With the assessments being more frequently used in schools, parents often have questions about how their children are doing.
However, often the test reports created for teachers and administrators are not appropriate for parents. Still, schools need to be able to share assessment data with parents.
There’s no question of the value of engaging families in their child’s learning at school (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Sharing data is an effective strategy that schools and districts can use to engage families and communities for school improvement (The Education Trust, 2004). It follows that educators can take advantage of this opportunity about how universal screening data are shared with families as a means to foster family engagement for overall academic success for their child/children.
This article includes some guidelines that schools can consider when communicating with parents about student test scores. These steps include:
- Sharing the purposes for assessment
- Student-specific results; and
- Whom to contact with questions
Table of Contents
- Explaining Universal Screening to Parents
- Why Is It Important to Share Assessment Results With Parents?
- The Ins and Outs of Reports When Sharing Assessment Results With Parents
- When Parents Have Questions
Explaining Universal Screening to Parents
This is an opportunity to help introduce or reinforce this concept for families as part of the school’s overall Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) framework. We assume that schools have already communicated with families:
- That the activity of universal screening will be occurring
- What that is; and
- How teachers and administrators will use this information
However, whether the first or one of many, the message when sharing universal screening data needs to state how the universal screening process consists of using brief assessments for academics and social-emotional behavior skills to do a systematic check on what our kids will need instructionally to succeed during the school year.
We will do this check three times – fall, winter, spring – to ensure all kids are making progress toward their grade-level goals. Put another way, screening is akin to going for an annual well-child check-up at the pediatrician; educators also need to get a “well-child check” on kids in terms of their academic and social/behavior skills.
They do this to make sure everyone is healthy as they start the school year and identify those kids who might need extra support to ensure they are on track to “good health.” This analogy might be a good one that resonates with most families.
Recall that we conduct universal screening within an MTSS framework to:
- Ensure effective resource allocation for instructional services
- Determine the effectiveness of the curriculum, instruction, and interventions for all kids
- Determine which kids are at-risk for not meeting end of year grade-level standards
This is done by comparing the child’s performance in relation to peers and to grade-level standards.
Further, teachers will use the data to adapt teaching strategies to students’ needs as well as to help students work toward specific learning goals. Knowing how teachers use screening data helps reassure families that the data is used in meaningful ways and that their child is not seen as just a set of numbers (Harvard Family Research Project, 2013).
Universal screenings are also called benchmarks. Some of the most common questions revolve around how they compare to other kinds of assessments and how to share the information with families at conferences.
To better understand what benchmark screening is, it’s instructive to look at the two major types of assessments used in schools: formative and summative.
Formative assessments are focused on specific learning targets and occur frequently during instruction so that the teacher can know how each student and the class is doing and make decisions about how to adjust instruction. In this way formative assessments inform instruction.
Some examples of formative assessments follow.
Universal Screening (Benchmark) Assessments
These are standardized assessments of basic academic skills that are taken by all students. They are also sometimes known as “benchmark” assessments because each student’s score is compared to a specific goal.
At FastBridge, we refer to such assessments as universal screening measures and the grade-specific goals are the benchmarks. The purpose of conducting universal screening is to identify students who could benefit from more support in different ways.
Most FastBridge assessments can be used for universal screening and are given in fall, winter, and spring. Universal screeners provide some of the most useful information for making decisions about individual and group instruction.
Progress Monitoring Assessments
Progress monitoring typically follows universal screening and includes regular assessment (i.e., weekly) of students who are participating in intervention.
When a specific area of need is pinpointed for a student and an intervention is started, a progress monitoring tool gives very specific feedback about the student’s progress and the effectiveness of the intervention. This information helps inform decisions about continuing the intervention or trying something different.
Summative assessments come at the end of a course or unit and provide information about the sum of the student’s learning. They are typically used to determine if students have met pre-determined learning goals.
Some examples of summative assessments follow.
These are also often known as “high stakes” assessments because they function as accountability measures giving evidence of student learning, sometimes tied to state resources and support.
In the U.S., each state selects and administers an assessment one time during a school year for students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Usually, these tests are administered in the spring of the school year.
State assessments typically cover the broad range of content that students learned during the school year. They primarily serve the purpose of meeting state and federal requirements for annual testing and allow schools and districts to determine the effectiveness of curriculum and instruction, but they are generally not useful for informing instructional decisions at the classroom level.
Diagnostic assessments are used when more detailed information about a student’s current learning needs is indicated.
Diagnostic assessments can be either informal or formal. Informal diagnostic assessments include additional tests used to learn more about a student’s current learning needs. FastBridge’s Screening to Intervention Report (S2i) provides informal diagnostic data to then inform Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions. Formal diagnostic assessments are used if a student is referred for a comprehensive evaluation for special education.
When such testing is conducted, the purpose is to determine whether the student qualifies for special education services according to state and federal guidelines.
Why Is It Important to Share Assessment Results With Parents?
As educators, we know the importance of why we are collecting universal screening data. But do families share this same value or understanding?
This seasonal activity of benchmarking provides educators with a fresh opportunity to do more than just “transmit information” — sharing data with families about their child’s individual education performance can be an effective strategy to increase family engagement in school improvement as well as in their child’s education (Baldwin & Wade, 2012).
This is an opportunity for us to rally as a family-school team around our mutual child-centered goals. When considering how to share student data with families, it is important for us to be thoughtful about the …
- Wants; and
… of parents and caregivers as it relates to sharing student performance data in general (Education Trust, 2004).
What to Communicate When Sharing Assessment Results With Parents
Remember back to the first time you were introduced to a Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) and the concept of screening and benchmarking? What about the first time you viewed a screening report? It was probably like learning a new language and overwhelming to interpret at first.
However, you had training that introduced you to MTSS and to reports either in-person or maybe through online modules.
Our families don’t have the luxury of an online learning module. They need the courtesy of having universal screening information explained to them in a way that is meaningful and so they can understand as it relates to their child/children.
Further, we need to frame this in language that promotes the message that we (together) serve “our kids.” Then, after laying the groundwork for data sharing as a partnership activity, we can dive into the “nuts and bolts” of what the screening data for their child means.
Explaining the Purpose When Sharing Assessment Results With Parents
To help parents make sense of the assessments that their children take in school, it can be helpful if schools provide information about the different reasons for all the tests given. For example, a school can create a one-page summary of the tests that all students take each year and include the reason for each test. The types of assessments could include:
- Benchmark screening
- Progress monitoring
- Annual state tests; and
- Individualized psychological tests.
Information about each test could be provided as in the following example:
|Type of Test||Name of Test(s)||Frequency||Purpose of Test|
|Screening||FastBridge aReading||3 times a year||To learn each student’s current reading skills and identify students who need additional reading instruction|
|Progress Monitoring||FastBridge earlyReading
|Weekly||To track reading improvements for those students participating in extra reading instruction|
|State Assessment||Minnesota Test of Academic Skills (MTAS)||Once per year||To document general academic performance on all students in certain grades|
In addition to listing the purpose of each assessment, the type and names of the tests and how often they are used can be listed. This one-page summary could be mailed home to all parents, and additional information about the assessments could be provided at a parent information session or during parent-teacher conferences.
Sharing Assessment Schedules
Given the widespread use of different assessments in schools, most districts have a master assessment schedule. Ideally, the information about what tests are used in the school would be sent home very early in each school year so that parents will know when the assessments will happen.
In addition, schools can remind parents of upcoming assessments in weekly newsletters or emails. When reminding parents that each test is happening, a brief review of the purpose for the assessment can be provided as well.
Some parents might want to know whether planned assessments will take away from teaching time. For this reason, it is a good idea to remind parents that assessments help teachers improve instruction by showing what skills a student has mastered and which ones still need to be learned.
The Ins and Outs of Reports When Sharing Assessment Results With Parents
We’ve established that when communicating screening data to parents that it is critical for the school to communicate the ‘why,’ the ‘what,’ and the ‘so, what.’ In all cases, it must be emphasized that the communication is clear and in language that non-educators can read and understand.
Tips for Sharing Reports
After an assessment has been completed, parents are likely to want to know how their children did. Sometimes, test results can be known right away, such as with screening and progress monitoring assessments. In other cases, the results will take much longer to arrive.
It is best to share student test results with parents as quickly as possible. For screening assessments, this can be done at parent-teacher conferences. For students who participate in progress monitoring, their weekly scores can be sent home so that parents can see and review the student’s progress regularly.
Many parents will appreciate help in understanding the test results. It can be helpful to create a sample assessment report that describes each part of the information. This sample can be generic so it can be used by all parents to help them learn how to understand their child’s scores. This sample can also include a reminder about the purpose of the specific test it depicts.
Avoid technical-sounding words or phrases like …
- Standard error of measurement
- Computer adaptive; or
… that can distract from the main points and even alienate some parents who feel overwhelmed by this vocabulary. Instead, explain the assessment tasks with phrases such as:
- A page to read
- A test taken on the computer
- Read quickly, but without making mistakes; not speed reading
Practically speaking, there are many venues in which the data may be shared with families including parent-teacher conferences, family letters, an online family information portal provided by the school, etc.
In all cases, educators should be mindful of the most effective communication settings. For example, since parent-teacher conferences are in-person, parents can stop to ask questions or teachers can pause to check for understanding “in the moment,” but often there is not much time.
In a letter, all the information is written for the family to consume without our ability to clarify if parents have questions as they read, but there is not a time constraint.
How can we provide visual representations and terminology that will communicate most clearly and thoroughly the key messages about screening data and a child’s performance depending on the medium we are using for communication? Regular references to student data in conversations with families is an easy way to incrementally build shared understanding and shared value of the data as important to student learning.
FastBridge has templates for letters to families about screening and progress monitoring scores in the Downloads section of the website. Educators might decide to create their own letters such as the example below.
An example for aReading
You may recall that each year, while we are building relationships with our kids, we also get to know them through collecting some regular data on their reading, math, and social/behavior skills. We do this three times per year (fall, winter, and spring). The data help tell us how we can best serve your child at school. We are pleased to share the results of your child’s fall screening.
Below are the FastBridge screening assessments your child participated in this fall:
|Name||Assessment Method||Skills Assessed|
|aReading||Computer-based||Broad reading abilities|
Your child’s scores tell us two important things. First, the scores tell us how your child’s scores compared to other kids in their grade. This score is a percentile ranking and we call it a “norm-referenced” score. It allows us to compare to other kids in their class, their grade level, the district, and nationally. Imagine 100 children lined up along a wall. If a child is at the 75th percentile, that means that child is number 75 in that line. On one side of that child are 74 kids whose score was lower. On the other side are 24 kids whose score was higher.
Next, your child’s score is compared to the growth expected to be on track to meet the grade-level learning standards by the end of the school year. We call these benchmarks and there are benchmark targets set for the fall, winter, and spring for each grade level. We also call these scores “criterion-referenced.”
Each kind of score is color-coded using the following key:
On the fall FastBridge aReading assessment, your child scored 476. This score places him at some risk for not meeting the end-of-year grade-level benchmark target, i.e., learning standards. Further, your child’s score places him at the 45th percentile compared to his class, the 49th percentile compared to his school, the 36th percentile compared to kids in the same grade in the district, and the 25th percentile compared to kids in the same grade nationally.
Next steps for your child:
Insert here if and what there will or will not be instructionally different for this child. For example,
Since Ody’s scores show him as being at some risk and at a low percentile rank nationally, we will collect more data to determine the specific areas of reading that Ody may need more direct help with from the classroom teacher. Further, as part of our school improvement plan, we prioritize that all children receive a full 120 minutes per day of reading and writing instruction.
What can you do to help?
Have a time for your child to read every day. In the car, before bed. Anytime!
What does your child like? Sports? Dinosaurs? Arthur? Let them choose what they want to read.
Ask your child to read you something they learned to read at school.
Ask your child to bring home books from the school library.
Give your child a ‘high-five’ when they have been reading at home. Ask them about what they read.
Tips for Helping Parents Understand Reports
The first time we share assessment results with parents, the color-coding and numbers in FastBridge reports will be completely foreign to them, and all families will need ongoing reminders at each benchmark period.
Educators should provide specific clarification for families to visually and cognitively navigate the screening information. They will need a “key” or “guide” to know what they are looking at. Here is where educators have the opportunity to clarify the difference between norms and benchmarks, and norm-referenced versus criterion-referenced in parent-friendly language.
Ultimately, families want to know the bottom line of how their child is doing. Is the child healthy or not? We provide this information by showing how that child’s score compares to expectations for grade-level peers.
Does the child’s score place that child at low risk, some risk, or high risk? Or, at the college pathway where there’s opportunity for content acceleration? Give an overview of what the data shows about a child’s relative strengths and where there might be relative weaknesses in learning.
Educators can then use information as a springboard to extend the offer to families of how they can reinforce, encourage, and support their child’s learning in school at home.
Examples of FastBridge Reports
FastBridge has two reports that can be helpful for teachers as they complete the final report cards for the year. The Progress Report and the Student-at-a-Glance Report provide details about student performance during the school year that complements traditional report card information.
The Progress Report
The FastBridge Progress Report is a graph that displays an individual student’s scores from weekly to monthly progress assessments. This report can be shared with parents during the school year at parent-teacher conferences and can be sent home at the end of the school year with the final report card. Here is an example of a Progress Report.
The above report shows a third-grader who started out reading just above 100 words correctly per minute (WRC). A goal of 150 WRC was set for this student and the above data indicate that it was reached and exceeded on some occasions. In this case, the parents will likely be pleased to see the student’s data but might wonder about some of the details of the report. When sharing the Progress Monitoring Report with parents, it is important to help them be able to understand the information it contains. FastBridge has a downloadable parent letter about the Progress Report that can be sent home with an individual student’s report.
The Progress Monitoring version of the Parent Letter includes two pages. The first page explains how progress monitoring is conducted. The second page includes an annotated Progress Report with descriptions of each part.
This section of the letter is designed to help parents understand the information included in the Progress Report.
In some cases, students will not make the gains hoped for or expected. In such cases, it is important that teachers are prepared to explain the Progress Report details and suggest steps that might help the student meet the learning goals. Here is an example of a student whose growth did not meet the learning goal.
Some families will be more open and able to provide summer enrichment for students than others. Although family circumstances differ, it is important that all parents have the opportunity to learn their child’s learning progress for each school year.
The Student-at-a-Glance Report
Another FastBridge report that can be helpful for parents is the Student-at-a-Glance Report. This report summarizes a student’s performance on all screening and progress assessments to date. Here is an example:
This report includes both screening and progress monitoring data. This report could be very helpful for parents seeking to understand how well a child performed compared to others as well as what growth has been made from year to year. The above example depicts a student with scores at risk in the prior school year but who made important progress with intervention during the current school year.
When Parents Have Questions
Some parents will have remaining questions about the assessments used and their children’s scores. For this reason, it is important to give parents the name and contact information (e.g., phone, email) for the person(s) to ask about test results.
At the elementary level, the best contact person is the student’s classroom teacher. At the middle and high school levels, the best contact is one of the teachers, or the student’s assigned guidance counselor.
When parents contact a teacher or counselor about test results, it is important to set up a time to meet and discuss their questions. Taking time to answer assessment questions and explain results fully can help parents understand future test results better.
As long as there have been schools, there have been tests. In recent years, the numbers and types of assessments have grown. This growth can be confusing for parents who took far fewer tests when they attended school.
Schools can help parents understand the assessments their children will take by planning ahead to communicate with parents in multiple ways. By …
- Sending parents a summary of the planned assessments
- Reminding them of testing dates during the school year; and
- Sharing information about how to interpret score reports
… schools can help parents make sense of the new assessments and build better communication and parent-school partnerships.
Even with thorough information about specific assessments, some parents will have questions. Schools can reduce parents’ anxiety and confusion even more by providing the names and contact information of the teachers or counselors to be contacted with additional questions. Although school assessments are unlikely to disappear, schools can help parents make sense of the tests with careful planning and good communication.
When it comes to universal screening data, communication with families includes creating a shared understanding of why screening data is collected and what this data means for their children. But educators are also encouraged to see this as an opportunity to foster engagement from families on what actions they can take to support school improvement and overall academic success for their children.
Baldwin, M., & Wade, S. M. (2012). Improving family and community engagement through sharing data. Briefing Paper. Retrieved from http://www.msapcenter.com/applicationdoc/c037e1d9-20fd-4449-83d3-f268b1f5348dimprovingfamcommunity.pdf.
Harvard Family Research Project (2013). Tips for Administrators, Teachers, and Families: How to Share Data Effectively. Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/var/hfrp/storage/fckeditor/File/7-DataSharingTipSheets-HarvardFamilyResearchProject.pdf.
Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
National Center on Response to Intervention. Parent Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.fastbridge.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Parent20FAQs20About20RTI.pdf
The Education Trust. (2004). Making data work: A parent and community guide. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.fastbridge.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/dataguidefinal.pdf.