I often speak to large groups about assessments and invariably an audience member will offer that they administer benchmarks in their district and ask, “Isn’t that the same thing?” Or ask, “Is one better than the other?” To answer each question, “They are not the same thing.” And in terms of usefulness to teachers, “One is significantly better than the other.” Though most in people in education use the terms interchangeably, there are significant differences between the two. First, consider their definitions: Assessment – An appraisal based on careful analytical evaluation. Benchmark – A mark used as a reference point. The definitions give us a clue to the enormous practical difference between the two. In the field, an “assessment” represents a test that is aligned to the content that has been (or should have been) taught. The assessment then gives the teacher immediate information on how much of the taught curriculum students have mastered. This information is of considerable import to every teacher and the cost of lost instructional time is offset by the value of good assessment information. In the field, a “benchmark” represents a test that is aligned to the curriculum that determines at a specific time, how much of the entire year’s curriculum has been mastered. The earlier in the year the benchmark is administered, the more untaught content the student is tested over. The earlier in the school year, the less important this information is to the teacher. Knowing that students have only mastered 6 weeks of the entire curriculum when they have only been exposed to 6 weeks of the entire curriculum is entirely predictable, before the benchmark is administered. The cost of lost instructional time is not offset by the value of predictable, and for the most part, useless benchmark information. Benchmarks do have their purpose, for summative information, once or twice a year. At all other times use a quick assessment, aligned to what has been recently taught, and then adjust instruction based on the results. Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn… Call Jo at (832) 477-LEAD to order your campus set of “The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction.” Individual copies available on Amazon.com! http://tinyurl.com/4ydqd4t Follow Sean Cain and LYS on www.Twitter.com/LYSNation Come visit us at the LYS Booth at the TASA/TASB Fall Conference on 9/30/11 and 10/1/11 Attend the LYS presentations at the Texas School Improvement Conference on 10/26/11 and 10/27/11