Garrick Peterson

Garrick Peterson helps teachers and administrators become high-functioning PLCs with a specific focus on making the connection between assessment and intervention.

Tips for Avoiding Mistakes Via Assessment Rigor

Team-developed common formative assessments are the instrument utilized to make sure our students arrive at the destination they should. Formative assessments help us identify by the student, by the skill those who need intervention. Data gathered from team-developed common formative assessments are the centerpiece of team conversations that help us identify by the teacher, by the skill where instruction needs to improve. If this instrument is off by a couple degrees, the results can impede our students’ success.

Assessment quality is a great challenge as our teachers attempt to implement new core curriculums. Writing an assessment that requires more than simple recall is not a skill many teachers possess. It is critical that we do not assume a skill set based on something as important to the PLC process as common formative assessments. We need to purposefully increase our teachers’ capacity to create assessments that help them understand if students are reaching the learning levels required by new core curriculum.

Some suggestions to help with this:

  1. Involve state leaders to help us understand what competency looks like in assessment form. State leaders should know and be able to explain what types of questions will result in a student being deemed proficient on end-of-level state assessments. If we can help teachers understand what the target is, I am convinced they will change instruction to help students reach that target.
  2. Identify resources that increase our capacity as educators. I recommend that you become students of rigorous assessments that have been created by experts. For free sample items and tests, visit: (for Common Core language arts and math)  (for Common Core language arts and math) (for released items from the National Assessment of Educational Progress for all subject areas in elementary, middle, and high school) (for high school assessments in reading, math, and science)

We need to become the experts on assessment and assessment rigor.

  1. Utilize the principles of convergent assessment. Balance the results from your own common formative assessments with the results of district or state assessments to help identify where assessment rigor needs to improve.


Sandra Contreras

Thank you for your insight on rigorous assessments. I agree that as teachers we need to become experts of assessments and the rigor within. The drill and kill, multiple choice assessments are a thing of the past. Students need to look at the process of how answers were found and not simply focus on the recalling of facts. In Texas we follow the TEKS so as a Math Coach I train my teachers to look at the verb of our TEKS which is going to drive the rigor. We look at the specificity of the TEKS and with this in mind we come up with questions that meet that specific criteria. We look at the history of how many times that type of question was asked in previous state assessment, and all the possible ways it can be asked. With this in mind we begin by creating exit tickets for each daily lesson and our weekly assessments mimic our Six Weeks assessments questioning. The questioning during our instruction is based on higher order thinking. Keeping in mind that we are not to “water down” the curriculum, but rather use the correct academic vocabulary. With this said, in our Comparing numbers lessons for example, alligators stay out of our Math lessons. We target the use of greater than, less than, and equal to within number lines for students to get a visual. No need for the cutesy frills that confuse students. We even create Sentence Stems starters that our students use while working with partners or in groups. This guide aides students in meaningful conversations with appropriate questioning techniques that are not just a recall answer. In order to be effective creators of such rigorous assessments we need to become familiar with our curriculum.

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Camilla Campbell

This post was very insightful. Too often I see our students being tested on mere recall which does not challenge them as learners. I have grown to see teachers teaching to a state test and not challenging our students to be critical thinkers. We should seek to challenge our students to apply information taught to answer any higher order questions. By doing this teachers should implement rigor in the classroom so that our students can be critical thinkers and live up to the expectations of common core assessments.

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Rebecca Skipper

Your blog is word for word what is being pushed in my building. We are working on getting the rigor in our classroom to a whole new level. We have been implementing common core language into our daily classroom lessons, as well as formal and informal assessments.

Our students take the MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) in the spring of every school year. I feel that as the test has changed from the MCA to the MCA I to the MCA II and now the MCA III, our teachers have not been adjusting with the test.

I do somewhat agree with you that we need to communicate with our state legislators about the rigor of the state assessments. However I fully agree with Jessica. If a large number of the teachers in our state, who graduated from a University with a teaching degree, struggle to create rigorous assessments. How can I feel confident that my state legislators are knowledgeable in the subject are.

I am currently involved in a PLC that is specifically working with our state to better align the common core standards with the state assessment.

Thanks for your insight.

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pamela richter

Thank you for such a great read. The message of upping the rigor is apparent throughout the comments and I could not agree more. In addition, with the advancements of technology come computer based assessments like the SmarterBalanced, as mentioned above. Students not only lack the content knowledge, they lack the necessary skills required to navigate through these tests. Many schools have outdated hardware and software making it challenging to teach the skills needed to be successful. How do other educators handle the challenges associated with technology and computer based assessments?

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Brian Matthews


I enjoyed reading your post. Rigor in the classroom is currently a hot topic in my district. Our PLC is just beginning to use collaboration time to develop blueprints for our summative assessments and then create formative pieces to relate to the standards and check for appropriate rigor. There are so many questions that arise from this work, but the conversations are what are most valuable in making sure that assessment is approached from a variety of perspectives and angles. I look forward to reading the links!


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Chris Turner

The one sticking point in my PLC is the almost fanatical approach and time spent on summative multiple choice tests...midterm and final exam. It has driven me crazy since the tests are not reliable thus calling into question the validity of the data. As the statement goes, "Garbage in and garbage out!" I would much rather pursue a dialogue in which Big Ideas are shared to forward educational goals/curriculum attainment. For example, sharing how teacher's are implementing the Historical Writing component of the Common Core i.e. writing a research paper. Leaving behind "test best practices" (drill and kill memorization of facts) is a blessing. How do I get my PLC leader to move forward and embrace SMART goals that are more aligned with the rigorous standards?

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Jessica Howard

I agree with you that teachers must increase the rigor for students to be able to reach the expectations set for them with common core. Some of the websites you have listed, I have seen before. However, some were new to me, so thank you. I will be looking at those.
As a teacher, I feel like there are several reasons teachers do not know how to write rigorous assessments or teach rigorously. First of all, I do not feel preparation courses actually prepare you for teaching, in any aspect not just assessments. Secondly, there is little or no training on how to write rigorous questions. It isn't just a skill you naturally have. You must be trained how to do this proficiently. Thirdly, vagueness of the standards coupled with little understanding on the concepts teachers teach. For example, I teach 4th grade math. One of my standards says student should be able to add multi-digit numbers. That seems simple. However, on statewide assessments similar to PARCC students may be asked to find missing digits within addends of an addition problem or they may be given a multi step word problem to complete. The standard doesn't say any of this, however, if students truly understand addition they should be able to complete these more rigorous tasks. Also, if a teacher doesn't spend enough time studying and become familiar with the content, they cannot properly teach the curriculum. Lastly, I think some rely to heavily on textbooks. Textbooks generally give level 1 or 2 depth of knowledge question and are not rigorous at all. If teachers rely on the textbook for their curriculum, their students could end up in danger.
Thanks for the blog. It was informative and great to read.

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Shannon Pusey

I appreciate your insight about rigorous assessments. I come from a state that is going to be starting SmarterBalanced assessments in the spring. A major concern of mine is that while we are modeling our assessment questions based on the rigor of SmarterBalanced, our assessments are still paper/pencil. Do you feel that students will struggle with using the online assessment? For example, will students get answers incorrect just because they have the opportunity to select multiple answer choices or will they get answers incorrect because they only type in a few words where a paragraph may be suggested? What suggestions do you have to give students more of an opportunity for success?

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Jessica Borek

Hello Garrick,

Thank you for your post. I am a middle school teacher and I agree that teachers need more training on generating rigorous assessments in order to become "experts." Although I know I can create an assessment that looks beyond basic comprehension to truly assess student learning, I do not know if my expectations are equivalent to the rigorous expectations required by Common Core. In response to Nick's comment above, I do believe this problem stems from lack of attention to creating assessments during teacher preparation (at least in my experience).

However, I do have some concern with the comment of relying on our state representatives for guidance on designing rigorous formative assessments that reflect student learning. If teachers have not been trained properly on designing formative assessments, I wonder if our state leaders have undergone proper training on this process.

Additionally, after being a PARCC pilot classroom last year, I am also concerned about using this assessment as a true reflection of what students know and are able to do. The focus seemed to assess only a few skills that are taught throughout the year and ignored many others. If students are expected to be "college and career ready," I think that goes past finding a main idea, defining vocabulary words and comparing text structures.

In college and beyond, students are expected to inquire, research, and most importantly, collaborate with others using a variety of resources. For example, in the real world, students would have countless resources to produce quality work. I assess my students work after they have time to peer review, use a thesaurus, dictionary and any other resource they could use to better their work. Do timed standardized tests prepare students for this? Besides viewing standardized tests and relying on our state leaders, how can teachers best use our PLC time in order to better prepare ourselves to assess our students? With so many opinions out there on what defines "rigor," how do we know who to trust?

Thank you,


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Nick Vuillemot


As I read through your blog, I could not help but wonder why so many teachers lack the necessary skills to write rigorous assessments. Is this a direct result of poor teacher preparation courses or is there a larger issue here? How could educators become more proactive to this situation as oppose to "fixing" once in the field?

Thank you for your contributions

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