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The Power of Common Assessments October 23, 2007 One of the most powerful, high-leverage strategies for improving student learning that is available to schools is the creation of: frequent, common, high-quality formative assessment

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One of the most




for improving student learning

that is available to schools

is the creation of:


frequent, common,


formative assessment

by teachers who are working collaboratively to help a group of students develop agreed-upon knowledge and skills

(Fullan, 2005a;Hargreaves & Fink, 2006; Reeves, 2004; Schomoker, 2003; Stiggins, 2005).

State and provincial tests are

summative assessments.

Their purpose is to determine whether students have met intended standards by a specific deadline.

They are assessments OF learning.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker & Many


Summative assessments can provide helpful information regarding the strengths and weaknesses of curriculum and programs in a district, school or department. They often serve as a means of promoting institutional accountability.

Formative assessments

are assessments FOR learning that measure a few things frequently.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker & Many

Formative assessments are timely in-process measurements that can inform teachers individually and collectively regarding the effectiveness of their practice.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker & Many

One could compare the former (summative assessment) to an autopsy,

and the latter (formative assessment) to a physical examination.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker & Many

A summative assessment, like an autopsy, can provide useful information that explains why the ‘patient’ has failed, but the information comes too late...

at least from the patient’s perspective.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many

A formative assessment, like a physical examination, can provide both the ‘doctor’ and the ‘patient’ with timely information regarding the patients’ well-being and can help with a prescription for an ailing person or assist a healthy person to become even stronger.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many

criteria for identifying essential common outcomes
Criteria for Identifying Essential Common Outcomes

Endurance – are students expected to retain the skills/knowledge long after the test is completed?

Leverage –is this skill/knowledge applicable to many academic discipline?

Readiness for the Next Level of Learning – is this skill/knowledge preparing the student for success in the next grade/course?

To separate the essential from the peripheral, carefully apply these 3 criteria to each standard:

Doug Reeves


Clearly defined goals help teachers provide descriptive feedback to students and provides students with concrete insights in how to improve.

The growth they experience helps build their confidence as learners.

If all students are expected to demonstrate the same knowledge and skills, regardless of the teacher to which they are assigned, it only makes sense that teachers must work together to assess student learning.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many


Common formative assessments represent the most effective strategies for determining whether the guaranteed curriculum is being taught and more importantly, learned. Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many


Common, team-developed formative assessments are such a powerful tool in school improvement that no team of teachers should be allowed to opt out of creating them.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many

Common formative assessments inform the practice of individual teachers. They provide teachers with a basis of comparison as they learn, skill by skill, how the performance of their students is similar to and different from other students who took the assessment.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many

With this information, a teacher can seek assistance from teammates on areas of concern and can share strategies and ideas on skills in which his or her students excelled.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many

When collaborative teams of teachers have the opportunity to examine indicators of the achievement of all students in their course or grade level and track those indicators over time, they are able to identify and address problem areas in their program.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many

Their collective analysis can lead to new curriculum, pacing, materials, and instructional strategies designed to strengthen the academic program they offer.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many

Common formative assessments help identify groups of students who need additional time and support to ensure their learning.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker and Many


While the research on the use of formative assessment is compelling, the practice seems mindboggling and overwhelming to well-intentioned teachers.


How could I do that?

  • We don’t have that much time for each unit of instruction
  • If I don’t grade it, kids won’t do it
  • But if I did it, then I have to be prepared to differentiate based on the results and that would be a management nightmare.

Everything students might….




has the potential to be formative because it can provide information about how much then understand and helps the teacher plan the next steps of instruction.


The challenge in good formative assessment is to see how we can best utilize the key processes and student information that is already at our disposal.

What you are doing everyday in class!

The following scenarios is offered as a “picture” of what it could look like.

your turn
Your Turn

Name a formative assessment strategy you currently use to support learners in any stage of learning.

ainsworth and viegut on common formative assessments
Ainsworth and Viegut on Common Formative Assessments

Use the metaphor of a matched pair of bookends. The power standards/essential outcomes and the final summative assessment are the matched pair of bookends.

Differentiated instruction

Learning activities

Assigned student work

Classroom formative assessments

Re-teaching and enriching of the standards

are the “books” that typically appear between the bookends.