“Common Assessments” vs “Common Understandings”

In a recent discussion, I was asked about “common assessments” in a classroom.  The thought here is that no matter what classroom you were in, the assessments would look the same.  When I asked them to clarify, I asked outright, “Do you mean that all students will take the same test?”, to which they replied, “yes.”

So here is where I struggle with this concept of “common assessments”. If teacher A does not work with classroom B, do they know the students in that room?  Do they know that some of the students have test anxiety, or English is not their first language, or are a myriad of other factors that might not be conducive to “common assessments”?

Now there is a difference between wanting students to have the same test, or the same understandings of material.  If I ask students to show that they understand the same objective, does the way we assess truly have to be the same?  What I think we mean is that we are looking for “common understandings”, not “common assessments”. The notion of a “common assessment” does not take the individual into account, where “common understandings” allows for different pathways to show learning.

As I am just starting to explore this concept, I would love to know your challenges to these thoughts.  Differentiated instruction cannot come with standardized assessments, or am I way off here?

Can we truly differentiate instruction while standardizing assessment-

Source: George Couros

2 Comments

  1. Kimberly S. said:

    Common assessments in the classroom can, and should, include accommodations as dictated by an individual’s students IEP. We use short common assessments as both pre- and post-assessments in our district. Our goal from the common pre-assessment is to learn what each student knows/does not know so that teachers can tailor instruction (differentiate) to meet individual needs. The goal of the common post-assessment is to learn whether that instruction worked; do students now know what they need to know at the level to which they should know it? If a student receives accommodations as dictated by an individual IEP, then both the pre- and post-assessment will reflect that. The only challenge that we face is question development, but we are getting better at writing “good questions.”
    When you talk about other learning pathways, this is where I think of re-dos. If a student doesn’t show mastery on the common assessment, it’s not one and done. Think of how many chances a student gets on the ACT, SAT, or even driving test. If a student does not fair well on the common assessment, this is when other “pathways” can, and should, be designed. It may be another attempt at the common assessment or another type of assessment. In the end, it is about assessing a student’s mastery, however that may look.

    February 17, 2017
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  2. Ann said:

    I think the true heart of “common assessments” should be common formative assessments (with all of the considerations from Kimberly’s post). Common assessments should be developed by collaborative teacher teams not in isolation as in the classroom A and B example. When educators work in teams and discuss instruction (common understandings), assessment, and what they will do when students don’t understand it is a powerful process. Common Assessments, such as high stakes state testing, don’t take into account student differences- which is why they are a point of frustration of educators – one test on one day and that is how you are judged. To me, it is about the process and as Kimberly said the other pathways. Teaching is an art – when the canvas or piece of music isn’t quite right, the artist goes back into their tools to tweak or change the way it looks and sounds. Differentiate instruction – yes. Standardize assessment – well, it depends on how you define that practice. How about we take the mantra of making assessment a process.

    February 18, 2017
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