California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Common benchmark assessments

School or district wide benchmark assessments are a supplement to classroom assessments and provide consistency across classrooms and grade levels. Benchmark assessments sometimes call for performance tasks but more commonly use standardized administration and scoring procedures to help maintain validity, reliability, and fairness. Vertical teams within one subject area (such as history) use common assessments to provide consistency between grade levels. Similarly, grade-level content teachers, horizontal teams use common assessments to ensure consistency between classrooms (for example, all seventh-grade history students take the same benchmark test during the same week.)

Typically, teachers administer common benchmark assessments to all students in the same course and grade level in the district at prescribed intervals—usually every six weeks, at the end of a unit of study, or at the end of a quarter. Common assessment instruments measure proficiency on subsets of standards and might include writing samples, literary responses, oral reports, demonstrations showing understanding of how-to-manuals, dramatizations, open-ended mathematics problems, memory maps, laboratory investigations, keyboarding or typing tests, and projects using specialized software in the school’s computer lab.

Through these uniform benchmark assessments, teachers can evaluate how well their students are doing relative to the selected standards in not only their classrooms but also other grade-level classrooms in the district. These benchmark assessments provide valuable information for classroom practice and school and district wide decision making. They are a powerful extension of the learning process.

The Student Assessment Continuum Based on Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy from the original Taking Center Stage1 aligns Benjamin Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy to the continuum of assessment. These formats range from selected-response to constructed-response and other performance tasks. Many professional learning communities use Bloom’s taxonomy and/or Bill Daggett’s Rigor/Relevance Framework (Outside Source) for developing or selecting common assessments that identify the standards-based skills and knowledge students have mastered. The focus on higher-level thinking skills helps to engage young minds and attach relevance to their learning.

In the Spotlight

Rio Norte Junior High School, William S. Hart Union High School District
Teachers join with colleagues throughout the district to develop and score benchmark assessments by department. In this way, middle grades teachers work with elementary and high school teachers to ensure that content, instruction, assessments, and instructional materials provide students with a seamless transition from one grade to the next.


Related Links

Local Assessment Data Collection and Analysis

Authentic assessments

1Student Assessment Continuum Based on Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy (DOC; 24KB; 1p.), Bloom’s Taxonomy—Implications for Testing, Taking Center Stage, California Department of Education, 2001, 62.

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