Data & AssessmentAssessment Design Implement a System of Common AssessmentsStep 4. Establish Common Understanding Regarding Research and Terminology

Step 4. Establish Common Understanding Regarding Research and Terminology

This lesson covers one of a series of steps appropriate for districts or schools wanting to establish a system of common assessments. See the "Step 1. Where to Start on Your Road to Common Assessments" lesson if you wish to start at the beginning. Otherwise, keep reading. This lesson addresses the following:

Goal: Establish common understanding regarding research and terminology

Details for Meeting(s): Meet at [Location] on [Date] from [Start Time] to [End Time] on [Date(s)]


Review Purpose, Goals, and Timeline

Review Purpose, Goals, and Timeline

Review the goal you established with the "Step 2. Form an Assessment Team" lesson and the timeline with milestones you established with the "Step 3. Establish Flexible Timeline with Milestones" lesson. Note there is some flexibility as the team progresses, but don't allow the meeting to turn into a revision session at this stage. If necessary, remind the team that coming tasks must be accomplished first (e.g., reviewing terminology and research). Consider opening with a grounding activity to put everyone in a similar frame of mind.

Establish Common Terminology

Establish Common Terminology

Benchmarks vs. tests, summative vs. formative, common vs. interim... oh my. It helps when everyone on the team has an understanding of assessment terms so they are all speaking the same language. Put together a glossary ahead of time that team members may review and use, or use this to address frequently-misunderstood terms:


As assessment is anything by which we can measure student learning. Thus is might be a multiple-choice test (often selected for its efficiency and objective scoring), but it might also be a portfolio, composition, speech, set of open response questions, task, lab activity... numerous options are available. An ideal assessment measures student learning in a way that fits the standards being measured. While common assessments might measure learning for a standard in one way, it's important that teachers use multiple measures (i.e., measure it in a variety of ways).


A benchmark assessment is 1 in a series that measures student progress on crucial goals throughout the school year. Terms may cross over; for example, benchmark assessments are typically common assessments, etc.


A common assessment is one that teachers in similar classrooms all administer in a similar way. In other words, 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. This allows teachers to check students' progress as a whole (e.g., entire site), compare results to share what is working in their classrooms, etc. Remember that terms may cross over: e.g., a common assessment may also be an interim assessment, etc.


A common misunderstanding is that a test is either summative or formative; in actuality, these terms describe what you do with the results, and a test may be used for both summative and formative purposes. Formative "tests" give teachers and students feedback at regular intervals throughout the course of instruction so they can then act upon this feedback to improve learning. This feedback may come from a formal assessment, or it may simply be on-the-spot feedback from a response board, clickers, etc.


Interim assessments are those administered at regular intervals. Remember that terms may cross over: e.g., an interim assessment may also be a common assessment, it can be used for formative or summative purposes, etc.

Pacing Guide

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 (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").


Remember that a test can be both summative and formative. Summative testing involves using test results to evaluate the degree to which students have mastered contents/standards at a particular point in time. This can also involve evaluation of instructional programs, curriculum, practices, progress toward district goals, etc.

If your team requires more extensive definitions and more advanced terms, the Glossary on pages 46-48 of this guide can help:

Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U. S. Department of Education

Discussion of terms may spark discussion of what you will call your common assessments (e.g., 7th Grade English-Language Arts District Benchmark 1). It is fine to start thinking along these terms, though naming conventions can be finalized later.

Discuss Research

Discuss Research

Most educators are well-aware of the benefits (and necessity) of testing students, but reviewing research can place all team members on a more level playing field. There are a wide variety of literature sources from which to choose (e.g., books, studies, etc.), and training from an expert on the topic is ideal, but here are some concise samples that can help:

Article covering steps in implementing an assessment system

Article on how (and why) a school implemented common assessments

Answers to common questions/fears concerning assessments

Have a specific plan in place to guide the discussion (remember teaching strategies for engagement).

Determine How You Will Survey Staff

Determine How You Will Survey Staff

There are free ways to survey your entire district (e.g., Survey Monkey, Google Forms, etc.) throughout the assessment implementation process. Note that free, electronic surveying options will require minimal time compared to hard-copy or email approaches. Here is a sample survey you might administer (personalize underlined text):

Thank you for your willingness to take this anonymous, voluntary, 9-question survey. Its purpose is to get an idea of what assessment components are already in use at each school site. Your input will help the [District/Site] Assessment Team ([comprised of teachers, administrators, and other educators]) in recommending assessment component revision, evaluation, and/or creation to best serve students.

1. Which best describes your job title? Select one.

  • Teacher
  • Site Administrator
  • District Administrator
  • Other

2. At which site do you work? Select one.

  • [List each site, including District Office]

3. Which subject(s) do you teach? Select one, and complete this survey once for each subject you teach.

  • Elective
  • English
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Physical Education
  • Science
  • Other
  • None

4. Which subject(s) do you teach? Check all that apply.

  • [List all, including None]

5. Which best describes your use of a pacing guide (e.g., scope and sequence, curriculum map, schedule aligning instruction to state standards, calendar detailing approximately when each standard is taught and/or assessed, etc.)? Check all that apply. Remember: this survey is anonymous. If you are not a teacher, select the statement you feel applies to most of your staff.

  • I follow a pacing guide contained within my textbook or curriculum (e.g., printed by the publisher).
  • I follow a standards-aligned pacing guide not contained within my textbook or curriculum (e.g., not printed by the publisher).
  • I follow a pacing guide focusing on which parts of the text to teach when (more than it focuses on standards).
  • I have access to a standards-aligned pacing guide, but I don’t use it.
  • I don’t have access to a standards-aligned pacing guide.
  • None of the above applies.

6. Select the statement that applies to each assessment type. Remember: this survey is anonymous. If you are not a teacher, select the options you feel apply to most of your staff.

1- I administer these and use the results (e.g., to guide instruction).

2 - I administer these but I don’t use the results.

3 - I don’t administer these because they are not available.

4 - I don’t administer these because I choose not to.

  • Assessments used by others in your district
  • Assessments used by others at your site that are not used district-wide
  • Publisher assessments (e.g., from your textbook)
  • Assessments you created

7. How many assessments do you give your students per year that require an average of 30 minutes or more of testing time? If you are not a teacher, select the options you feel apply to most of your staff.

8. Which statement best describes your feelings? Remember: this survey is anonymous.

  • I support the administration of district-wide assessments.
  • I do not support the administration of district-wide assessments.
  • I am undecided and/or confused regarding district-wide assessments.

9. Is there anything else you'd like to communicate to the Assessment Team? Please share.

Thank you for your time and feedback.

There are also key pieces that curricular heads (or other staff) may complete. Determine how the following forms will be completed in time for the next meeting(s):

1. Current Pacing Guide Overview Form available at

2. Current Assessment Overview Form available at

Before Your Next Meeting(s)

Before Your Next Meeting(s)

1. Acquire staff survey results to share with the team at future meetings (e.g., not just a Microsoft Excel file, but rather a summary of responses by grade, subject, etc.).

2. Acquire samples of common assessment components (testing calendars, pacing guides, tests, etc.) from others (e.g., other schools and districts, publications, professors, conferences, etc.).

3. Acquire completed Current Pacing Guide Overview Form and Current Assessment Overview Form and plan to provide copies for everyone.

4. Plan to provide copies of the Assessment Recommendation Overview Form for everyone. It helps to also copy the Assessment Recommendation Overview Sample on the back (to help with completion).

5. Review the next lesson to see if there's anything else you'll want to prepare ahead of time.

Next Steps

Next Steps

Next you are ready to explore assessment sources and structures. Refer to the next document/lesson in this manual for support.