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9 Steps to an Effective Common Assessment Framework

December 1st, 2015

Where do I even begin?

If you’ve been tasked with establishing a system of common student assessments within your school or district, it’s a question that’s likely racing through your mind.

It’s difficult enough to get 10 people to cooperate on a shared goal, much less several hundred or more. Yet, as a district assessment leader, that’s the essence of the challenge confronting you. Your objective involves organizing an assessment system by which teachers in similar classrooms administer consistent tests, enabling you to measure student progress and compare results to reveal the most effective instruction strategies within your district.

That student assessment is paramount is not lost on you as an educator. As our knowledge-based world places increasing demands on mastering high-level workforce skills, the qualifications for college and career readiness continue to magnify. Student achievement must be evaluated early and often to ensure cultivation of real-world skill sets like critical thinking and complex problem-solving.

Daunting though the task may seem, there’s never been a more appropriate time to embark on an honest review of your student assessment system, or to establish a comprehensive system of assessment for the first time. Here are nine steps (each linked to a more detailed lesson on the step) to guide you along your road to common assessments:

Step 1. Find Your Starting Point

When embarking upon this journey, it’s important to be aware of common pitfalls and obstacles in the assessment implementation process so you can create a strong foundation with your students’ best interests in mind. For example, there are bound to be dissenters to your plan at the start. By seeking involvement from teachers and other key constituents, integrating your assessment system into existing instructional endeavors and establishing continuity with your system to avoid the back-and-forth that plagues many districts, you can silence the critics early and foster widespread buy-in.

Step 2. Form an Assessment Team

To succeed with a common assessment system, you’ll require teamwork right from the start. While it may seem tempting to assemble a large committee, begin by forming a small “Core Assessment Team” comprised of a handful of your key stakeholders to ensure manageability. You can always expand involvement later. By determining both your starting goal and your year-ahead meeting times now, you can instill direction and a sense of routine within your team members early on in the process.

Step 3. Establish Flexible Timeline with Milestones

Although a timeline and milestones may be tentative at this stage, it’s important to begin charting a framework for successful implementation of your common assessment system. Early meetings centered around research and preparation can transition to meetings focused on action items and, finally, evaluation of your progress toward achieving formative assessment. Outline the objectives of each meeting in advance so each participant can prepare accordingly.

Step 4. Establish Common Understanding Regarding Research and Terminology

Everyone from your assessment team must be on the same page before significant progress can be made. By compiling a glossary of common assessment terms ahead of time, you can prevent misunderstandings amongst team members. In addition to terminology, have your team discuss the relevant research topics. Most educators are well-aware of the benefits (and necessity) of testing students, but collectively reviewing research on topics like using multiple measures and varying assessment formats helps unify each participant’s ideologies. This is also the right time to formulate a plan for surveying staff in order to determine what assessment components are already in use.

Step 5. Explore Assessment Sources and Structures

It’s time to consolidate and analyze your data. Review your staff survey results as well as the samples of common assessment components you’ve acquired, discussing what might work best for your district. As possible assessment structures start to emerge, complete an Assessment Recommendation Overview Form. Upon analyzing what assessment components are already utilized within your district, you’ll be able to determine if any of these fit with your revamped structure. It’s also worthwhile at this time to begin considering the source from which you intend to obtain your assessments — whether developing these materials in-house, purchasing pre-made tests, or using tests that come with textbooks (knowing you would need to double-check these tests’ alignment to standards).

Step 6. Determine Specifics

With your preparation nearing completion, it’s now time to convert a general framework into more specific plans. View presentations by prospective vendors to assist with finalizing the source of your assessments. The importance of putting an effective assessment management system in place cannot be overlooked. By revisiting your Assessment Recommendation Overview Form, you can now address specifics such as labeling conventions, test length and performance bands, among others. Evaluate possible assessment components more closely, determining who will complete the necessary details on forms prior to the next meeting.

Step 7. Create Action Plan

Your long-held assessment goal is nearing fruition. Utilizing all the data you’ve gathered up to this point, complete an Action Plan Form for each applicable grade level and course requiring assessments. Compile and review these items as an assessment team, relying on your completed forms to steer the final details of your assessment components. Determine how participation in assessment component creation sessions will be established and communicated, keeping in mind the objectives and timeline associated with each Assessment Component Team.

Step 8. Create and/or Revise Components

Your Assessment Component Teams are primed to go forth and craft their respective components. But in order to assist them, you should furnish and review materials ranging from completed forms (Action Plan and Assessment Recommendation Overview) to research topics previously covered. While the remaining tasks will vary based on each team’s customized action plan, you should occupy a supportive role and plan to provide assistance pertaining to pacing guides, question selection and the overall creation of quality assessments.

Step 9. Evaluate Progress and Communicate Next Steps

The end is in sight but your commitment to your cause must not diminish. After tying up any loose ends brought forward by your Assessment Component Teams, divert your attention towards staff communication. Make a plan for communicating with all staff members impacted by the assessments, and follow it. Acquire feedback from teachers before your assessment components are put into use. When materials are finalized, be sure everyone who needs access to them has it. Ultimately, you should plan for post-administration evaluation of assessments and be prepared to schedule revision meetings as necessary. Assessments can be perfected more over time, as data from your assessment management system reveals which items (e.g., questions) might be misleading, or which assessments’ difficulty might be out of sync with other grade levels’ or subjects’ assessments.


At Illuminate Education we intend to be your school district’s comprehensive provider of cloud-based products and services offering innovative data solutions. Serving the K-12 education market, our turnkey data-focused software and services currently assist more than 1,300 school districts across the United States.

If you’d like some help in creating a standards pacing schedule and a set common formative assessments for your district or charter, let us know. We’re here to talk.

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