How to Generate ELA Common Assessments: One Team’s Strategy

By Ashli Breit and Cheryl Bledsoe

Many teachers face the challenge at some point: common assessments for learning standards in the classroom.  In our sixth grade department, we needed to develop common assessments that covered the standards in the units and were agreed upon by the department team members.  It was important that everyone feel ownership in the process and product in order to feel confident about administering them to students.  The initial common assessment planning meeting addressed several important issues and we were able to develop a list of features for the assessments:  they needed to be relatively quick to administer, easily provide data to inform instruction, and reflect the types of questions that may be encountered on state assessments.  By creating common assessments in this format and immediately following the content standards being assessed, we hope to avoid meaningless test practice sessions.

As we evaluated resources for the final products, we considered using test performance workbooks, reading comprehension workbooks, online sources for text passages, and even thought about creating our own assessments.  The final decision was not to reinvent the wheel, but to tweak existing assessments to correspond with the standards for each of our common units.  

The department team read from a variety of professional resources before making a choice on an assessment tool. There are several reading comprehension coaching assets with passages and questions.  In addition, we worked to select a topic that could be used for comparison and contrast across media types. The reading selections were used as written, as well as most of the questions.  Because we were targeting specific content standards, some prompts and assessment items were added as needed.  One resource we found very helpful in the question creation process was the Ohio Learning Standards Clear Learning Targets from Columbus City Schools. This document provides question ideas for each standard, making question creation more streamlined.  All assessments were created in Google forms, keeping with our desire to have easily accessible data that can be shared with the department.

Common assessments can be a rich source of data and information about student progress across classrooms.  The process of creating these assessments can be arduous, but our department was able to work well toward a common goal.  Our new assessments incorporate many parts of pre-existing assessments, saving time in the overall process and aiding in our assessment creation.  When faced with this situation again, we will agree in advance on a list of standards to be covered by each assessment.  The negotiation of standards occupied time that could have been better spent on assessment creation .  We were successful in our task for the first unit of the year and look forward to the next step in our common assessment journey.

Looking for a good starting point in evaluation your own classroom or grade-level assessments? Try using these mini-assessments and the  assessment evaluation tools from