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Opening the silos of classrooms with common assessments

By June 30, 2009June 16th, 20162 Comments

I had the good fortune this past school year of working with Bea Underwood Elementary teachers (Garfield County #16, Colorado) in helping them to create common assessments for their Power Indicators. Throughout the year, a core group of teachers diligently worked through identifying key standards that they wanted to commonly assess, collaborated with their grade-level teams to create activities and rubrics for assessing the students, and began the (sometimes) agonizing process of evaluating student work together so that they were all in agreement on the type of work that would earn a 1, 2, 3, or 4 on the rubric.

At our year-end meeting, the most poignant statements that the teachers made about the experience were those that talked about the critical conversations this project had spawned. One teacher remarked that one of her team’s biggest “ah-ha” moments was when they realized that they did not yet have a common language to use with students when administering the assessments. Another remarked on the many conversations she had had that year with her team regarding which skills were MOST important to assess in that particular grade. Most agreed that the experience had forced teachers to come out of their classrooms and have more collaborative conversations on student learning with their colleagues.

I believe that this one school is an example of a shift we are seeing in education: no longer are teachers expected or encouraged to do their own thing within the four walls of the classroom. A combination of technology, looking at best practices in other fields, and using data to inform instruction is positively impacting education in that teachers are exploring critical questions such as: “What’s really important?” “What really works?” and “What additional professional development do we need?”

Are there other schools or districts that are embarking on similar journeys? What have been your experiences? How has it impacted the culture of your schools? We would love to hear your thoughts.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Kristin Seffens says:

    My district was facing the same issues described in this article when when we realized that we did not have a common language to use with students when administering assessments and we hadn’t had conversations with other grades regarding which skills were MOST important to assess in that particular grade. Before we could start creating common assessments we first began working with a Marzano associate on developing a list of core terms for each grade level with the idea that terms were not repeated in the following grades. Currently we are revising our lists, but once they are complete the goal for our district is that these terms for each grade level will be used to help create common assessments. By no means has this process been easy, however the conversations I have had with the elementary teachers and other middle school teachers has been valuable. I think that the idea of a common assessment is excellent and beneficial to students and teachers. Teachers are allowed the freedom to teach and present the concept to their students, but when it comes to the student showing their understanding I think it is important for a common assessment and standard to be expected.

  • Elizabeth Hubbell says:

    Great response, Kristin,
    I find it amazing when I still see schools that operate more as a place for 20-30 independent contractors than a place where professionals come together to collaborate on their practice. (And it makes teaching so much more rewarding!) I especially like that you focused on not unnecessarily repeating lessons through the years at your school. The time we have with our students is already so limited – the last thing we need to do is reteach something they already know.
    Thanks for posting!

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