Guest Author

Each All Things PLC blog post author has been personally invited to contribute by the All Things PLC committee. All contributing experts have firsthand experience successfully implementing the PLC at Work™ process.

Natalie Romero, Principal, Moriarty Elementary

Assessment: The Game Changer

At Moriarty Elementary School in Moriarty, New Mexico, our process of collaborating professionally has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. When we began the journey, the idea of gathering grade-level members together was not frightening; however, our typically brief conversations were not deeply academic or very student centered. Teams did not run from the idea of functioning as a learning community but, in hindsight, none of us really had a clear picture of the depth to which clear and collaborative discussions about instruction and student learning could improve achievement or change us.

Searching for something more, our guiding coalition worked together over the summer to develop a teaching schedule with dedicated intervention time and 90 minutes of collaboration time within each week to support the PLC journey. School started with a rush, and teams became obsessed with data. Weekly data results from textbook assessments were analyzed in PLC meetings to determine instantaneous interventions. This process was a great improvement to our PLC process, and although achievement improved schoolwide, it still felt as though there was something missing.

It turns out that the missing link—our “game changer”—was quality assessment. Although teams were assessing weekly, our assessments were not focused or, in most cases, strong. We entered into deep discussions with outside mentoring from an assessment expert and soon began to evaluate each question on each assessment so we could measure the value and validity of the assessments we were planning to employ. Teachers began adding, modifying, and even deleting assessment questions from the provided curriculum resources and, in some cases, creating their own strong assessment options that were more aligned with the essential standards.

When teams began to better understand the purpose, the quality features, and the process of productive assessments, they were better able to create and employ the meaningful, targeted tools in accurate ways. At that point, we truly brought our “game” to a new level of PLC work. Over the last semester, our teams placed rigor and assessment design and use at the forefront of instruction. Today, students are participating in the process of creating rubrics in many classes and even scoring each other’s assessments. End-of-year assessments showed a 22% increase in reading proficiency in kindergarten through third grade, and an average increase of 21% math proficiency in third through fifth grade. We now understand that when we focus on assessment, we can truly focus on quality learning by student, by standard, and even by the types of errors being made within each standard; which leads to the natural extension of better instruction in each classroom. Our data prove that when teams focus on specific areas and make them priorities, they can enjoy dramatic results in very short periods of time. For the PLC process at Moriarty Elementary, team-developed common assessments are our game changer and will remain our priority focus as we move forward to ensure high levels of learning for all.


Melissa Tavares

I loved reading about the positive outcomes your school experienced after working hard to create assessments that appropriately targeted grade level essential standards. I feel that this is an area of weakness during collaborative meetings with my grade level. We frequently discuss student achievement levels and curriculum success or necessary improvement, but it seems that we are all on different pages in terms of assessment criteria. Our district is still in the developmental stages of assessment creation. Currently we use different common formative assessments in the same grade level to assess the same learning targets. It is even unclear at some points what exactly we should be assessing because report card indicators are not coinciding with common core state standards. I hope that our school has the opportunity that your school did in creating meaningful time to discuss data and create informative assessments. The success your school achieved in doing so is motivational.

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Annie Marian

We recently started having grade level meetings at our school within the past year as well. It seems as though our meetings started off similar to yours, but as time goes by, we have made our meetings more focused on instruction and student learning. I like the idea of discussing assessments and coming up with standard based rubrics that would give students more accountability, especially since they're now at a 7th grade level. Typically, our meetings are about student behavior and getting particular students to respond to certain strategies or interventions, but I would like to present this article at our next meeting to maybe come up with some other focuses. Thanks for the great ideas. Discussing assessments is definitely something to give thought to.

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Erika Caulder

I enjoyed reading your post. This is an area where the PLC on my grade level can improve. We have district wide created units with common assessments for each grade level and in all content areas. With the newly created assessments we have found errors or, we as teachers, don't agree that the assessment accurately measures the standard. I have found that if we don't discuss the assessment beforehand we get varied results and then it's difficult to compare data. So, we began modifying the assessments to better fit the rigor or requirement of the standards. However, I like how you stated the importance of the team planning assessments together. I would like to see more of that on my grade level this year.

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Brittany Heiss

Your post was very informative and reminded me of the experiences I have had when we met as a grade level to look at the data. Of course we compared our test scores to that of how our students are doing on the assessments being given weekly, however, I never noticed how we as a team dismissed the test results and just moved forward rather than digging deeper to analyze the problems. Our school is attempting to give more time for planning to meet, however, I fear we are still unsure of our goal we don't have as you described "a clear picture of the depth to which clear and collaborative discussions about instruction and student learning could improve achievement or change us."
Is there any suggestions you can further give to help aid us in our discovery to what we may need to change our team?

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Exa Kay Mitchell

As part of my Masters Program, we needed to find blogs on Professional Learning Communities. What caught my eye about your blog was assessment being the game changer for your school. I too am from New Mexico, working in a small rural school district. In my district, we really do not employ any real PLC's other than some professional development through RCC. I am newer to my school and would like to start a PLC for our elementary school for assessment to scaffold amongst grade levels. We have the best staff and administrators any school could have that would support this effort whole heartedly. We are at the middle point in using teams to understand what needs to be done now. Do you have any suggestions on what we could do next or PD on assessment?
E. Mitchell

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Kathleen Meehan

I enjoyed reading about the positive outcomes your school had from reflecting and working together, using time wisely. Seeing your hard work pay off is inspiring. You have empowered your teachers to improve academic performance making student achievement the top priority.
Making sure the data collected is based on quality assessment rather then any assessment for the sake of data is a great goal.
Congratulations to your school!

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Olivia Starkey

It sounds like working collaboratively as professionals is going great for you! My district does some collaborating together with grade level teachers in the regular education sector. However, there is not much collaboration between the regular education teachers and the special education teachers. I feel that I am constantly struggling to find time to meet with the regular education teachers to discuss a students needs. Do you have any suggestions as to how to set up collaboration or how to get everyone else on board? I understand how important it is to work together but I am afraid not everyone has that same view.

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Emily Blaine

This post drew my interest as I had a best friend in elementary school that moved far away to Moriarty Elementary school! It is wonderful to see the collaboration take place and I'm excited to share with my friend about this post as she just recently entered in the School of Education.

I've been a part of many PLC meetings that have us looking at data from assessments, but I've always struggled with comparing the data from teacher to teacher and building to building because our assessments were so wildly different. I am to hear the outcome of adaptive and collaborative assessment writing and would love to enter in a PD course to strengthen this approach in our district. We allow our students to collaborate on Google Docs, so why couldn't we edit and add wonderful assessment pieces? Thank you for sharing!

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Kelly De Leon

Who did you use for PD on creating quality assessments? Did your staff receive PD for creating rubrics as well? If so, by whom? I believe this is where we are headed!

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Mahlaela Maishibe

This was a wonderful collaborative spirit really! I liked when your team used students to assess each other as one of your ways of assessing students and collecting data. There is one spirit of collaboration your group is using, focusing on improving assessment for students.

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Randi Olson

What a great way to use collaborative time. Having a clear purpose and goal for what you want to accomplish with that time and the fact that it is focused on improving assessments for students is great. At my school we sometimes lack a focus for our collaborative time so creating a clear purpose for that time will benefit everyone.

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Meagan McCabe

This is great, I am glad that you had such great results with what you did. Having time each week to meet with colleagues can have a positive impact on teaching.

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