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Wednesday / August 15

How to Help Parents Understand Assessment

With so many changes happening often in schools, parents may struggle to understand new initiatives in curriculum and instruction. Unfamiliar vocabulary such as “number bonds,” “math situations,” and “context cues” can be bewildering. Some parents complain their child is bored in the classroom while others grumble that the curriculum moves along too quickly.

Beyond understanding the subject matter and emerging technologies, parents must also become familiar with the many methods and uses of assessment in schools and classrooms. In response, one district began to offer information about assessment with every event that included parents. Early in the year, they were given a guide to report card vocabulary and student growth indicators. At back to school night, parents received a flyer comparing classroom assessments and standardized measures. During the year, videos were posted of students actively and purposefully engaged in learning along with explanations of their role as self-assessors.

As teachers and schools increasingly engage parents in testing, measuring, and most importantly assessment, here are suggestions to keep in mind when communicating with parents about their children’s progress:

1. Tests and Assessments Are Not the Same

A test examines a student’s knowledge, comprehension, and skills to determine what level of learning has been reached. It generally results in a numerical or letter grade.

Assessment involves gathering, analyzing, and responding to a student’s strengths and misconceptions about their learning. It includes feedback to the learner and also informs the teacher’s practice and responses. An analogy would be your BMI that provides a number but not a health analysis or fitness plan. Sometimes we need a test and sometimes learning requires assessment.

2. A Standardized Test, Like a Snapshot, Shows a Moment in Time

There’s nothing wrong with getting an annual family portrait to provide a benchmark of changes. But in the classroom, assessments that use a variety of strategies offer a kaleidoscope of a child’s educational skills and abilities. Beyond the final score, parents need to know their student’s strengths and way to overcome challenges. Sometimes it’s okay to weigh yourself twice a year, but in order to monitor success and setbacks, you’ll need to check progress more frequently.

3. Encourage and Acknowledge Progress

Children can become discouraged when they don’t get the score or rating they expected. So can adults, athletes, and accountants. With assessment, it is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.  Help parents and students understand that the goal of assessment is improvement and it’s the small steps that lead towards the big picture goals. Assessment is not about the learning gaps, but rather steps students can take to get across them.  “I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.” Marie Curie.

4. Let’s Work Together and Stay Connected

All of our lives have ups and downs. For parents, if your child is going through a rough patch, keep the teacher informed of their changing mindset, unusual setbacks, and setups that can support improvement. Follow your child’s progress on your school’s learning management system. Talk with them and their teacher about assignments, assessments, and progress. Find out what you can do at home to support their learning.

5. Grades Don’t Mean Everything

Test scores and report cards do not represent the whole child. You know him or her; the one with a wonderful sense of humor, who comforts and encourages friends, and helps others solve problems. The child who works consistently and diligently may be more successful in life than another who studies 12 hours a day and gets high test scores.

Reflection

How can parents use this information?

Any suggestions or lingering questions?

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Written by

Laura Greenstein has been an educator for over 30 years serving as a teacher, department chair, and school leader in multiple grades and subjects. She combines this background with her experience as a school board member and professional development specialist to bring fresh and original ideas to educators about teaching, learning, and assessing. She presents at workshops and conferences locally and nationally. As an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven and the University of Connecticut she teaches Human Development and Assessment to undergraduate and graduate students. She has a B. S. from the University of Connecticut, an M.S. from the State University of New York at Oneonta in education, a 6th year from Sacred Heart University in administration, and an Ed.D. from Johnson and Wales University in Educational Leadership. Her website, Assessment Network, is a valuable source of information on issues and topics in assessment. She is the author of What Teachers Really Need to Know About Formative Assessment and Assessing 21st Century Skills.

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