Chris Jakicic, EdD, an author and a consultant, was principal of Woodlawn Middle School in Illinois from 1999 to 2007. She began her career teaching middle school science.

How Do We Do Common Formative Assessments in a School of Singletons?

We define singletons as those teachers who are the only one who teaches a grade level or subject area in their school.  

When schools define themselves as professional learning communities, one of the hallmarks of that work is to work with a collaborative team with whom teachers learn together.

Determining how to organize singletons, then, in a PLC school is an important early task. Teacher and author Bill Ferriter always reminds us that it is important that singletons have meaningful partnerships in which to collaborate. He’s reminding us that just being on a team isn’t enough; the team must be doing work that requires members to learn together. 

The most meaningful partnerships have something important in common: the content they teach, the students they serve, or the problems they face. To this end, small schools often frame their teams vertically around common content. Consider a K-2 elementary team, a 6-8 science team, or a math department in a very small high school. For these teams, common assessments likely will not be exactly the same questions. Instead, the team will take a big picture look at their content to see what they might learn from assessment.  

For math teachers, they might start with how they will teach, assess, and respond to students who need help applying the math practices. They ask themselves “what does it look like when a student is proficient at critiquing the reasoning of others?”  

In science, they might examine the science processes embedded in their standards. They might, for example, discuss how they assess modelling in formative and summative ways. For social studies teachers, they can dig deeply into the Inquiry Arc from the C3 Framework. They learn together how to help students understand the best ways to gather information and know how to interpret multiple points of view on the same topic. This doesn’t mean that a 6-8 science team must all assess modelling at the same time, but that they will have common proficiency expectations for developing and using models to explain the phenomena they are studying. When students experience difficulty in doing this work, they can come together to plan how to respond. 

Interdisciplinary teams are developed around a common group of students they serve. While each member is responsible for subject matter content, the team is responsible for the learning of all of the students on that team. Many interdisciplinary teams start with the ELA standards because all teachers have some responsibility for these standards.  The team may choose to focus on a specific area of reading or writing at the same time so that the students learn it in a broad fashion. Consider, for example, understanding how to read an argument and determine how the author’s point of view impacts what’s included in the text. If all of the teachers teach this standard in their content area, then the team could give a common formative assessment to discuss and respond to together. 

The third area teams might be brought together to study is the problems they face.  We’ve seen teams who teach disparate content work together to study similar problems. For example, how to work with students not able to read grade level text, or how to get students to engage in complex thinking and demonstrate it in their work.  The video of a team engaging with the “critical friends protocol” is a great place to start. 

One of the most common groups of singletons in many districts is the team made up of the visual and performing arts teachers in a school or district. When I work with this team, I typically recommend they start by studying the “Creative Thinking” Chapter in Growing Tomorrow’s Citizens in Today’s Classrooms. While creativity should never be limited to content in the arts, this is an area most of the arts teachers feel is important for their students. This chapter can help them consider together how to provide instructional opportunities for creative thinking, as well as ways they can commonly assess student proficiency in this area.  

Once teams find a meaningful partnership for their collaborative team to work in, as well as a reason to collaborate, they will find many other ways to learn together.


Erkens, C., Schimmer, T., & Vagle, N. (2019) Growing tomorrow’s citizens in today’s classrooms. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press

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