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Cooperative Construction

Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove examine the architecture of co-assessment practices for English learners

The topic of assessment often weighs heavily on the shoulders of many teachers. More specifically, educators in general have concerns about gathering appropriate and adequate assessment data from a variety of sources for the teaching and learning of English learners (ELs). In addition, breaking down that data to find meaning and devising instructional changes from such analysis should not be a solo job. For this reason, we promote the idea of joint assessment practices for the sake of ELs. In doing so, we have created an assessment framework and liken co-assessment to designing, building, and enjoying a house. In the following reading, we invite you to use this metaphor to think about co-assessment as (1) designing and laying the foundation of a house, (2) building the house, (3) moving in, and (4) enjoying it.

I. Designing and Laying the Foundation: Essential Considerations 

For optimum outcomes, it is essential for co-teachers to have a shared foundational understanding of assessment for ELs. Building upon Tonya Ward Singer’s (2014) suggestion to establish problems of practice and inquiry questions, we encourage you and your co-teacher, or teaching teams, to begin co-constructing your joint assessment practices by critically reflecting on and coming to an agreement regarding shared goals for student learning, demonstrated student success, and instructional changes as determined by your responses to the following key questions:

What are our shared goals for student learning?

Where are our students today and where do we want them to go? 

How are we planning for content and language development? 

How do we measure student growth in both content and language development?

How do we ensure a sharing of responsibility for student outcomes in both content and language development? 

How will all students, including ELs on every level of proficiency, demonstrate success? 

What is our definition of success for ELs (and non-ELs)?

How do we differentiate instruction and assessment for all levels of ELs?

How do we set attainable goals for all our students yet remain mindful of the grade-level benchmarks? 

What assessment tools and measures are we going to use that are fair, meaningful, and equitable?

What instruction will we provide collaboratively to ensure success for all our students? 

How do we integrate content and language instruction?

How do we scaffold and support learning?

How do we gradually increase student autonomy?

How do we ensure active student engagement? 

Engaging in structured conversation protocols such as by using the above questions enhances the effectiveness and outcomes of collaborative discussions for co-assessment purposes and lays an important foundation concerning assessment practices for ELs for all teaching-team members.

II. Building the House: A Framework for Co-Assessment 

Margo Gottlieb’s (2016) three-pronged framework defines assessment for ELs from three different perspectives—assessment as, for, and of learning: 

Assessment as learning is student self-assessment. When supported by two teachers, English learners can be meaningfully included in this assessment process. ELs develop agency and become more self-directed, independent learners when they are regularly invited to engage in self-assessment and reflection by co-teachers. As a result, ELs learn to do the following:

Set their own goals

Monitor and reflect on their progress

Make choices of assessment tasks and projects when offered

Develop, maintain, and reflect upon their own work-sample portfolios

Participate in the assessment process in many other ways

Assessment for learning refers to the process that both classroom teachers and ELD/ESL specialists may employ on a regular basis. Teachers collect evidence of what learning targets their students have mastered, are in the process of mastering, and have yet to attain. Assessment for learning consists primarily of a formative process, and as such, it helps inform instruction and offer feedback to students. Through formative assessment practices, co-teachers will:

Promote student learning in a continuous, ongoing manner

Elicit evidence of learning in a variety of ways (on the fly, preplanned, curriculum aligned, language focused) and through a variety of assessment tasks

Change the roles of teachers and students by placing students and their needs at the center of instruction and assessment

Set learning goals and use tools that indicate progressions to monitor learning

Offer meaningful feedback to students and adjust instruction to improve learning for students

Help students self-assess and become self-directed, autonomous learners

Assessment of learning refers to processes that yield summative assessment data, including classroom assessments and standardized tests. As co-teachers, carefully consider what types of summative assessment will provide the most valid and reliable information to determine if a student has mastered the target content and language and literacy skills. Since summative assessments are used to measure how well students have met instructional goals for a specific learning segment that may range from a unit of study to a quarter or marking period (or even an entire academic year), they may be designed together by co-teachers or may be standardized at the school, district, or state levels:

End-of-unit tests or projects 

Chapter reviews or tests 

End-of-marking-period or semester exams 

District benchmark or interim assessments 

State assessments 

Using this architectural design, teaching teams can not only empower English learners to set goals and monitor their own progress but also gather assessment data to inform instruction and determine if language and content learning goals have been met.

III. Moving In: Implementing a 

Collaborative Assessment System 

Co-teachers need to agree on how assessment practices for ELs will fit into a comprehensive system that spans from daily assessments to collecting benchmark assessment data and administering summative assessments, not excepting the inclusion of ELs in large-scale, high-stakes assessments. For this reason, we invite you to “move in” and implement this practice by reflecting on and answering the following questions together:

Daily formative assessments:

How do we collect meaningful assessment data about each student? 

How do we use the data to inform instruction?

How do we provide immediate, useful feedback to students?

Benchmark assessments:

How do we monitor student progress and growth? 

What common assessments are we going to develop or select?

How often are we going to collect data? 

In what ways will the benchmark data be used to make short-term and longer-term decisions about ELs? 

Summative assessments:

What types of summative assessments are we going to utilize?

How do we account for variances in student characteristics (prior knowledge or lack thereof; cultural experiences with tests, exams, or projects or lack thereof)? 

How do we ensure fair and equitable summative assessment tasks and measures? 

Moving in or implementing assessment practices requires its own framework to ensure that there are various data-gathering means in place and to “furnish” classes with appropriate, consistent, and useful assessment tools to monitor the needs and identify the successes and challenges of ELs.

IV. Enjoying Your New House: Practicing Co-Assessment

Remember to use protocols, as the goal for participating teachers is to work toward shared decision making to benefit English learners. To achieve this goal, as co-teachers, you must systematically do the following:

Identify and analyze students’ strengths and weaknesses 

Design the most appropriate intervention strategies that will respond to the patterns of learning challenges ELs face 

Generate possible explanations for student performance levels from multiple points of view

Discuss research-based best practices and promising strategies you wish to implement 

Plan coordinated interventions 

Although most educators do not equate assessment practices with enjoyment, we would like to suggest that through this house-building metaphor, there are great rewards to routine, comprehensive co-assessment practices. Collaborative assessment is highly structured and cyclical—each time new data are collected from students, their performance is reassessed. In this process, co-teachers have the opportunity to continue to reflect on their students’ academic learning as well as socio-emotional and linguistic development. Co-assessment, along with shared reflection and co-planning, helps determine whether the modifications and accommodations co-teachers have planned and executed have offered the necessary support or not and what additional interventions are needed.

Andrea Honigsfeld, EdD ([email protected]) and Maria G. Dove, EdD ([email protected]) are co-authors of several books on collaboration and co-teaching for the sake of English learners published by Corwin Press. They conduct research and provide professional development on the topic across the U.S. and internationally. Portions of this article were adapted from Co-Teaching for English Learners (Dove and Honigsfeld, 2018).


Dove, M., and Honigsfeld, A. (2018). Co-Teaching for English Learners: A guide to Collaborative Planning, Assessment, and Reflection. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Gottlieb, M. (2016). Assessing English Language Learners: Bridges to Educational Equity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. 

Singer, T. W. (2014). Opening Doors to Equity: A Practical Guide to Observation-Based Professional Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. 

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