George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Parents and Educators Want from Assessments

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Our national obsession with assessment continues. Despite their rhetoric expressing concern about the role that standardized tests play in our education system, politicians persist in valuing these tests almost exclusively when it comes to accountability -- not only for schools, as has been the case since the inception of No Child Left Behind, but for teachers as well, with a national push to include the results of these tests in teacher evaluations.

Many education organizations are vocal in their opposition to the emphasis on standardized tests in current policy, believing that they narrow curriculum, cost too much, and are of little use in improving student learning. Critics of these groups counter with the argument that educators are a lazy group that simply doesn't want to be held accountable for their work.

But another group of stakeholders shares many of the same values on assessments that educators do -- a group that it is hard to characterize as disinterested in accountability: Parents.

A survey commissioned by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) and conducted by Grunwald Associates earlier this year looked at the views of parents, teachers and district administrators on assessment in education -- and found that in many ways, the views of all three stakeholders are aligned.

Zoom In and Zoom Out

As the report puts it, there is a sense among both parents and educators that assessment systems need to simultaneously zoom in and zoom out.

They need to zoom in by focusing on individual student learning, progress and growth over time. These are among the top priorities of all three stakeholder groups surveyed.

They need to zoom out by measuring student performance in a full range of subjects (not just English language arts (ELA) and mathematics), as well as higher-order thinking skills. For example, 92 percent of parents say that it is extremely or very important to assess problem-solving skills -- more than those who say the same about measuring performance in ELA (though 90 percent do believe that is extremely or very important). Eighty-nine percent of parents also think it is extremely or very important to assess critical thinking skills, and 88 percent say the same about communication skills. Very significant portions of teachers (89 percent, 88 percent and 77 percent for those three skills, respectively) and district administrators (95 percent, 95 percent and 90 percent) also find measuring those higher order-thinking skills to be extremely or very important. Unfortunately, current assessment systems, which focus on multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank or short answer questions, don't adequately do so.

Useful, Actionable, and Relevant

The survey also found that parents, teachers and administrators share similar views on the perceived value of different kinds of assessments.

After providing definitions of formative, interim and summative assessments to respondents, all three groups of stakeholders found formative and interim assessments more aligned to their priorities than summative. For parents in particular, formative and interim assessments provide the actionable information about their child's progress that they crave, as well as having what they believe to be a greater positive impact on instruction. Teachers and district administrators also find these assessments more valuable than summative.

Formative and interim assessments also provide feedback in a timeline consistent with what parents want. Sixty-seven percent of parents completely or somewhat agree that formative and interim assessment results are delivered in a timely manner (compared to 50 percent for summative results). If assessment results take more than a month to reach parents, 43 percent of them consider the results no longer useful or relevant.

Comparing Students

One area of disagreement between educators and parents on the value of assessment comes with comparing students. Forty percent of parents report that comparing their child to others in the district is extremely or very important, and 32 percent say the same about comparing their child to students outside the district (and they give the edge in doing so to summative assessments over formative or interim). But just 4 percent of teachers and 14 percent of district administrators believe that comparing students within a district is important -- and just 4 percent and 11 percent, respectively, believe the same about comparing students to others outside the district.

What Next?

Knowing what both parents and educators want from an assessment system, it is clear that we currently are not providing it. However, as the report points out, no one type of assessment will. It ends with recommendations on how we can create new comprehensive assessment systems that incorporate the desires of parents and educators. With the changing landscape of education -- including the imminent arrival of the Common Core State Standards and the new assessments needed to measure progress towards them -- the time is right for a reevaluation of assessment systems. Hopefully this time, policymakers and developers will consider what those most directly impacted by the system want from it.

Photo credit: Veer

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E Bryson's picture

How refreshing to read an article about testing that shows that parents, teachers, and administrators are on the same team. It seems that so often our policy makers try to sell testing to the general population as a way to hold teachers accountable. Thank you for pointing out that parents, too, share many of the same values on assessment and accountability as educators do. I agree that student performance should be measured in a variety of ways and in all subjects. It's not surprising that parents find more value in formative and interim assessments when they are brought to understand what that means and can view the results as "actionable information". It's interesting to me that a high number of parents believe that comparing students to others in the district is very important. As a teacher I do not find a great deal of value in comparison amongst students but instead rely on growth data. Perhaps this value placed by parents results from the competition required to get into the best schools and eventually the best jobs. Hopefully we will see assessments in the future that will adequately measure growth and ability and recognize students for their potential and abilities in all areas.

Neville McFarlane's picture
Neville McFarlane
Math Teacher , high school , Atlanta , Georgia

Formative and interim assessments typical measure the students' progress but some how when the same learner is given a summative assessement there seems to be little or no correlation. But there is still no conclusive evidence to support or determine if the results are causal in nature. Perhaps performance-based assessment is the true measure that we as educators should campaign for.

MaggieH.'s picture

I thought that this was a great article. I often feel that parents are left out of the loop on assessments-and as a result, they put too much value on state/national tests, and not enough on the formative/interim assessments teachers give. It's refreshing and helpful to know that in general, parents want more of that.

I'm not too surprised that a significant amount of parents like to compare their children to their peers, because I frequently see that with the parents of students of work with. We just do our best to encourage parents not to put too much focus on how they measure compared to others, but rather on progress made. However, I have found that peer comparison can be valuable to help parents understand just how discrepant from his/her peers their child is when discussing supplemental instruction such as Title I.

zep's picture
Education Specialist

Ask a parent/guardian if they agree on the issue of testing & I am willing to bet that they will in fact agree....that testing is a futile con that lines the pockets of test writing billion dollar corporations. If you want to know what a kid is learning or not learning try asking them, yes this will require time for a conversation with an individual equal to you in the eyes of their creator, whomever that creator may be....

Alison's picture

I agree that we need to assess students in more areas than just reading and math. I find your results towards your parents attitudes about comparing students to other students interesting because in a recent parent interview, they agreed that the most valuable thing from standardized testing was measuring their child's growth with others. I do hope that policy makers will look more closely at what assessments are being made, and looking at the experts to develop a better system.

Chad Powers's picture

You bring up a good point (and numbers I've never thought of collecting) when you point out the desire of parents to compare their child's performance to that of others within the district and beyond. I agree with the teachers in this instance (and not just because I'm a teacher.) The stated purpose of a standardized test is to gauge mastery of the standards. Its purpose is not to say Jimmy scored higher than Suzie or vice versa. We are not out to set kids against each other-why fan that parental "fire"??

Also, I'm also not sure why it matters that summative assessment feedback isn't as prompt as formative. The purpose of formative assessment revolves around prompt feedback. The speed of return is the strength of formative materials!! I'm not sure what the parents intend to do with the summative results. After all, they are just that-summative...

Eric's picture
EBD Teacher

I liked that there was finally an article that looked at the opinions of testing from an administrative, teacher, and parent perspective. I understand why the parents like comparing their students scores. It helps them see where their stuents are. Maybe it is because I am in special education, but I would prefer a simple pass/fail. I do not need the comparrison chart, or perhaps not a comparrison model as in depth as it is. I disagree with the opinion that we need to assess more than just reading and math. I personally feel that we should do away with standardised testing. I feel that if a student passes his or her highschool classes that should be enough.

Justin Banitt's picture
Justin Banitt
High School Math Teacher from Minneapolis, MN

It's clear that parents and educators want the same thing from assessments. For students to be successful, I think that parents and educators both need to stop pointing the finger at each other and work together more effectively to raise achievement. While parents and educators both agree that critical thinking skills are important, standardized assessments don't measure those skills very well with multiple choice questions. Wouldn't it be great for state legislators to have a more active role in the school? I wonder what percentage of current state legislators across the country frequently visit classrooms of the schools they represent?

Kim M's picture
Kim M
K-5 Visual Art Teacher

I like to see you talk about using formative assessment that helps give parents feedback on how their student is doing throughout their school year.

With standardized testing, I also agree that students should not be compared to other students because every one learns differently and at different rates.

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