Parents Loud and Clear on Tests: Put Focus on Helping My Child, Not Just ‘System’

Parents Loud and Clear on Tests: Put Focus on Helping My Child, Not Just ‘System’
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In this Feb. 12, 2015 photo, Yamarko Brown, age 12, works on math problems as part of a trial run of a new state assessment test at Annapolis Middle School in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

RCEd Commentary

It’s now been about seven months since students across the country took the new, Common Core-aligned standardized tests. It’s well into a new school year—different classes, different teachers—and those students and their parents still have no information on how their students performed on those assessments.

Some states have released overall or school-by-school scores, but that’s not our parents’ priority. In a new Education Post poll of public school parents, their clear message is: We want tests to be focused more on how our kids are doing and less on how the “system” is doing.

In the poll, parents indicated that they generally see value and promise in testing, but their experiences with testing do not come close to matching what they want for their kids.

Overall, 44 percent of parents said that standardized tests are fair, compared with 38 percent who said they are not. And 45 percent of parents believe standardized tests have a positive impact on schools overall, compared to 30 percent of parents who feel the impact is negative.

There’s also a pretty even split among parents on “over-testing” with 49 percent saying there are “too many” tests and 48 percent saying their children have the “right amount” or “too few.”

But there is a clear disconnect between how tests are being used (measuring basic learning skills, ranking schools, and identifying schools that need help); and how parents want them to be used (to identify students who need help, to help parents identify areas where their child needs extra help, to help teachers and schools create individualized learning plans).

That is critical feedback that we need to hear and address. We need to focus on making standardized tests more useful to students, parents, and teachers. We now have better annual tests that have raised the bar to where it should be to give students a more accurate update on how they’re doing.

We’ve recognized the need to eliminate unnecessary local tests and reduce overall testing time. Now, we need to sharpen the focus on parents and students as we make adjustments with the new tests and how results are delivered.

We need to get results in the hands of students, parents, and teachers quickly—at the start of the school year—and help parents get answers to the questions they most want tests to address. Does my student need extra help and in what areas and what’s the plan to help my student improve? Those questions need to take a higher priority over system-level questions that aren’t as compelling to parents and are helping the opt-out movement gather steam.

Parents want more tools to help their students in school because they hold themselves, first and foremost, responsible for their child’s success. According to the parents Ed Post polled, parents (43 percent) and students (35 percent) are most responsible for academic success, followed by teachers (13 percent) and the school (5 percent).

But while most parents see the ultimate accountability being at home, they also place a high priority on supporting teachers and making sure ineffective teachers are replaced and underperforming schools are expected to improve.

When given a list of  “education priorities” and asked to assign a priority to each one, 87 percent of parents said “giving teachers the respect, support, and resources they need to be effective” should be a “top” or “high” priority.

84 percent put “removing ineffective teachers from the classroom” in those top two categories; 79 percent had “requiring states and districts to take action in chronically low-performing schools”; 76 percent said “creating higher standards and a more challenging curriculum”; and 75 percent said “holding teachers and principals more accountable for student achievement.”

Parents told us they feel a deep personal responsibility for their child’s success at school. They want fewer tests and want them to be used to empower parents and teachers instead of just measuring results.

And they believe our schools have a responsibility to help all kids succeed, regardless of the challenges they face. This is what they want from their schools, and this is where we should focus the conversation and resources.


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