Criteria and Considerations for Benchmark Assessments

Benchmark assessments, also referred to as universal screens, essentially serve two primary functions.  The first is to flag students for discussion in Collaborative Team Meetings.  The second is to provide some information to inform those discussions.  In this post, we share three resources to support schools in determining their benchmark assessments.

The first resource is a one-page overview of criteria and considerations to assist in the selection of a benchmark assessment.

Criteria and considerations with determining a benchmark assessment from Jigsaw Learning
The second resource is a template designed to note and examine assessments being considered for the purpose of benchmarking.
Examining common assessments template from Jigsaw Learning
The third resource is a Google Doc, which shares benchmark assessments currently being used in schools and districts.  A great big thanks to schools and districts that have contributed to the document.  Please continue to add to this growing collection of benchmark assessments being utilized in schools and districts.

Process for Establishing Team Norms

As discussed in a previous posting, team norms are an essential element to consider when implementing Collaborative Team Meetings.  In this post, we share a video we have developed to assist schools in collectively establishing their team norms, as well as a one-page resource to support the work of school leaders.

School-wide Assessment Planning Template

When planning school-wide assessment practices to support a school’s Collaborative Response Model, it is important to keep asking the question “Is the assessment matching the purpose for which its implementation is intended?”.  We need to be ever mindful that the standardized assessments used do not replace professional judgment but rather serve to inform that judgment and flag students to be discussed in collaborative team meetings.  Three levels of assessment in school serve to inform teacher professional judgment and flag students in need of our attention:

  1. Benchmarks
  2. Diagnostic
  3. Progress Monitoring

This template was developed for a district workshop, to help categorize and assist further planning in establishing school assessments to inform conversations about students.  Please email us if you wish to receive a copy in Word format, or request to join our Google + Community, where templates and documents are shared in Word versions.

Assessment planning template from Jigsaw Learning

Establishing a Pyramid of Interventions: Determine, Define and Organize

When first establishing a school’s pyramid of interventions, it is important to first determine what supports and interventions are already in place, focusing on what the school already has, rather than what it does not. Schools already have a number of interventions happening that have not traditionally been viewed through the lens of a pyramid approach. As Buffum, Mattos and Weber (2009) remind us, “Historically, special education has utilized programs that have a strong research base, even when students may lack a diagnosed need in the area that the program targets. These programs should be adapted and reformulated for targeted intervention.” (p. 56, italics in original). In workshops and presentations, we have argued that this doesn’t need to be a convoluted or complicated process. By following the very simple workshop design detailed below, schools can begin to envision their own pyramid of interventions, specific to a focus area.

1. Determine the focus – the focus for the pyramid can be established in a number of ways. It may be guided by an analysis of data, to determine the area in most urgent need of attention. For instance, we have worked with schools where their data indicated a need to focus on the literacy achievement of students. We have also worked with other schools where school-wide data pointed towards supports and interventions related to student behavior.

The focus of the pyramid could also be determined by a school’s current area of strength, in order to gain confidence in constructing a pyramid. Knowing that a number of supports and interventions are already in place can assist in developing a comprehensive pyramid of interventions and provide a quick win for a school before later tackling more pressing areas of concern.

The school may also determine that a particular area of focus is appropriate for one set of grades while another is best suited for a different set of grades. We have experience in a school where the K-3 staff focused their efforts on devising a system of supports and interventions related to literacy, while the grades 4-6 staff placed their attention on broader academic skills.

Typically this focus area is determined before the workshop, either by administration, a leadership team or in alignment with a school’s improvement goals.

2. Ask “What are we already doing?”

In small groups, staff are asked the question “What do you do in your classroom or do we do in our school when a student struggles in our area of focus?” In their groups, they brainstorm and list all that currently happens as a response when a student struggles in literacy, numeracy, engagement, or whatever the focus area is for the question. The lists that are created are posted for all to see. Time is then provided for staff to ask clarifying questions of anything that is posted. At this point, a school could decide to leave the lists posted for a measure of time, to allow for further addition to the lists or for conversations to percolate prior to proceeding to step three. We have seen schools that have left the lists posted in their staff room for a number of days before returning to them for step three.

3. Organizing into Tiers

Step three places focus on organizing interventions, strategies and supports into defined tiers. Staff are divided into four groups. These groups can most easily be defined as:

  • Best practices for all students in the classroom
  • Differentiated strategies or interventions provided by the classroom teacher
  • Programs or interventions provided by someone other than the classroom teacher
  • Intensive interventions for highest need students

In these groups, staff survey the lists created earlier to determine strategies, practices, supports and interventions that best fit their group’s area of focus. These are written individually on large post-it notes or slips and paper and then grouped together on a wall, to visually organize current practices. For any duplications, discussion follows to determine the best fit (or to further clarify if being interpreted differently).  The following posters have been developed to display, if already envisioning a four tier pyramid of interventions.

Tier 2-4 posters from Jigsaw Learning

The collections of strategies, practices, supports and interventions become the foundation of a school’s pyramid, to be refined, added to and further clarified over time. For schools establishing a three tier pyramid of interventions, the first two categories described above become grouped together as agreed-upon best practices, as well as differentiated strategies and interventions employed at the foundational tier of the pyramid.

This exercise will also help to point to next steps. Perhaps the classroom-based best practices are collectively weak and need to be addressed. Perhaps the school overall is deficient in supports beyond the classroom teacher. This early molding of a pyramid of interventions also can point to coaching opportunities, capitalizing on the instructional strengths of staff in the building. If “internal expertise is of more value than what we import” (Schmoker, 2006, p. 118), this can point to areas of internal expertise that can be utilized to improve instructional response across a school.


Buffum, A., Mattos, M., & Weber, C. (2009). Pyramid response to intervention: RTI, professional learning communities, and how to respond when kids don’t learn. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Schmoker, M. (2006). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented improvements in teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

NEW VIDEO – Collaborative Response Model Overview

We have developed a new video to review the key components central to the Collaborative Response Model.  Check it out below or on our Youtube channel.

Embedding Time for Collaboration

Few would argue the merits of providing time for collaboration during the school day.  However, determining how to do it is not a simple task.  We acknowledge that creativity is needed when looking to create time for teams – however, there are far too many examples of schools that are making it work for this to be an excuse.

Essentially, embedding time for teams requires flexibility, creativity and a willingness to try something new.  It is important for school leaders to keep in mind the words of Douglas Reeves (2009), who suggests, “one of the least popular actions any teacher or school leader can take is to change the schedule” (p. 93).

Here are some resources and databases we have developed to help schools with the task of creating embedded time for collaboration:

Embedding time for collaboration chart from Jigsaw Learning


Reeves, D. B. (2009). Leading change in your school: How to conquer myths, build commitment, and get results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Join the Collaborative Response Model Google + Community!

CRM1Although every school is unique and how they establish the structures and processes of a Collaborative Response Model (CRM) is going to be varied and contextual, there is a lot we can learn from one another!  A CRM Google + community has now been established for schools and districts to:

  • network with other educators, schools and districts
  • share resources, templates and samples
  • pose questions and generate discussions

As a private network, it is a great forum to share successes and struggles, as well as learn from each other regarding how we can restructure and reculture our schools to meet the diverse needs of students.

Request to join the CRM Network!

New to Google +?  Watch the video below for a simple overview of how to establish a Google + account and get started!

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