Understanding Assessment: Resources for Parents
We’ve compiled a resources list to help families understand various uses of assessment in schools, what questions to ask, how to help children prepare, and all about standardized tests.
Though tests (especially standardized tests) may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word assessment, comprehensive assessment encompasses a wide range of methods for evaluating a child's social and emotional and academic abilities. As a parent, it's critical that you know about alternative types of classroom-based assessments, in addition to traditional tests and the standardized tests mandated by your school district or state department of education. Below, we've collected resources to help you understand various types and uses of assessment, identify questions you can ask your child’s teachers and school, and support your child during testing.
Classroom Assessment Strategies
- There are many ways to measure a student’s abilities. Which ones do your child’s teachers use?
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? Consult the resources below for more information about different assessment types and other questions you can ask.
- For Every Child, Multiple Measures (Northwest Evaluation Association, 2012)
This 2012 report by the Northwest Evaluation Association and Grunwald Associates LLC describes 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. Edutopia blogger Anne O’Brien has written a helpful outline of the report findings.
- Healthier Testing Made Easy: The Idea of Authentic Assessment (Edutopia, 2006)
Grant Wiggins discusses how formative assessment and authentic assessment can help learners get the feedback they need to improve and progress.
- Performance-Based Assessment (Project Appleseed)
Project Appleseed, a nonprofit advocacy organization for parent involvement in education, provides an excellent primer on the many types of performance assessments and their advantages, as well as strategies for improving student performance. For more about performance assessment, take a look at Edutopia contributing writer Roberta Furger’s 2002 article, “Take a Deeper Look at Assessment for Understanding.”
- A Parent's Guide to Testing at Your Child's School (National Education Association, 2007)
This two-page brochure, developed in 2007 by the National Education Association (NEA) in partnership with the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), describes some of the types of tests used in schools and what parents can do. It’s also available as a PDF download in Spanish.
- Parents: 19 Meaningful Questions You Should Ask Your Child’s Teacher (Edutopia, 2013)
Forget about all the vague, superficial information out there. Edutopia blogger Terry Heick cuts to the chase with 19 meaningful questions -- including questions related to assessment -- parents can ask their children's teachers at the beginning of the school year.
All About Standardized Tests
Ask questions and talk to your child's teacher or a district assessment specialist about implications of test results and possible follow-up action. Are high-stakes decisions based on student performance on this single measure? Are the state's standardized tests aligned to content standards? Are test results used to better inform teaching and learning? How does the school or district use this information to better meet student educational needs? Browse the resources below for more information about standardized tests, including new tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
- What Should Parents Know About Standardized Testing? (Project Appleseed)
Learn about the purposes of standardized tests and how they are used, as well as how you can help your child prepare and questions to ask.
- Testing Our Schools: A Guide For Parents (PBS Frontline, 2002)
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.
- The State of the Common Core (Edutopia, 2013)
Vanessa Vega, Edutopia's former research analyst, offers a work-in-progress view of how the Common Core is being implemented and assessed nationwide. For more about what parents need to know about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), check out Anne O'Brien's “What Do Parents Need to Know About the Common Core?”
- Parents’ Guide to Student Success—Frequently Asked Questions (National PTA)
The National Parent Teacher Association partnered with experts on the Common Core State Standards to create parent guides for grades K-12 that include information about what children should be learning in each grade once the standards are implemented, activities that parents can do at home, and strategies for building stronger parent-teacher relationships. To find out more about your states CCSS’s implementation plans, check out their State Education Agencies page.
- Parent Roadmaps (Council of the Great City Schools, 2012)
The Council of the Great City Schools has developed content and grade-specific parent roadmaps in English and in Spanish that provide detailed information for parents about the expectations of the Common Core in English Language Arts and Mathematics.
- Accommodations, Modifications, and Alternate Assessments (GreatSchools, 2010)
Your child may be eligible for modifications to help him succeed in the classroom -- and on standardized tests. For more information about how students with special needs will be assessed on the Common Core State Standards, see “Application to Students with Disabilities,” from the website for the Common Core.
Helping Children Prepare
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 -- in terms that students can understand. Get clarification from the teacher any time your child seems unclear about expected outcomes for a project or assignment. The resources below include useful strategies for supporting children during testing.
- Helping Students Understand What a Test is and Is Not (Edutopia, 2014)
Neurologist, teacher, author and Edutopia blogger Judy Willis explains how students' performance on tests can often be affected by their perceptions of and feelings about why they're being tested and what's being assessed.
- Survive and Thrive During Testing Season (Edutopia, 2014)
Guest blogger Lori Desautels considers the brain research on why test prep can be so stressful, and offers six brain-compatible strategies to help students feel better about themselves and more connected to the material.
- 4 Tips to Build Student Confidence (Edutopia, 2014)
Edutopia blogger Matt Levinson, recognizing that students get overwhelmed by unfamiliar material and choke up on assessments, offers four confidence-building strategies: verbalizing, brain dumps, non-linear thinking creativity.
- Parent Tips: How to Help Your Child Prepare for Standardized Tests (Colorin Colorado, 2008)
This resource from Colorin Colorado, a bilingual site for families and educators of English-language learners, provides suggestions to parents to support children before tests, on test days, after tests, and on a daily basis.
- #PTChat on Twitter
- Edutopia's Community Discussion on Assessment
- The National Center for Fair and Open Testing
- "The Importance of Low-Stakes Student Feedback," from KQED's Mindshift (2014)
- "Assistive Tech for Testing Merges Into Mainstream," from Education Week (2014)
- "Field-Testing Set to Begin on Common-Core Exams," from Education Week (2014)
- "An Education Reporter Puts Himself to the Standardized Test," from NPR (2014)
- "Three Reasons Students Should Opt Out of Standardized Tests — and Three Reasons They Shouldn’t," from The Hechinger Report (2014)
- "The Next Generation of Assessments Can—and Must—Be Better," from ASCD Express (2013)
- Test Anxiety for Teens, from TeensHealth (2013)
- "Why Teacher Ratings Hurt Schools and Students," from Greater Good Science Center (2012)
- State High School Exit Exams: A Policy in Transition, from the Center on Education Policy (2012)
- Information for Parents about The Nation’s Report Card, from The Nation’s Report Card
- Parents & Students, from Smarter Balanced