District common assessments are a critical dimension of effective instruction. Common assessments provide specific information on each student’s performance on standards and reveal what we should spend time on instructionally. The term “common assessment” may have an ambiguous meaning because it is often used interchangeably with other related terms such as formative assessments, district created assessments, and summative assessments among others. It will be helpful to clarify these terms.

Assessment: A way in which a teacher learns more about students’ academic progress through an evaluation. This includes traditional tests, quizzes, homework and class activities. Teachers adjust instruction based on student needs gathered from this information.

Formative Assessment: A test used by a teacher that mirrors the future summative evaluation. This provides the teacher the current status of each student and where to shape instruction based on the results of this test.
Summative Assessment: The final test for an instructional unit used by a classroom teacher and is given after all instruction in the unit has been completed.This evaluates what students”know and are able to do” with this section of the curriculum.
Same Assessment: Teachers at the same grade level or subject are required to administer the same summative assessment but are not required to have regularly scheduled follow up conversations about the results with other teachers. Likewise there is no administrative led follow up about the assessment.
Common Assessments: A group of teachers from the same grade level or subject administer the same summative assessment and participate in a collaborative analysis of the results. This type of assessment can be either formative or summative in nature but more often the collaboration is conducted around summative assessments. Assessments take place at set intervals throughout the year and match state standards.

​When designing ANY  assessment, teachers are most effective if they take into account instructional alignment when doing so. Instructional alignment is the design that allows learners to make sense of what is taught in class with what is assessed at a later date.


Instructional alignment is one of the most critical and straightforward educational concepts, but it is also one of the most overlooked. Instructional alignment makes certain that the written curriculum , the taught curriculum and the assessed curriculum match one another. The written curriculum is the district adopted course of study that aligns with state standards. The taught curriculum is the knowledge and skills that the teacher presents to the students in class. This can take the form of classroom activities or assignments and activities that occur out of class. This is the presentation of the material that is to be learned, and ultimately, assessed. The assessed curriculum is what is tested. This is the measure of whether the students have attained an acceptable level of proficiency and hopefully beyond, in the written and taught curriculum. Assuming that the written curriculum and the taught curriculum match, it is absolutely imperative that what is assessed matches as well. When all three are identical we have instructional alignment. If any one of the three do not match, our instruction is not aligned. One issue causing instructional misalignment may be that we are teaching something that is not part of the written curriculum. Another likely misstep is we might be assessing the students on material that does not reflect exactly the written and taught curriculum. In other words, we are testing something related to the taught curriculum, but not exactly what is in the taught curriculum. We need to be exact.Teachers can be exact by collaborating through the use of common assessments. As noted from the definitions above, this is NOT the fourth grade teachers all giving the same assessment and then evaluating the results themselves.  To be exact, teachers should use common assessments and the subsequent professional collaboration to insure that they are achieving instructional alignment.

Common assessments are critical in helping teacher achieve instructional alignment. But, the value of common assessments goes even further. Below are many of the benefits of properly implemented common assessments.

Promote Instructional Alignment: Teacher teams collectively analyze student data across a grade level or subject and look for areas where students are struggling. These areas may reveal patterns that result from failing to achieve instructional alignment. It is through the detailed conversations and examination of the data that this collaboration helps teachers get to the root cause of those student achievement issues and make adjustments to make sure the instruction is truly aligned.
  1. Provides Timely Regular Feedback: Common assessments are given quarterly or at other intervals to provide teachers with regular, up to date student data. This allows for constant student progress monitoring. Teachers know who knows what and and who does not know what.
  2. Furnishes Clues to Instructional Effectiveness: Student data may provide feedback that leads to modifying instruction, re-teaching, providing extension activities or differentiating for individuals or groups.
  3. At-Risk Identification: Common assessments may reveal at-risk students that were not found with regular classroom interaction.
  4. Students Get Feedback About Their Performance: Common assessments give students regular checks on their understanding of the material during the school year. This enables them to work on problem areas on their own and in collaboration with their teacher or their parents throughout the year and before the high stakes test is taken.
  5. Curriculum Pacing: Collaboration with common assessments allows teachers  to monitor and adjust the pace that they take the class through the curriculum during the year. This helps to make sure that all major topics in the curriculum are addressed and no pieces are inadvertently excluded.
  6. The Power of Teacher Collaboration: The “collective wisdom” of teachers is incredibly powerful. Instead of working in a tradition isolated setting, the collaboration process around common assessments gives teacher a singular focal point to guide their conversations. Lesson plans, stargtegies and materials can be shared between teachers. Instructors whose students consistently perform well on a particular standard can share with the other teachers the ideas they put in practice to make that happen. Teachers can collectively problem solve particularly tricky situations involving individual students or groups of students. Finally, collaboration is an excellent opportunity that all grade level or subject area teachers are aligning their instruction.
More and more districts are using common assessments for the many reasons outlined in this blog. Once created, the question of access must be addressed. The common assessments need to be available for teachers and teachers must be able to administer them to students. Students need to be able to complete the assessment and submit it for grading. The scores then need to be stored and made available for multiple teachers for collective analysis and subsequent collaboration and decision making. Just how do district do all of this without a mountain of paper shuffling and endless grading?Ideally, a district’s educational management tools should be integrated into one system in which the gradebook, learning management system and data analytics tool are seamless and have a single sign on. Common assessments can be created in the learning management system and then and then stored in a common area for later access by teachers. Teachers can obtain the common assessment and then administer it electronically to their students through the learning management system. Once students submit their completed common assessment it is “auto-graded” and then automatically entered into gradebook AND the data analytics system. When it is time for collaboration, teachers can analyze student results in a single shared location. Data can be aggregated or disaggregated depending on the needs of the teacher team. The educational management tool is essential to unleashing the power of the common assessment.