Assessment and Testing: Resources for Parents
We've compiled a list of resources to help families understand high-stakes testing, different forms of assessment, and school achievement data.
As a parent, it's critical that you know and understand both classroom-based assessments, as well as those mandated by your school district or state department of education. Here are five strategies and some additional resources to further your understanding of assessment.
1. Investigate classroom assessment practices
Take advantage of parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school nights to talk with teachers about their assessment strategies. Do they use portfolios of student work? Do they conduct performance-based assessments? How do test results inform the way they work with a particular student or group of students? Project Appleseed is a nonprofit advocacy organization for parent involvement in education, and they provide an excellent primer on the many types of performance assessments and their advantages, as well as strategies for improving student performance, called "What Should Parents Know About Performance Based Assessment?"
2. Learn how standardized tests are used in your state and your school district
Questions to ask include the following: Are high-stakes decisions based on student performance on this single measure? Are the state's standardized tests aligned to district and state content standards? Are test results used by administrators and teachers to better inform teaching and learning? How does the school or district use this information to better meet the educational needs of all students? The Education Policy Analysis Archives published an overview on School-Based Standardized Testing, including a brief history of standardized achievement tests and a discussion of the implications of their widespread use as a primary measure of student achievement. Project Appleseed has a helpful article for this topic, too, "What Should Parents Know About Standardized Testing in Schools?" Former Edutopia Senior Producer Grace Rubenstein explores the implications of standardized tests, too -- and ways to improve them -- in Edutopia’s "The Challenge of Authentic Assessment."
3. Understand the implication of your child's standardized test scores
Talk to your student's teacher or a district assessment specialist about the implications of test results and possible follow-up action. In his article "Why Standardized Tests Don't Measure Educational Quality," W. James Popham, Professor Emeritus at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and founder of IOX Assessment Associates, suggests that standardized test results can provide parents with useful information about a student's relative strengths and weaknesses across subject areas. Popham also delves into the ins and outs of traditional assessment in public education through his Edutopia feature, "Standardized Testing Fails the Exam."
4. Talk with your child to make sure he or she understands the goals of projects and the outcomes that are expected from new assignments
In their book But Are They Learning? A Commonsense Parents' Guide to Assessment and Grading in Schools, Richard Stiggins and Tanis Knight emphasize that assessment and grading strategies should be defined at the start of a project -- and in terms that students can understand. Get clarification from the teacher any time your student seems unclear about the expected outcomes for a project or assignment.
5. Don't rely on a single measure to judge school quality
Although standardized test results are typically used to compare schools and school districts, they provide only one small piece of the puzzle. "What Makes a Good School? A Guide for Parents Seeking Excellence in Education" by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) offers a detailed -- and much more holistic -- set of criteria upon which to judge school quality.
Additional Resources to Learn More
For Every Child, Multiple Measures: What Parents and Educators Want from K-12 Assessments. This 2012 report by the Northwest Evaluation Association and Grunwald Associates LLC collects feedback from parents and teachers on what kinds of assessments are most useful, relevant, and cost effective, and makes recommendations for assessment developers, policymakers, and state and district leaders based on their findings.
Holding Schools Accountable: A Handbook for Educators and Parents (R&L Education: 2008). Author Kris Sloan examines the history of the accountability movement in public education with special emphasis on the mandates of No Child Left Behind and its implications for parents, students, and teachers.
"A Parent's Guide to Testing at Your Child's School" (PDF). This two-page brochure was developed in 2007 by the National Education Association (NEA) in partnership with the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Also available as a PDF download in Spanish.
Understanding School Assessment: A Parent and Community Guide to Helping Students Learn (Assessment Training Institute, Inc.: 2006). This comprehensive primer by educational assessment specialists Jan and Stephen Chappuis is designed to help parents and community members understand the role that testing and other kinds of classroom assessment play in their local schools as well as take action to ensure that the most effective systems are in place.
Testing Our Schools: A Guide For Parents. PBS’ Frontline offers an easily navigable explanation of high-stakes testing that includes basic information about what tests measure, how they’re developed and scored, specific tips for parents, and links to additional resources. Though the package was produced in 2002, it's still a valuable resource.
A Better Balance: Standards, Tests, and the Tools to Succeed. This 2001 Education Week report addressed the nationwide standards and accountability movement. It included the results of a survey of more than 1,000 classroom teachers, along with a comprehensive analysis of statewide practices with regard to standards, assessment, and accountability systems.