Helping Parents and Guardians Understand Their Students’ Scores on New Tests Aligned with the College- and Career-Readiness Standards

by Bill Jackson

New college- and career-readiness standards, and the Smarter Balanced and PARCC assessments aligned to them, are causing anxiety for many parents and guardians who don’t yet fully understand what has changed and how it will impact their child. For millions of families now receiving reports of how their student has performed on the first administration of these new tests, anxiety is likely reflected in two key questions: What do the scores say about what my child does or doesn’t know? How can I, as a parent or guardian, help my student do better? A free new online tool now offers help on both counts.

GreatSchools, a national nonprofit I founded nearly 20 years ago to aid parents in finding high-quality schools and resources, recently developed the GreatKids State Test Guide for Parents. The guide was designed to enable parents and guardians to move from anxiety to action, by helping them understand the test results, what their child should be learning each year, and, most important, how they can help their child become more engaged in learning and improve their skills. We know parents are busy, and that’s why the Guide explains the tests and standards in plain, specific language and shows parents simple, powerful ways they can help their children master the new standards through everyday actions. The tool is currently available for all Smarter Balanced states and will soon be available in PARCC states as well.

As an educator, you are no doubt receiving plenty of questions yourself about the standards, the test, and student results. The guide isn’t meant to take the place of parent-educator conversations, but I think you’ll find it useful for your students’ families. To help you share it with them, I’ll quickly walk you through the tool from the perspective of a fictional mother and student in California. The child, Emily, is a sixth grader who last spring at the end of fifth grade, took California’s grade-5 Smarter Balanced test, the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). Please see image to the right to see what the math portion of Emily’s score report looks like.

Looking at the report, Emily's mother is concerned about Emily’s performance in math. She wants to understand it better and she wants to help Emily improve in this area. She starts by going to the California landing page:

(State-customized landing pages are available for all Smarter Balanced states; see our Partner Toolkit for links.)

After choosing fifth grade, Emily’s mom chooses math. She wants to learn about Problem Solving & Modeling/Data Analysis, one of the areas where Emily was below standard. What does Problem Solving really mean in fifth grade?

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She can watch a GreatKids Milestone video that shows 5th graders demonstrating the kind of problem-solving skills measured by the test. (Click on the video to see what Emily’s mom sees.)

Then, Emily’s mom can see the most likely reasons her daughter did not meet the 5th grade Problem Solving & Modeling/Data Analysis standard. If she wants, she can see the kind of problems that Smarter Balanced is using to assess 5th graders’ Problem Solving & Modeling/Data Analysis skills. Most important, she can learn simple, practical ways to help Emily get better at Problem Solving & Modeling/Data Analysis.

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In each of the “How to help” sections for math, there is one called “Sprinkle math into everyday activities.” The suggestions represent what I think is best about our new GreatKids State Test Guide for Parents: our advice is specific, targeted, and achievable. We worked with experts and teachers to identify the best ways for parents to help their children develop essential skills. We don't expect parents to become experts in curriculum themselves. The example above, related to ordering pizza, is accessible to the vast majority of parents.

WestEd and GreatSchools are co-hosting two upcoming webinars to help parents gain a deeper understanding of California’s new statewide testing system, what the test scores mean, and how to support their child’s learning.

Understanding Your Child’s Smarter Balanced Test Results and Supporting Learning in Grades 3-5: November 19, 2015 – 10:00 AM PST

Understanding Your Child’s Smarter Balanced Test Results and Supporting Learning in Grades 6-12: November 19, 2015 – 12:00 PM PST

Funds for the development of the GreatKids State Test Guide for Parents have been provided by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman FoundationBloomberg PhilanthropiesBill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Helmsley Charitable Trust, and Carnegie Corporation of New York

Bill Jackson is two parts dad, one part education change agent, and one part technology entrepreneur. He’s also the founder and CEO of GreatSchools, a national nonprofit that helps parents get a great education for their children. You can read Bill’s ideas about schools, learning, and parents on his blog.

Founder and CEO, GreatSchools