Benchmark assessment data are frequently and systematically collected across a grade level or content area (often across a whole school system) at several predetermined times throughout the school year. They may have a variety of titles, such as short-cycle assessments or system-wide unit tests. Benchmark assessments may be developed by school districts, textbook publishers, or testing companies.
Common assessments are written by teachers in content or vertical teams or departments and are administered schoolwide at around the same time.
Because they have a variety of origins, benchmark and common assessments do not usually meet the rigorous criteria for reliability and validity achieved by external assessments. When done well, however, they can model the content, format, and rigor of the high-stakes external assessments and may be predictors of student performance on them.
Benchmark and common assessments have the potential to play a key role in school, team, or grade-level improvement. Most can be scored and reported quickly, making results available for real-time use. They are also more flexible than external assessments, so they can provide additional opportunities for grade-level improvement planning, monitoring progress, staff development, and re-teaching. When used in this way, benchmark and common assessment data may be the basis for building a team-based professional learning community (PLC) in a school.
Most importantly, benchmark and common assessments provide teachers regular and timely feedback, well before the high-stakes external assessment and from a knowledgeable source outside the classroom or school, on the strengths and weaknesses of students in relation to the most important curriculum indicators, objectives, and assessment limits. Data expert Douglas Reeves refers to benchmark and common assessments as "the best practice in assessment" and "the gold standard in educational accountability."1
Benchmark assessments are most appropriately used for:
Benchmark assessment data have the following potential limitations:
1 Reeves, D. (2004). Accountability for learning: How teachers and school leaders can take charge. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, pp. 71 and 114.