Why you need collaborative scoring sessions

February 4, 2015

Drew Schrader

If you’ve looked at the NTN Virtual Workshop Offerings this year, you probably noticed a concerted effort to bring content area teachers together to collectively score student work.  As NTN has increased our attention on our ability to demonstrate evidence of deeper learning outcomes, we’ve spent a lot of time researching elements of performance assessment. In particular, Linda Darling-Hammond’s synthesis of research on performance assessments Beyond the Bubble has strongly influenced our thinking.

A common theme in Hammond’s book is the idea that “significant gains in student achievement can result from strategies that engage teachers in content-specific activities linked to collegial analysis of student work and learning.” Our own experiences mirrored the ideas in the research and we found that perhaps the most powerful byproduct of schools focusing on outcomes through strategies like College Ready Assessments were the collaborative conversations that accompanied the collective evaluation of student work.

Below are a few of the major benefits we see in the Exploring Quality Work Sessions:

A clearer understanding of the NTN Knowledge and Thinking Rubrics
One of the benefits of having common outcome rubrics is that it provides a common language for teachers within a school, across schools in the network, and in their conversations with students. Even with that common language, however, we have found that the daily work of a teacher does not often afford them the luxury of slowing down and taking a close look at what the rubric language is really saying, let alone what those indicators would specifically look like in student work. As Hammond notes: “As teachers learn to look for the key features of the work expressed in the criteria, they become more aware of the elements of strong student performance.”

Practice with strong assessment habits.
While most of the assessments that teachers do on a regular basis cannot be at the same level of detail and discussion as a scoring session, practicing scoring against an external standard helps reinforce good assessment habits for teachers. “In the course of scoring teachers learn to apply common criteria and standards to the work of all their students rather than just comparing one student’s work to another. Learning to use evidence as a result of participating in standards-based scoring often transforms the ways teachers evaluate students work.”  These assessment habits not only help lift all students to high levels of work, they reinforce an emphasis on growth and improvement rather than grading and ranking.

Opportunities to discuss those outcomes with content peers.
Many NTN teachers operate in relative isolation content wise due to the size of their school staff.  Being one of one or two science teachers, for example, does not often allow for rich conversations about disciplinary practice and district professional development often presents the opposite barrier of radically different school and pedagogical goals. NTN Exploring Quality Work sessions are designed to bring teachers from similar content areas and pedagogical approaches together to deeply discuss the elements of student work against a common external standard.

Stronger ownership of the standards. 
One of the byproducts of teachers having the chance to score and discuss work related to critical disciplinary skills is that it increases teachers’ sense of ownership for developing those skills in students. The NTN Outcome rubrics can be particularly valuable because they represent an externally developed and approved standard related to readiness in the discipline areas. That external development can be challenging, however, for teachers who are accustomed to writing their own rubrics.  Engaging in collegial scoring work helps teachers develop a stronger sense of ownership over the concepts in the rubrics and the accompanying “look fors” in student work. This ownership is vital as they “can affect achievement only if the standards come to be held as personal goals by teachers and students.”

Laying the foundation for stronger instruction
Benefits of collegial conversation extend beyond the boundaries of assessment.  “[T]he scoring process and the discussion around student work help teachers reflect on their curriculum, teaching, and assessment strategies, thus becoming more effective at teaching those standards.”

Now that you’re ready, Exploring Quality Work sessions are running each month during the school day. We encourage school leaders to look for ways to provide partial day coverage for teachers to attend these sessions. If a school is unable to free up teachers to attend a virtual session, we encourage them to work with their coach to use one of the Exploring Quality Work sessions as a training for a local instructional leader who can then create a similar experience as part of local professional development.  Members of the NTN Assessment team are more than happy to assist with the design and planning for these sessions as well.


Darling-Hammond, Linda, and Frank Adamson. Beyond the Bubble Test: How Performance Assessments Support 21st Century Learning. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web.