Cassandra Erkens

Cassandra Erkens is a presenter, facilitator, coach, trainer of trainers, keynote speaker, author, and above all, a teacher. She presents nationally and internationally on assessment, instruction, school improvement, and professional learning communities.

Three Reasons Your Team Needs Common Summative Assessments

A hallmark feature of a PLC-based school is that everything is focused on learning. The three big ideas of a PLC—(1) focus on learning; (2) build a collaborative culture; and (3) create a results orientation—embed the very nature of learning into the work of both the students and the staff. A learning culture is a formative culture, so it makes sense that in the PLC literature, heavy emphasis is placed on the work of common formative assessments. A shift in practice is required to support the desired shift in beliefs. But to think that PLCs only engage in the work of common formative assessments is to fall into the trap of either-or thinking. We need to engage the genius of “and” to create a healthy, balanced, valid, and reliable common assessment system. Quality assessment systems require both formative and summative assessments, and one type of assessment is not lesser than the other. Each serves a critical role in improving and ultimately proving student mastery. Collaborative teams need to engage in the work of common summative assessments for three reasons: (1) centering, (2) certifying, and (3) celebrating.

Centering

Creating the common summative assessment before writing any common formative assessments centers teams on what needs to be accomplished with their instruction, curriculum, and assessments. When this happens, teams actually find time because they can be laser-like in their instruction and decisive on what must be added, deleted, or modified in their curriculum along the way. Most importantly, formative assessments (which answer the question “How can I help you learn more?”) form the rungs on the scaffold to success. If there is no definitive end assessment planned, then the rungs cannot stay in tight formation to hold the scaffolding together. Teams must develop a common summative assessment in order to center their collaborative work.

Certifying

Summative assessments answer the question “What do you know at this moment in time?” Its purpose is to certify learning, and it is comprehensive—putting all of the little steps together in meaningful ways. Teams do not go to practice (formative assessment) every day for the sake of practice. They go to practice for the thrill of the big game (summative assessment) where they can integrate their skills and knowledge to accomplish something significant. This is a critical step that cannot be missed in the assessment process. And if teams create a list of priority standards that they want all learners to master, then summative assessments are the only way to prove the promise has been met.

Celebrating

Success breeds success. When learners can walk into a summative setting with confidence (because the formative pathway they experienced has set them up for success); engage in meaningful, comprehensive, and provocative summative assessments that will showcase their mastery; and generate results that truly exhibit how much they have learned along the way, then there can be much rejoicing. There will surely be an increased sense of hope and efficacy. There will also be a willingness to try again. It turns out that collaborative teams need that same moment of joy, especially after experiencing what might have been a lengthy unit filled with lots of little formative assessments, focused data conversations, and intense planning for interventions and enrichments. Summative assessments put it all back together again, and the results can tell the world, “We have arrived.” Celebration is serious business in the realm of motivation.

In a culture that is focused on learning, collaborative teams must engage in the work of centering, certifying, and celebrating. Summative assessments help prove our results. The question isn’t “Should we use common summative assessments in our collaborative work?” Rather, the question becomes “What comprehensive common summative assessments could we create and employ that would be so provocative and relevant our learners couldn’t wait to get there?”

Comments

Cassandra Erkens

Amanda Brady,

It can take time to change the patterns we've established with assessment. I love your clarity on the fact that the current system isn't working for you or your learners. Keeping that in mind as you design your new system will help you create a learning- and learner-centered approach to all of your future assessment work! Best wishes!

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Cassandra Erkens

Jarryd,

There are many fantastic blog articles available on this site for 'finding time' to do the work. It's most helpful if your school system provides the necessary time, but it's equally helpful if your team commits to getting focused fast with the time they do have available. To begin, try starting with writing the summative assessment for the unit you will embark on NEXT (not the one you are already teaching). Make the planning conversation happen early in your team meeting so that it can capture everyone's commitment and focus early on. In your follow up or next meeting, map out both the smaller formative assessments you will need to support your learners getting to mastery AND some student tracking forms that learners can use to monitor their progress and readiness for the summative test. Make sure that those data reflection sheets are based on how well they are doing on each learning goal you have for that unit and not just a list of how many points they earned on homework and quizzes. Learners always need to be clear about what they are supposed to be learning and how they are progressing toward that goal. I hope this helps. Best wishes as you venture this direction! I know it will be more rewarding for you, your colleagues, and your learners!

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Cassandra Erkens

Jen,

It's so fantastic that your colleagues invited you into that process in your first year. I wish mine had! I believe I would have been a more focused teacher in those years if I'd known the 'end' before I began. This year, I'm confident you'll be more than 'riding' along! Best wishes on your teaching career.

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Cassandra Erkens

Tyechia, I know it's challenging to write your own assessments, especially those aimed at addressing the common core, but I'm so glad you are doing that! There are so many benefits that outweigh the challenges: 1) the team gets clear and consistent on what the standards mean; 2) the team can FIND time because they can be more discerning about what resources to use and what to get rid of rather than following along with a textbook wholesale, and, most importantly, 3) the team can have a laser like focus during the instruction leading up to the assessment that they wrote together, which can support the team in improving student achievement. I'm so glad that your team is writing their own assessments! I wish more would try that. It's important work and we'll never get it to be perfect (there is no such thing as a 'perfect' assessment), but the L in PLC reflects the 'learning' that comes of our collaborative efforts. Best wishes on your journey!

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Tyechia Miller

Cassandra,

I really enjoyed reading this blog. You broke down the necessity of common assessments in many ways that I had not thought of. Specifically, the "celebrating" portion. If their students do well, teachers can have the satisfaction of knowing that they were doing their job and the students know what is required for them to know.

At our school (similar to yours), we have had a number of PLCs regarding common assessments and the necessity of them. Luckily, our team has come to the agreement that common assessments are a must. The issue we are dealing with now is trying to get assessments that we all agree on as matching the common core standards. That is becoming the toughest part because in my location, we are not given a common basal to teach from where assessments are provided at the common core level.

However, thanks again for the wonderful insight in your blog.

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Jarryd McKie

Cassandra,

I truly enjoyed reading your post. My school has currently placed a focus on teams creating common summative assessments. As teacher we are constantly given definitions and examples of what summative assessments are, should look like, and how they should be administered to students. However while reading, I noticed that I was not aware of celebrating being a reason for common assessments and immediately recognized that my team is not only missing this component but is also struggling to find the needed time for centering. Sometimes it just seems as if the moment you conclude one unit, the next unit is ready to be taught with one week already lost according to pacing guides of the curriculum. Thus I would like to know ways in which common summative assessments can be celebrated and how is time created for teams to effectively meet for centering/planning.

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Amanda Brady

Thank you for sharing your insights on summative assessments. I teach math in a relatively small school district. At our school, we currently meet in PLCs every Monday where sometimes the issue at hand is common assessments. I just finished my first year of teaching and everyone in the group had at least 10+ years of teaching behind them. At some point in their careers, they had established common summative and formative assessments. Unfortunately, being in the math department, this meant quiz, quiz, quiz, TEST.

I was drawn to your post because both my students and I were in a constant state of frustration with the fact that I had to give these "common assessments". After reading your post, I think what frustrated me the most was the fact that these common assessments were not written correctly; nor were quizzes and tests the exact right way to go but that's a whole other issue.

I look forward to sharing your thoughts on what makes a common summative assessment during this upcoming school year.

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Amanda Adams

My school's focus this year is on creating common assessments, so I found this post to be very helpful. I especially enjoyed the celebration component. I do feel that motivation is a piece that is somewhat lacking in most middle schools. I am glad you also mentioned using the assessments to help guide intervention as well as daily lessons. Thanks for this information!

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Amy Gates

Cassandra,
Thank you for this article. I am looking forward to sharing it with my grade level PLC. There are many changes happening with our curriculum because of the new CCSS standards. I am hoping that we will be able to create and use common assessments this year to help guide our teaching and keep us all on the same page.

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Jen Pacheco

Cassandra,
I really enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for sharing. As a fairly new teacher, I have been lucky enough to work with a team that collaborated to create summative assessments at the beginning of each quarter. However, I was usually just "along for the ride" and didn't really see the big picture of how to use these assessments to guide my daily instruction. It is so nice to be able to reflect back and see the purpose of this work and also look forward to how I will be able to engage more deeply in assessment creation with my team in the future. Thanks for making the purpose more clear!

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