Common Assessments to Drive Student Learning

Common Assessment to Drive Student Outcomes

Common assessments play a key role in ensuring school districts can measure and track student learning. A common assessment is any assessment—formative, interim, summative, or otherwise—that’s administered consistently across groups of students, teachers, and schools so that the results can be evaluated and compared in a standardized manner. They’re a way to compare apples-to-apples data and inform district instructional strategies.

Why common assessments are essential

Common assessments are an important part of any assessment strategy. They offer a standardized way to capture data and track progress against standards, identify students or groups who need additional support, and better predict learning outcomes. 
Administrators use common assessments to monitor student progress and identify student and teacher needs within their district. Common assessments provide a consistent way to understand student growth and areas for greater focus and support. These insights help administrators better allocate resources, plan for end-of-year testing, and focus professional development strategies to drive greater impact. While the frequency of common assessment administration varies across districts, the more regularly a common assessment approach is used, the more opportunities districts have to differentiate for students, adjust lesson plans, and target resources and support to drive students’ skills development.

Teachers and professional learning communities use common assessments as an innovative way to collaborate on assessment strategies and instruction. Regular data collection that’s analyzed across classes and reviewed as a group helps to inform future instruction and bring creative solutions to classrooms across the district. Teachers use the insights from assessment results to understand what topics or skills need extra attention, and then collaborate on ways to improve future lesson plans and intervention programs to fill in the gaps for students.

Where do common assessments show up? Summative, interim, and formative assessments

Assessment strategies include a range of assessment types. Summative, interim, and formative assessments are all foundational elements of a comprehensive assessment strategy and all can be administered as common assessments. 

There are a variety of benefits to common assessment at every phase of learning. Summative assessments, such as end-of-year state tests, are typically the most widespread common assessments used in an assessment strategy. Districts use these high-stakes common assessments to evaluate student learning, direct resources, and demonstrate student proficiency.

Districts are increasingly including interim assessments in their common assessment strategy as well. Summative and interim assessments allow districts to get a snapshot of student progress towards standards and overall learning achievement across the full student population, so the district can better plan instructional strategies and resources. (One side note: Some districts may use the term benchmark assessments or periodic assessments in place of interim assessments. Although there are nuanced differences between each type of assessment, these terms are often used synonymously.)

Summative or year-end assessments are great for high-level snapshots of student performance, but they don’t enable fast-cycle feedback that powers actual instruction and student learning growth. While the majority of school districts still use traditional summative assessments, a growing number of states are beginning to explore new approaches to testing. Many education experts, administrators, teachers, and parents alike feel that state assessments should do more than just evaluate. They should also support instruction with actionable data.

Traditional end-of-year assessments don’t do enough to support teaching and learning.

By the time results are available, students are already on summer vacation, and next school year’s teachers may not have the context they need to truly address learning gaps identified in the test results. 

With the support of federal funding, some states are piloting more flexible and actionable systems for assessments. These new assessment systems, such as through-year assessments, are still high stakes, still done by the state, but administered more frequently throughout the year rather than once at the end of the year. New funding for innovation programs points to a continuously evolving assessment landscape with an increasing emphasis on systems that support instruction in addition to academic evaluation.

While interim and summative assessments are still typically the most frequent common assessments deployed across a district, there is also good reason to ensure common formative assessments make it into a district’s assessment strategy to better support daily instruction.

Formative assessments

Formative assessments are a low-stakes, actionable method for teachers to track student understanding. These assessments happen during a lesson or unit and are integral to the learning process because they help teachers adjust in the moment to ensure students are not falling behind in the lesson. They also provide students with the real-time feedback they need to learn from their assessment results. 

Common formative assessments are consistently administered across a group of classes or a section of students. They may look similar to standard formative assessments, but what sets them apart is their collaborative nature. These common assessments are shared among a group of educators and can be reviewed as a team. Some examples of frequently used common formative assessments include:

  • Quizzes

  • Polls

  • Bell ringers

  • Exit tickets

  • Problem of the Day

  • Performance tasks

  • Practice on state-released items

Collaborating on a common way to assess student knowledge during a lesson with formative assessments means that teachers have an easy way to quickly analyze results, share insights and best practices, and experiment with new teaching strategies to better support their students. Districts can tighten feedback loops and accelerate impact by building more common formative assessments into their district-wide assessment strategy.

“We’d look at the data by standard, by question type, and by classroom so we could identify where students need more support. There was always some level of data debrief at the end of every common assessment.” —Katie Barker, Assistant Director of Elementary, Dorchester School District 02

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Many assessment tools fall short on common assessment

Edtech has dramatically improved how we can leverage assessment data to improve student outcomes. Tools used to support common assessments often boast all the bells and whistles an administrator could hope for when creating a district-wide assessment or pulling reports. They can be a great mechanism for administrators to track progress toward standards or other district goals.

But these tools often fail when teachers have to add them to their growing list of tech to learn and incorporate in daily routines. Why? Because:

  1. A lot of assessment tools aren’t intuitive for classroom use. They’re clunky, rigid, limited in assessment types, and hard to use.

  2. They can be unreliable due to system crashes, data leaks, bugs, and other technical issues.

  3. The tools aren’t conducive to daily instruction. They’re often only suitable for interim or summative assessments. They don’t capture data from daily instruction, which means they use out-of-date data and are less useful for teachers to respond in the moment to student needs.

  4. They don’t allow PLCs, departments, and educators to collaborate. Legacy tools are stagnant in their ability to support collaboration because the tools are hard to use, are not built for sharing, and the data they capture is hard to access.

Common assessments with Formative by Newsela

A tool that spans the spectrum of formative assessment to interim assessment ensures that you’re collecting frequent, ongoing data to better understand student performance on standards throughout the entire school year. 

When you house all student performance data in one easy-to-use platform, it encourages teachers and administrators to identify gaps in understanding and provide targeted support where it’s needed, in the moment. And making sure that tool supports common assessment means that educators no longer work in silos; teachers and administrators can collaborate on assessments and instructional strategies to drive the greatest learning outcomes.

Our daily instruction and assessment product, Formative by Newsela, seamlessly connects the insights teachers and administrators need to support student learning in every subject, including math and modern languages. With Formative, districts can:

  • Mark any activity as a common assessment to ensure more consistent data collection across classrooms.

  • Get real-time student insights on common assessments from daily activities like bell ringers and exit tickets, with 20+ activity types.

  • Elevate and influence instruction district-wide with admin reports and supports for common assessments.

  • Manage libraries of pre-made formative activities to support everyday instruction across departments.

  • Empower teachers to share and collaborate on formatives with anyone in their district.

  • Configure common assessments to your specific needs by setting grading thresholds, scheduling assessment windows, and adjusting display and scoring settings.

  • Use our Respondus LockDown Browser add-on to support a secure testing environment for higher-stakes tests.

  • Tag questions with standards and view overview reports to help identify opportunities for improvement or reteaching at the teacher, school, and district levels.

  • Ensure every student feels supported with rich and targeted in-the-moment written, audio, video, or visual feedback.

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How districts are leveraging Formative for common assessments

How JS Morton empowered teachers with authentic common assessments and real-time results

One district in Illinois, JS Morton High School District 201, has a large population of current and former English learners. Teachers were looking for a flexible, engaging common assessment platform that enabled them to assess students through more inclusive methods that would meet students—who come with a variety of learning needs and preferences—where they are. When educators asked repeatedly for Formative as a replacement for their current assessment platform, the district couldn’t ignore their enthusiasm. The district leveraged Formative’s 20+ activity types, including the audio response feature, to provide students with more ways to show their knowledge in common assessments. Teachers used insights from these common assessments to collaborate on teaching strategies to drive student outcomes.

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How Dorchester School District 02 built a common assessment strategy to increase student achievement

The team at Dorchester School District 02—a large K-12 district outside of Charleston, South Carolina—was focused on establishing a data-driven environment that enabled teacher collaboration and student achievement. They used real-time common formative assessment data from Formative at the classroom, department, and district levels to inform instructional strategies. Collaboration and real-time intervention drove an increase in overall student achievement.

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Common Assessments 101

Need a refresher on some of the key topics surrounding common assessment? Browse the questions below to get the answers you need:

Learn more about how Formative powers daily instruction and common assessment through real-time insights and flexible tools.

Formative by Newsela

Power a range of instruction and assessment needs for everything from in-class checks for understanding to district-level assessments.

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