What Parents Want from Student Assessments

It is quite clear that student assessments are quickly becoming the driving force in public education.  In state after state, we are now using student assessment to drive funding, teacher evaluation, and institutional direction.  While many may squabble on what types of assessments to take and how to apply them, there is no denying that student assessment is now ruling the day.

So what is that parents (and teachers) actually want from the learning assessments administered in our classrooms?  That is the question that the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) and Grunwald Associates asked earlier this month, and some of the responses were surprising.  All told, Grunwald Associates surveyed more than 1,000 K-12 teachers, more than 1,000 K-12 parents, and 200 district administrators.  The findings included:
* 90 percent of parents said monitoring their kids’ progress in school, knowing when to be concerned about progress, and determining preparedness for the next stage of learning was “extremely” or “very” important;
* More than eight in 10 parents (84 percent) said formative assessments are useful for instructional purposes, while only 44 percent said summative assessments were; 
* More than six in 10 teachers cited monitoring individual student performance and monitoring growth in learning over time as most important to them;
* With both parents and educators, 90 percent said it is important to measure student performance in math and English/language arts, as well as in other subjects like science, history, government and civics, economics, and technology and media literacy; and
* Only half of parents believe that summative assessment results are delivered in a timely manner.
And the big takeaways?  Teachers value formative and interim assessments far more than they do summative assessments (and that opinion is trickling down to parents).  The vast majority of teachers and parents want more testing (at least in more subjects) and want results delivered in a timely manner.  And an inordinate amount of K-12 parents seem to understand the subtleties among formative, interim, and summative assessments (or at least pretended to in distinguishing between all comers in responding to this survey.
It is valuable to see that we continue to discern value from student assessments, regardless of the form they come in.  But we also have a few key lessons learned from the NWEA/Grunwald data:
* We still aren’t seeing that data is being effectively used in classroom instruction.  Neither parents nor educators seem to believe that current data is being used to tailor and improve instruction in the classroom.  Why not?  With all the data we capture, we should be putting it into practice.  If not, this is all a fool’s errand.
* Testing turnaround time is taking too long.  Teacher and parent alike seem to believe the turnaround time from taking the test to getting the scores is just too lengthy.  Seems like the perfect opportunity to call for online, adaptive testing (whether it be formative or summative) where scores can be turned around and applied in real time.
* Parents follow the lead of their children’s educators.  On the whole, parents’ responses aligned with the teachers leading their kids’ classrooms.  Both the frustrations and benefits of teaching, from the educators’ eyes, is making it back to the parents at home.  This relationship can serve as a valuable tool.
* There seems to be a call for adding testing to the school calendar.  While some bemoaned those “horrible” “high-stakes” summative assessments, there was a strong call for more tests on the front end.  This seems to run contrary to the drumbeat that there is too much testing in the classroom, and, if used properly, can be powerful in further shaping data-driven classrooms.
While such surveys will likely have little impact on the in-developed common core standards assessments or on current state exams, they do provide some interesting context as we look at how to use tests in educator evaluation and other such measures.  Some food for thought.

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