelines. Common feelings include, "We spent so much time and effort building a set of assessments that are now being thrown out. Why did I waste my time?," "I have my whole year set up around the last pacing guide we put together; I won't make the same mistake with this new pacing guide!," etc. While some changes might still be necessary (e.g., if the quality of existing tests is lacking, something needs to be done about it), this guide will help you think through all assessment system aspects before any adjustments are rolled out to staff. Thinking things through to this degree is vital to avoid the back-and-forth that plagues so many districts. Teachers and administrators appreciate having a clear, well-thought-out direction to make their efforts last as long as possible.
3 Common Obstacles to Tackle
Be ready for fears and misconceptions to surface within and/or outside of your Assessment Team:
1. "Big Brother" Is Watching
Teachers often fear a common assessment system's intent is to allow "higher ups" to evaluate teachers. It's important that all stakeholders (teachers and high-ups) understand assessments' value (and necessity!) in helping students. In this economic climate where educators at all levels are short on time, what time they have needs to be (and in the vast majority of cases is) focused on how students are doing. Everyone needs to be on the same team (focus: helping kids!) and needs to trust that their colleagues are on that same team.
2. This Doesn't Apply to Me
You might hear things like, "Oh, I teach Kindergarten and my kids can't bubble, so common assessments don't apply to my grade," or "I don't teach Enlish or Math, so this doesn't impact me." Ideally, you should aim for common assessments in at least the 4 core content areas (e.g., English, Mathematics, History-Social Science, and Science) in which students are receiving instruction, and students don't need to bubble answer documents to be tested via common assessments (in fact, multiple choice isn't even a necessity). Involving all grade levels and most or all courses will benefit your teachers and - most importantly - the students they teach.
3. We Are Over-Testing Our Kids
While most educators are well-aware of the benefits (and necessity) of testing students, some stakeholders might be unfamiliar with the avalanche of research on the topic. Devoting staff meetings or other time-slots to reviewing such literature can be very helpful. However, valid concerns must also be addressed. For example, if tests (that are not state- or federally-mandated) are administered but no one is using the data, the assessment team should ask:
Is the data not being used because it is not useful (e.g., outdated tests, not standards-based, etc.)?
If this is the case, the assessments should be evaluated for possible removal or replacement.
Is the data not being used because its value or application is not understood?
If this is the case, some professional development or other form of support is likely needed.
More tools for addressing these fears are offered throughout this manual.
Don't Put the Cart Before the Horse
You'll need pacing guides in place to maximize the power of assessments (e.g., to turn "Students didn't know that answer because I haven't taught that yet" into "I covered that and expected students to do better; now I know some students require intervention, and I might change the way I'm teaching that"). A pacing guide is sometimes referred to as a curriculum map, scope and sequence, standards schedule, instructional calendar, or road map. It is specific to a particular content area and level (e.g., 9th grade Algebra 1) and details when particular content standards should be taught and/or assessed. While still offering teachers flexibility on how to teach, its integration with common assessments is crucial to judging student progress.
Keep this in mind on your road to common assessments. You don't want to implement assessments without providing teachers and students with a guide.
With the above information in mind, you are ready to form your Assessment Team. Refer to the next document/lesson in this manual for support.