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Step 16: SAC Prepares Assessments According to Council Guidelines

​(CCC decisions regarding steps 10-15 will be discussed in later sections.)

Why do we assess?

Rick Stiggins tells us there are two reasons:

OF Learning

FOR Learning

Are the two ever the same?

How should we use each of them?

How do we assess?

Type:  Selected Response – Students choose from answers provided.

  • Multiple Choice

  • Matching

  • True/False (not recommended)

​Vocabulary to help when creating assessments:
Stem = words before the question or the blank
Distractors = the wrong answers in a multiple-choice question

All Test Items Should:

a.    assess only one thing
b.    have a balance of reasonable non-stereotypical representations of economic classes, races, cultures, ages, genders, and persons with disabilities in context and art
c.    use grade appropriate content and thinking skills
d.    use a suitable reading level in the item stem and answer choices
e.    be worded so the student could answer the question or complete the statement before looking at the answer choices
f.     have one and only one  correct response
g.    have distractors (wrong answers) that are plausible to someone who has not mastered the skill being measured
h.    present only one question or statement
i.      have stems that do not present clues to the correct response of the item
j.      not present clues to the correct response to any other item
k.    have all extraneous material edited from the stem
l.      have answer choices that are free of repetitious words or expressions that can be included in the stem
m.  use the negative form of the stem only if absolutely necessary
n.    have key words (first, best, only) emphasized
o.    have the graph or picture associated with the item clearly indicated
p.    have mutually exclusive answer choices (the choices for one question are not the same choices for another question)
q.    for the most part, use direct questions rather than incomplete statements, particularly for younger students
r.     for incomplete statements, use only one, or at the most, two blanks

Type: Constructed Response- Students write their own answers.

Completion (fill-in)
Short Answer
Label a Diagram
Show Work
Visual Representation (concept map, semantic web, chart, graph)

When constructing short answer assessments…

  • for the most part, use direct questions rather than incomplete statements, particularly for younger students

  • structure the item so that a response should be concise

  • for incomplete statements, use only one, or at the most, two blanks

  • make sure blanks for all items are equal in length

  • allow partial or full credit for responses dependent on previous responses, even if a previous response was incorrect

For longer responses or essays…

  • convey to students a clear idea of the extensiveness of the response desired

  • construct items so the student’s task is explicitly described

  • provide students with approximate time to be expended on each item as well as each item’s value

  • do not use optional items

  • in advance, prepare a rubric or possible range of responses for judging quality

  • create possible correct responses that are wide enough to allow for diversity of responses, but narrow enough so students who do not clearly show their grasp of the sub-skill being assessed cannot obtain the maximum score

Type:  Product or Performance – Students create a product or perform a task.  Product assessments focus on the endpoint learning, not the process used.  Performance assessments focus on the skills or process that lead to endpoint learning.

Research paper
Audio recording
Learning log
Response journal
Web page

Multimedia presentation
Playing an instrument
Dramatic Reading
Oral presentation

Each product or performance task should…

  • in most instances, be similar to what students might encounter in the real world as opposed to only at school

  • measure multiple components rather than just one

  • be fair to all students, avoiding bias

  • be realistic in terms of cost, space, time, and equipment requirements

  • be able to be accurately evaluated

Is My Assessment Valid?

An assessment is valid if it truly assesses, or measures, that which was intended.  Standardized tests and research measurements usually must have their validity proved through statistical analysis, which includes more rigor than is really needed for local assessments.  However, we do want to be sure our assessments are valid; otherwise, the information we get from them would not be accurate, and resulting decisions and actions would be flawed.  If all of the guidelines that we’ve covered so far in this training manual are closely adhered to, you can be confident that you have a valid local assessment.  Once again, a template can be used as a checklist for all of the considerations.

Validity Checklist

___ Assessment Construction:  Did you follow the specific guidelines for creating questions for each assessment type, such as selected response, constructed response, performance, or product?

___ Coverage and Alignment:  Did you compare – question by question – the test items to the outcome and components?  You should be able to show precisely where each question matches an outcome or component.  Likewise, there should be no components untested.

___ Variety and Bias:  Examine the assessment items, as a whole, to ensure they support a variety of learning styles or intelligences.  Did you avoid using language that might be offensive to students based on their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, or other group-defining characteristics?  Also, did you avoid using a context that might be unfamiliar to some of the students being assessed?

___ Vocabulary:  Check your vocabulary and grammar.  For example, a third grade test should not have any words above a third grade reading level unless they are specialized words in the content of the outcome, such as photosynthesis in a science outcome.  Likewise, at all levels, keep grammar as simple as possible.  Unless you are testing grammar or higher-level reading comprehension, don’t use complex, compound sentences, or items set off in parentheses.  To do so is to cause a reading comprehension issue.  Students may know the subject content very well, but they get bogged down in the way the questions or instructions are worded.

___ Administration Guidelines: Is there a standard set of directions for all teachers administering the assessment?  Does it include information such as how long the assessment should take, in what time frame it should be administered, what directions the teacher should give, and how much and what kinds of assistance the teacher should offer students who struggle or ask questions?

___ Scoring and Criteria:  Be sure each item can be scored reliably and efficiently using criteria and a key by a variety of testers.  Did you attach the key and/or rubric?  Have levels of performance been established?  A description should exist of what student performance looks like at each level, including establishing rubrics or cut scores that differentiate among the levels (Beginning, Progressing, Proficient, Advanced, for example).

Critiquing Assessments

Download an Assessment Critique form in one of the following formats:

Critique- Chapter Test

Mrs. Jones is a 7th grade math teacher.  She uses Chapter One of a textbook for instruction for outcome M.7.9.  She would like to use the test at the end of the chapter as her outcome assessment.


Use the Assessment Critique form and sample curricular materials to critique the following assessment.

Read the outcome and components, then critique the test.  Choose from the following:

  1. She could use the test as it is now written.

  2. She should not use this test at all.

  3. She could use the test if she makes some changes.  What changes?  Be specific.

Sample Curriculum:

Sample IPR (Assessment Portion)

Assessment for Outcome M.7.9: Students will gather data and use statistics to analyze data in 7th grade appropriate real-world situations.

The Assessment:
__X_ Attached: a student-copy of any written part of assessment (selected response or constructed response)

___Attached: a student-copy of the description/procedure for any product or performance part of assessment.

___Attached: a teacher-copy of any directions the teachers gives orally.

Administration Guidelines:

Approximate time to administer, materials needed/allowed, teacher assistance allowed, any other “rules” applicable to this assessment.

Completion of this assessment should take a full class period. (45-55 minutes.)


Students should receive a paper copy of the assessment and are allowed to use a nonprogrammable calculator for checking their work. Students must show their work on the assessment. They can use a writing instrument of their choice.


Teachers may pronounce words if requested by students. Teachers are not allowed to assist with the setup of any problems.


All accommodations should be followed according to individual student IEPs or 504s.


Criteria for Assessment:
There are 30 total points for this assessment. Passing this assessment requires a score of at least 21 points AND correct responses for questions 1 and 11. Students must show their work on problems requiring calculations.

Scoring the Assessment:
___Answer key attached.
___Rubric attached.
_X_ Special scoring instructions: Questions 1-4, 6-7, and 9 are worth 3 points each. Questions 5 is worth 1 point. Question 10 is worth 4 points. Questions 8 and 11 are worth 2 points each.

District Assessment Plans

Making decisions about the district assessment plan is another critical step.  What assessments will be used to measure student achievement of the curriculum?

What Assessments – Beyond Individual Classroom Assessments – Are We Already Using In This District?

Administration of assessments can be very time consuming.  This is especially the case when districts administer state assessments, standardized norm-referenced tests, and their own local assessments as well.  In fact, a frequently heard complaint of teachers is that they spend so much time assessing students, they don’t have time to teach them!

The Curriculum Coordinating Council (CCC) should address this problem by looking at the big picture – they need to look at the complete testing schedule and make practical decisions.  Most states are now requiring that at least two to three different kinds of assessment be administered, so eliminating one set or another is often not an option.  Likewise, districts have no control over when mandated state assessments are given.  However, there are options about when the rest of the assessments are assigned.  Some school districts are now alternating grade levels for their standardized norm-referenced tests, or eliminating them altogether.

The most important thing to consider is the purpose for each type of assessment the district is using.  There are basically two times and two reasons for assessing.

  1. We assess after learning has occurred (Assessment of learning).  The purpose here is to document or report our results, as well as to sort students, such as for promotion, future course selections, or graduation.

  2. We assess during the learning process (Assessment for learning).  The purpose here is to inform instruction – to allow us to plan the next step and build toward success.

The CCC needs to look at each type of assessment the district is administering – state assessments, norm-referenced, and/or local assessments – to determine their purpose and the benefits they provide.  Then decisions can be made about how many and which ones to use, at which grade levels, and often – when they should be given.

Communicating the District Assessment Plan

There are many reasons to clearly articulate the district assessment plan.  Listed below are some reasons common to most school districts.

  • Avoid duplication of test result data

  • Meet accountability requirements at the state or federal levels

  • Identify students being “over-tested”

  • Identify data available to track and compare student progress on the local curriculum and on the corresponding standards

  • Provide interventions in a timely manner for students to maximize performance

Based on the decisions of the assessments to be mandated, a document should be created that indicates which assessments are to be used, which students will be impacted, the time of the year in which the test is administered, how many times each school year will the assessment be administered, and the timing of the expected return of data to the district.   If these details are noted for the “District Assessment Plan,” instruction can be maximized and interventions can be implemented effectively.

Types of Assessments
  • Individual classroom assessments (component, outcome)

  • Common outcome assessments

Individual Classroom Assessments

There are many steps in the curriculum development process that come before preparation of assessments, so let’s do a quick review.  The Subject Area Committee (SAC) prepares the high achievement unit outcomes and lists the necessary learning components that students must achieve to finally reach the outcome, or desired end result.  Each teacher then does his or her own instructional planning — the methods (or approach) the teacher will use, and activities the students will do.  An essential part of the instructional design process is the planning of assessments.  Component assessments are used throughout the unit of instruction; one should be planned for each component of the outcome.  These component assessments are individual classroom assessments.

What’s important to note here is, each teacher is planning his or her own component assessments, and thus the assessments may vary, even among teachers of the same grade level or course.  This is acceptable practice because a variety of assessments can be used to measure the same content.  Consider for example this component of a 4th grade science outcome: “Choose a scientific idea or invention from the list provided, and describe how it has changed over time.”  Mrs. A. chose to do this by having her students write a brief description of the changes that have taken place.  Ms. B. opted for a different strategy:  she had her students prepare a “then-and-now” graphic of the idea/invention, with labels about what had changed.

In these two examples, the assessments were quite different even though students in both classes accomplished the outcome’s component, and both teachers had evidence of their learning.  This practice is necessary because teachers need the freedom and flexibility to be both creative and comfortable with their teaching strategies.  What’s important is that all students reach the same end result and that we have evidence of that result.

Outcome and Common Assessments

An outcome assessment pulls all of the separate components together and shows that the student can indeed perform the outcome.  Teachers should absolutely administer an outcome assessment at the conclusion of each outcome.  The question is whether these assessments should be individual classroom assessments – meaning they can vary from one classroom to another – or whether they should be common outcome assessments – meaning all teachers of a particular grade level or course will administer the same assessment.

Some districts believe all classroom assessments – including outcome assessments – should be a teacher’s prerogative… that freedom and flexibility should apply to every aspect of the teacher’s instructional procedures.  However, in this age of accountability, most districts are choosing to use common assessments.  Often times the teachers themselves are more comfortable with this practice, because it eliminates the possibility that one teacher has higher expectations than another, or that one knows how to prepare “better” tests than another.  Additionally, it’s easier to interpret and treat data when we have a common instrument of measurement.  And finally, when teachers know a common assessment instrument will be used, this helps assure the curriculum will be taught.

Who Prepares Common Outcome Assessments, And Are They Additional Assessments?

In some school districts – particularly large districts, or any district in which teachers have had little or no training in assessment preparation – the SAC prepares the common outcome assessments.  The Curriculum Coordinator or a consultant provides training for the SAC members, who then are given release time or summer work time to create outcome assessments for all outcomes of the curriculum.

Other districts choose to create common assessments by having teachers of a particular grade level or course share what they have been using for assessments in their classrooms.  The teachers may then choose one particular assessment they like, or they may combine elements of several of the samples to create a synthesized version; they may also decide to create a whole new assessment by adding to, deleting, or changing various segments.  Once the common outcome assessment has been agreed upon by these teachers, SAC members check for validity.

When the assessment has been approved, teachers will substitute the common assessment for what they were previously using.  They may not choose to leave out the common assessment and give an individually developed assessment.

Staff Development Needed

CLI recommends that staff development about instructional planning takes place for all teachers of a subject area before the first new curriculum is implemented.  In reality, this staff development may have to be offered more than once for two reasons.  First, instructional planning for teaching directly to outcomes may be a very different process than what many teachers are accustomed to doing.  Second, quality instructional planning (the kind that affects student achievement) is very detailed and time-consuming to learn and implement.  During this training, teachers learn about and practice creating quality individual assessments, for both components and outcomes, test construction rules, and validity.  Even if your district makes a decision to write common outcome assessments, all teachers will still be responsible for individual component assessments for their curriculum, and for at least “temporary” outcome assessments until the common assessments are ready.  This staff development is crucial for teachers to accomplish this responsibility – and the CCC must make sure it happens.

Using Common Outcome Assessments

The Purpose of Common Outcome Assessments

Remember, the CCC makes decisions about whether to require common outcome assessments.  One of the first things they must consider is thpurpose for administering these assessments.  What kind of information are they looking for, and what do they intend to do with that information?  The following examples are among the most common purposes for data collection.

  • To serve as an internal validation instrument (After learning has occurred).  Districts are seeking validation that the curriculum is appropriate and causing increased student learning.  This is part of a long-term evaluation process and results are not focused on individual student scores but on whole classroom results or school results.  Achievement for this year’s group of students is compared to students by grade level from previous years.  Even though it is true that student abilities can vary from one year’s class to another, over time the overall results should show improvement.​

  • To meet accreditation or external school improvement initiatives (After learning has occurred).  Some accreditation requirements are very specific; others simply say the district must have a “local” assessment.  Districts that plan common outcome assessments to meet a mandate must follow the requirement guidelines.  Often, these mandates relate to state standards.  Because the curriculum was aligned to the standards, common assessments provide evidence of student learning of those standards.

  • To improve instruction (Both during and after learning).

    • During learning – Remember, assessments can and should be used to inform instruction – to provide feedback to teachers and students as to “how well” things are going in the learning process, and what needs to happen next.  This purpose for assessment is crucial to actually achieving student success!  Even though outcome assessments are given at the end of a unit of instruction, not all occur at the end of the school year.  So, throughout the year, if a teacher thinks students are ready to demonstrate the final result of an outcome (pulling all the pieces together), but is surprised to find that many students were not successful, then new plans can be made to take a different route toward success.  Having common assessments can be very beneficial in this situation.  If some teachers are experiencing problems and others are not, then discussion and sharing of strategies can be very helpful.  If teachers were using different assessments, it would be difficult to decide if the problem existed in teaching strategies, or the assessment itself.

    • After learning – Sometimes low scores occur for a particular topic consistently over time.  When this occurs, several variables need to be checked, such as the appropriateness of test items and procedures.  Once these have been eliminated as causes for the low scores, teacher instruction should be examined; it could be that teachers don’t understand the topic very well.  Staff development can then be planned to improve instruction in that specific area.  Decisions about staff development are best made when more than one year’s data are available to study.  Additionally, student performance can be compared from one classroom to the next.  This comparison should be handled with caution because many variables can affect results among teachers, including the make-up of the class, teacher experience, and so forth.  However, if a particular teacher’s classroom consistently scores lower than the others over time, that teacher may benefit from individualized staff development activities.

A common outcome assessment may serve more than one purpose, so long as the needed results are consistent.  For example, an assessment given to meet accreditation mandates can also be used for internal validation.  And analyzing the results for internal validation may point out the need for improved instruction.  However, at the outset, the CCC should be more focused.  What is the main reason for administering local common outcome assessments in this district?  For whatever purpose (or combination of purposes) these assessments are given, the CCC must also keep these points in mind:

  • No one assessment tool should be used to make decisions.  Common outcome assessment results must be considered along with other kinds of data, such as individual teacher assessments, norm-referenced tests, and/or state assessments.  A combination of results is always the best way to see a more complete picture of a student, classroom, or school.​

  • A common outcome assessment may be revised during validation, but after that — for results to be compared from year to year — the assessment should not really change from the initial baseline year.  Changes can be made when the entire curriculum process is repeated in the second cycle, which is directed by the Long-Range Plan.  By then, the district will have several years of data, which are used to help direct second-cycle curriculum revisions, as well as provide results for the original purpose of the assessments.

  • The CCC must think through who will see the results and how and when they will be presented.  The purpose of the assessment will dictate this to some degree.  For example, if the purpose of the assessment is to meet accreditation mandates, then results must be reported to the accrediting agency.  These results are usually presented in the form of a chart or graph, with narrative text of explanation.  But the council may decide also to share these results with students and parents.  If so, will they share only the data that is sent to the accrediting agency, or will they share individual test papers and rubric scores?

  • Council members must think about what to do if the results are not satisfactory or if they begin to decline.

The Long Range Plan Should Reflect Decisions Made

If the CCC makes the decision to have common outcome assessments, the Long-Range Plan must reflect this decision.   The Long-Range Plan shown in section one (pg. 4) is an example of the correct order of steps when producing common outcome assessments.

Many school districts try to prepare these assessments at the same time they are writing the new or revised curriculum.  Based on our experience of working with curriculum projects in school districts all across the country, the CLI recommends waiting at least until after the first year the curriculum has been implemented.  When teachers implement a new curriculum, they also validate it.  This means they report which parts of the curriculum are working well, and which parts are not; problems are pinpointed and revisions made.

We have yet to see a curriculum that did not need revisions of one sort or another after implementation.  Some revisions are minor, but others are quite substantial.  Assessments prepared prior to implementation are more likely than not to be invalid after revisions have been made.  Much time and effort can be saved simply by waiting for the document to be revised before preparing major assessments.

Additionally, teachers have better ideas about what should be assessed, and how to do it, after they’ve had at least one year of experience teaching a particular curriculum.  Asking a SAC to prepare assessments at the time they write curriculum is putting a cart before the horse and it usually leads to frustration if SAC members have to do them all over again a year later.

Establish Routine and Expectations

If your district will be creating, implementing, and using the results from common outcome assessments there are many stakeholders involved.  Timelines and expectations must be established for your SACs, your classroom teachers, and even central office/building office staff.

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