Assessment Education Perspectives

Back to School – What Parents Need to Know (and Ask) About Assessment

What Parents Need to Know (and Ask) About Assessment

The school’s best ally in the task of nurturing a student’s innate ‘urge to learn’ is, first and foremost, the parents.” -Bernie Poole

Bus drivers have practiced their routes, kitchen ladies have laid in supplies for meals, teachers have set up their rooms creating beautiful bulletin boards and welcoming spaces, school office staff have registration well in hand and the principal is checking systems to make sure everything is going to run smoothly as that all important time of year looms – Back to School.

Parents also play a critical role in the successful transition back to school. While parents think about back to school shopping, getting kids back to a good sleep schedule, getting everyone registered for their classes, and setting up a solid morning schedule for everyone (parents and kids), there’s one important place that can be amplified to really support student success – the dialog between teachers and parents about students and assessments.

The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has taken on this challenge in the past couple of years but has primarily focused on helping parents understand the role that the annual state summative assessments play in the U.S. education system, PTAs state by state guide to assessment. As important stakeholders in the education ecosystem, parents have a vital role to play. For a parent, knowing how their student is progressing in school and how they can support that growth is so important. Yet very few parents really understand what kinds of assessments are taking place and how they intersect with their student’s education.

The traditional report card is one form of assessment and feedback on student performance, but there are so many more that are taking place in the classroom on a periodic (interim) basis and even daily. Each and every day educators are gathering evidence of student learning. They use this information to group students, to diagnose learning challenges, to form teams for projects, to measure whether or not the instructional methods they choose to employ at any given moment actually resulted in student’s learning new knowledge, to measure “end of course” understanding of content. Truly, there are assessments going on throughout every day and in every classroom.

Some of those formative assessments may be very simple in form: thumbs up/thumbs down to indicate understanding, exit cards, fist to five. Or they may be more complex: one sentence summaries, one minute essays, verbal summaries, skits, observations, performance stations, project check ins to completion, and double entry journals. An accomplished educator has all of these tools and more in their teaching methods toolbox and is ready to unpack them at any time. In the classroom, it’s those discreet, daily decisions that are made about instructional adjustments that can most impact a student’s growth and learning.

But here’s the rub, how many parents know and understand the kind of assessments that are taking place and more to the point – how to ask educators about them and understand the information that is being shared with them so they can do their job as a parent and support their student’s learning?

Recognizing what they need to know and how to ask the right questions is part of a parent’s responsibility to be “assessment literate”. Assessment Literacy is a term used frequently in education and each education stakeholder role has a different role to play. For a parent, their assessment literacy needs to be focused on asking their student’s teachers questions like these:Tweet: What parents need to know (and ask) about assessment #edchat #education

  • How do you measure my child’s learning in your classroom? Look for evidence of multiple ways to show evidence of learning.
  • When will my child’s progress be measured again, or when can I get an update on his growth?
  • How is my child doing in comparison to grade level expectations? Look for your child to be compared to grade level expectations, not to other children. Look for a variety of assessments to measure your child’s academic growth.
  • I know that my child is working above grade level, what will he be working on to make sure he continues growing?
  • I know that my child is working below grade level, what will he be working on to make sure he is growing towards a mastery of grade-level standards?
  • Does my child need any extra help in any specific areas? Look for a teacher to provide evidence that your child needs extra help and expect specificity.
  • How can I help my child’s academic growth from home?
  • What types of strategies are the teachers using that I may be able to reinforce at home?

Educators know that parents provide important support and scaffolding for a student as they progress through school. Learning how to best support and scaffold for their student starts with asking the right kinds of questions, just like any good conversation.

Additional Contributors:

Scott Dippel, Principal at Hanby Middle School, Central Point, OR; Members of the National Task Force on Assessment Education – Rosa Chavez-Avedician, Principal at James P. Butler Elementary, Socorro Independent School District, TX; Meredith Ross, Charter Schools USA, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Melissa Spadin, San Diego County Office of Education, San Diego, CA

Judy Harris

Judy Harris brings over 17 years of teaching experience to her role as Policy & Advocacy Director at NWEA. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, a Reading Specialist, middle school Language Arts teacher, and licensed administrator. She was a member of the Joint Assessment Task Force for Oregon and co-authored The New Path for Oregon: System of Assessment to Empower Meaningful Student Learning. She was a teacher leader and Professional Development Provider for SCALE/WestEd. Ms. Harris served on the National Education Association’s (NEA) National Every Student Succeeds Act Implementation Team and the state level ESSA Implementation Team in Oregon. She was nominated by the Oregon Congressional delegation to serve on the U.S. Department of Education’s ESSA Negotiated Rulemaking Committee in 2016. She has presented on student assessment and equity at numerous conferences including the National Indian Education Association, the NEA Minority and Women’s Summit, the Symposium on Student Assessment, and the National Council of Urban Education Associations.