Paul Goldberg

Paul Goldberg, EdD, was principal of John Muir Literacy Academy (elementary school) and Robert Frost Junior High School and has also been an elementary school teacher and a junior high school assistant principal. He has led diverse, low-income schools to high levels of success.

How Our Teams Can Reflect at a Higher Level

Robert Marzano taught us many years ago that the school-level factor that has the greatest impact on student learning is a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Given the bank of research supporting common formative assessments (CFAs), it is time we study whether CFAs are the team-level factor that most impacts student learning. I often work with schools and collaborative teams that are effectively utilizing a CFA cycle by identifying learning targets, writing assessments that determine whether students understand those learning targets, and analyzing the results collaboratively to improve collective capacity and to determine which students need extra time and support. As they become proficient through this process they often ask, “Where can we improve?”

“Critical Issues for Team Consideration” within Learning By Doing by DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, and Mattos has always been the tool I’ve referred schools and teams to when our goal is to reflect on and improve practice related to professional learning communities. It is one of the simplest and best tools teams can utilize. It can be accessed on the following link:

As teams become proficient and have tangible evidence that each element from this document is a 10 (the highest rating) or “True of Our Team”, we have often then drafted our own reflection questions in the same format to help move our teams to the next level. Here are most of the statements from this document that relate directly to CFAs.

  • We have developed frequent common formative assessments that help us to determine each student’s mastery of essential learnings.
  • We have established the proficiency standard we want each student to achieve on each skill and concept examined with our common assessments.
  • We have agreed on the criteria we will use in judging the quality of student work related to the essential learnings of our course, and we practice applying those criteria to ensure consistency.
  • We have taught students the criteria we will use in judging the quality of their work and have provided them with examples.
  • We use the results of our common assessments to assist each other in building on strengths and addressing weaknesses as part of a process of continuous improvement designed to help students achieve at higher levels.
  • We use the results of our common assessments to identify students who need additional time and support to master essential learnings, and we work within the systems and processes of the school to ensure they receive that support.

When teams respond to the statements and provide evidence that shows this is “True of our Team”, we like to take our reflections to the next level. We utilize additional resources from experts in the area of assessment and combine those best practices with what we know our teams need to do to improve our use of CFAs. Here are the statements we often ask our collaborative teams to reflect upon when they have demonstrated success throughout the “Critical Issues for Team Consideration” document.

  • Our CFAs use a balance of “Depth of Knowledge” questions including performance-based questions.
  • All CFA questions demonstrate how each item on the assessment is aligned to an essential learning target from the course or grade level.
  • Our team ensures that demonstration of proficiency on the team assessment will be highly correlated to success on high-stakes testing.
  • Our team uses a team- or school-created protocol to drive our reflection conversations.  (The protocol helps ensure teachers learn from teachers and teachers learn about their students.)  

These customized reflection statements have helped our teams continuously improve, which in turn helps our students learn at higher levels. If your collaborative team has evidence that demonstrates all or most elements from Critical Issues for Team Consideration are “True of our Team”, consider what reflection questions will guide your team to the next level.  

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