Creating Common Formative Assessments

In my last post, “Common Formative Assessments Built by PLCs,” I talked about what common formative assessments are as a reflection of my reading Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work – New Insights for Improving Schools (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, 2008).   But you may be wondering WHY you would do this.  I’d like to explore that here.

When you do not have common formative assessments (CFA), the teaching among teachers can be disjointed.  For example, I work in a team of five fourth grade teachers, if we all teach “States of Matter” but do it all in our own way and assess it in our own ways, our students may not all receive and understand the same information.  In addition, we are all doing our own work to prep for lessons and assessments that could be shared with one another.

When teachers come together to create a CFA, all the teachers have an end in mind – a goal for students that has been thoughtfully created and embedded in the standards.  Of course this “end” is not really the end at all.  Since the assessment is formative, the results of such an assessment are then analyzed by the team and students are given additional opportunities to learn the content.

The use of CFAs helps students, individual teachers and teams.  Think about it – you work with other teachers to create and then analyze the data knowing that students will get the help they need to achieve the high standards you’ve set.  Then, those students who are lacking skills can get assistance from anyone in the team of teachers.  It’s not about analyzing the data and pointing fingers at students who aren’t “getting it” or at teachers who aren’t “giving it right.”  Instead, when these teachers meet, they are sharing strategies, ideas and talents with one another.  These types of meetings have the potential to help individual teachers as much as they do individual students.

The key to remember with CFAs is that they are assessments FOR learning not OF learning (as in summative assessments).  The book explains the three steps that must take place in order to have effective common formative assessments (p 217).  Here they are:

  • The assessment is used to identify students who are experiencing difficulty in their learning.
  • A system of intervention is in place to ensure students experienceing difficulty devote additional time to and receive additional support for their learning.
  • Those students are provided with another opportunity to demonstrate their learning and are not penalized for the their earlier difficulty.

See, creating CFAs is not enough in a PLC.  There is an implied step here that teams do not simply create CFAs, but they also meet to reflect and problem solve in the interest of all students reaching high standards.  Teams need to plan for this and some sort of system for flexibility needs to be in place.

Let’s face it, we all want students to do well.   In a PLC, the whole idea is that we work together to make that happen.  I’m sure I mentioned in the last post that my principal and a group of teachers are looking at the PLC model to see how it can be a good fit for our school.  It has such potential and the use of common formative assessments seems to be one of the backbones of implementing successful PLCs.

The great thing to realize is how our teams of teachers do work together often and are always striving for student excellence.  Working toward this PLC model will certainly make our work more efficient and in-depth.  I look forward to sharing more about our journey.


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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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  1. Justin Culley says:

    Fantastic concept. Certainly supports student learning if employed – powerful tool. Obvious challenge – establishment of a functioning PLC. Great article – thanks!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Justin. It’s interesting to see how things are just beginning to unfold in our school. As you said – “certainly supports students learning if employed” – Starting is always the hard part.

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