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August 8, 2011

Teacher Checklists to Assess the Common Core

By Kay Burke, Solution Tree author and associate

Last fall Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon and leader of the World Health Organization’s Safe Surgery Saves Lives program, appeared on the Jon Stewart Show to talk about his latest book called The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. He discussed how we have accumulated stupendous know-how in the twenty-first century but that know-how is often unmanageable. Gawande says we need a different strategy that takes advantage of the knowledge of others to make up for our inadequacies. I bought his book the next day and immediately started using the following quote in my assessment workshops: “And there is such a strategy—though it will seem almost ridiculous in its simplicity, maybe even crazy to those of us who have spent years carefully developing ever more advanced skills and technologies. It is a checklist” (Gawande, 2010, p.13).

It makes sense that if surgeons, pilots, and engineers need checklists, a teacher would also need a checklist to help fifth graders write an informative essay. Using checklists to teach the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) helps teacher teams better understand the components of the standards. I have been using a strategy I call “Repacking the Standard” to help teachers analyze the descriptors and “chunk” them into a framework that helps them teach the standard more effectively.

(The above figure comes from this reproducible PDF.)

Let me illustrate this process by showing how it could be used to help teachers better understand the Grade 5 Language Arts Standard for Informative Writing from the CCSS:. Review the first two sentences of that standard. The students will:

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. Introduce a topic clearly, provide a general observation and focus, and group related information logically; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

I selected the power standard of informative writing (Step 1) and then chunked the main categories (examine a topic, convey ideas, and provide a general observation and focus) for Step 2.

Step 3 involves placing the chunks in a logical sequence for teaching the skills and Step 4 uses three-by-three-inch sticky notes to include all the rest of the performance indicators and the language of the standards (LOTS). Step 5 adds clarifying information using two-by-two-inch sticky notes to add definitions, examples, symbols, pictures, and sample problems to make the abstract ideas more concrete. The “Repacking the Standard” graphic above is available by going to http://go.solution-tree.com/assessment/. Click on the book Balanced Assessment: From Formative to Summative and look for Reproducibles. After I completed my repacking strategy using the sticky notes, I created a teacher checklist just for those two sentences. The entire standard is longer, but the process is the same.

I will be modeling this process as well as strategies to create student checklists and rubrics at the Ahead of the Curve Conference sponsored by Solution Tree in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 28. I will show examples of K-12 user-friendly student checklists that help scaffold the problem-solving and organizational skills that will help all students master the CCSS. If surgeons, pilots, engineers, and teachers can use checklists to succeed, I am sure fifth-grade students can also benefit.


Burke, K. (2010). Balanced Assessment: From Formative to Summative. Bloomington, IN. Solution Tree Press.

The Common Core State Standards Initiatives. June 2, 2010. Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subject Writing Standards, K-5, p. 20.

Gawande, A. (2010) The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. New York, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company.

Reproducibles for Balanced Assessment: From Formative to Summative

4 Responses to “Teacher Checklists to Assess the Common Core”

  1. Group Link Post 08/09/2011 | KJsDiigoBookmarks Says:

    [...] AllThingsAssessment » Blog Archive » Teacher Checklists to Assess the Common Core [...]

  2. jhbreitbach Says:

    I love this model for assessment. I believe that nationally we need to design our standardized test in a very similar method. Why are we diagnosing national learning objectives? Once they are stated, its up to the schools to determine best practice strategies to teach these standards. We could now develop a useful assessment where the results reflect on the effectiveness of teaching strategies and not the schools ability to guess what this years standardized tests will look like.

  3. Jenna Says:

    I really enjoyed seeing your assessment checklist format. I often feel like my writing assessments are weak or don’t get my students involved in the assessment process. I think even in 1st grade a checklist similar to yours would be a great addition to my writing assessments! It would show me and make me feel confident that students completely understand what I am looking for when grading their end product.
    Thanks for the great idea!

  4. c-mac Says:

    I really enjoyed this blog about “Repacking the Standards”. As a type-A person myself, I firmly agree with you when it comes to organizing our assessments by using a CHECKLIST. Especially for difficult grading assignments (i.e. writing), a checklist provides a very concrete-sequential format by revealing clarity to both the teacher and the learner regarding the process and final product being graded. I also appreciated how organized your standards became when filtering them through a checklist. As a teacher, I see that the checklist allows you to communicate to your students, with a sense of procedural clarity, exactly what you want your students to know, understand, and be able to do. As a student, I can see how a checklist can remove so many procedural questions when it comes to creating a final product. Furthermore, it became very evident on how simple the process is when turning a checklist into a viable rubric to be used for grading. Checklists invariably can build a firm bridge between what the students are to do and what they will be graded on. Just curious, do you ever use other checklist criteria outside of the “yes vs. no” method? (ex. Exemplary, proficient, emerging, etc…)

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