Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Common assessments (SISI, PLCs)

Gaining Traction, Gaining Ground (downloadable here) shares results of a systematic look at high schools with strong records of raising achievement of students who enter school behind. The 2005 report identifies common assessment as a powerful practice with rapid results, illustrated with a North Carolina example:
The 11th-grade English teachers developed the model used by other teams. Beginning with the state standards for their course, they decided what needed to be taught in each unit of study. They agreed on the texts they would use and the skills they would teach for each unit throughout the year. The team also detailed the types of writing assignments students would complete and even developed sample writing prompts. But most important, they developed a common test for each unit.
* * *
After the common assessments are administered, teams of teachers analyze the results to determine what they need to focus on, which teachers seem to have figured out instruction in certain areas, and which teachers are struggling in certain areas. This information about their students’ achievement provides them with information that will inform their instruction and help their students to improve academically.
* * *
The efforts are paying off. Today, the school has more than 90 percent of students meeting state standards, while continuing to have a strong track record accelerating the learning of students who enter ninth grade behind academically.
Those three excerpts pull out the teacher practices and the results. It's also important to say that this level of collaboration built on a strong school culture of trust and was a major priority for an effective, focused principal.

The story starts out as classroom assessment, but in it you can feel curriculum, instruction, culture, professional growth, and leadership, all working together. For fans of Kentucky's Standards and Indicators of School Improvement, that's six of the nine Standards in a single collaborative effort. For folks working to understand and apply the research on professional learning communities, it's a powerful example of the key ideas coming together.

(Earlier posts on professional learning communities (PLCs) are here and here. An explanation of Standards and Indicators (SISI), with a link to the full text, is here.)


  1. Thanks for posting this. I was disappointed there wasn't much information about the differences between high-impact and average impact schools in terms of partnership with the parents.

    This was an important point and one that needs to be included in SB1 planning:

    Assessment data is used by high-impact
    schools for future planning, such as making
    curriculum improvements or making teacher
    assignments. Average-impact schools tend
    to use data primarily to measure past student

  2. On the parent piece, do notice that Gaining Traction is an EdTrust product, with the EdTrust twist. They don't like schools that make excuses. In describing the report methodology, they write:

    "Although there are many other aspects of a school community that may directly or indirectly influence academic achievement, like parent and community involvement and district and state policies, it was our intent to focus specifically on what schools can do to improve student academic achievement regardless of external influences outside of the schools’ control."

    In short, they were deliberately not looking for the parent part of the equation, because they don't want to let teachers off the hook for the classroom part of the deal.

  3. On the use of data, the idea you've pulled out from Gaining Traction is very important, very close to both to the Stiggins idea of balanced assessment and to the professional learning community idea of how teachers become most effective.

    Senate Bill 1 uses the word "formative" a lot,but doesn't seem to grasp either the giant cultural shift or the smaller technical issues in classroom assessment.

    However, the standards-revision process can still move us forward. Making standards shorter and clearer will make it easier to do this kind of standards-based instruction, common assessment, and collaborative continuous improvement.

  4. Thank you for the clarification. It's frustrating to see this assessment data is available at my daughter's school with NWEA MAP testing but it's not being used for future planning. I was hoping SB1 would address this more directly.

  5. Fifteen years ago, I would have thought that if schools are accountable for improving results, and they have information on what actually does improve those results, educators would put that together and implement what works pretty consistently.

    Now, it's pretty clear to me that school leadership and culture have to come together to make that happen. Without that, an occasional teacher may have a breakthrough, but it never becomes school-wide practice without a school-wide effort to make that happen.

    So the puzzle is, what can happen at the statewide level that builds better schoolwide change? I agree that SB 1 doesn't do enough, but what should be added?

  6. It is quite a puzzle and I think requiring a value-added assessment would help.


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