We are deep into assessment season and, as teachers, your already busy schedules must now flex to accommodate the curiosity and concern of parents. The data which are indispensable to your planning and efforts to guide all of your students suddenly take on new value, as an informed parent can be the most valuable partner in a student’s growth.
Richard Harrold is the Compliance, Accreditation and Policies Officer at ACS International Schools, based in the UK. He has been a teacher, principal and administrator of schools in Mexico, Venezuela, China and the UK. He has presented at several Fusion events. Here are some guidelines he has used to successfully make parents a part of assessment and the educational journey.
1. Be aware that standardized test data of any kind often resonates with parents in a way that in-house assessment data doesn’t. Regardless of whether or not the standardized data confirms what the other data appears to be telling you, it is often the standardized data that parents trust as the most valid source of information about their child’s learning.
2. It follows, therefore, that you need to be careful about distributing growth data in the early stages of a child’s experience of MAP. There is nothing wrong with holding back MAP data until the fourth or fifth session (i.e. the second or third year of testing) which is typically when a consistent pattern begins to be discerned in the growth. This isn’t being secretive. It’s simply respecting the fact that MAP data, like all growth data, acquires integrity over time. It’s a principle of statistical analysis that the pattern that emerges after four or five tests is usually truer than the pattern that emerges over two or three.
3. The individual student report often needs a walk-through. Hold a meeting and get someone skilled in interpreting MAP data – and able to explain it in simple terms, to address the parents. Ask parents to bring their child’s latest individual student report along and have the presenter walk the audience through a (suitably anonymized) sample report on the big screen.
Make sure the presenter is prepared for complicated as well as simple questions. I once had the same parent ask me “Why do you always test in the morning?” and then “Can you explain what factors influence the variance in standard error across the five different Grade 3 classes?”
4. If you can, get hold of a report from a student who has been through at least six or seven MAP tests. What you’re looking for ideally is a student whose pattern shows a dip at some point (which is typical – see below for an example).
Seeing this sort of report from another child (naturally with the student’s personal details removed) can be helpful for parents trying to understand why their own child experienced a flat-lining or a dip in their scores. We all know deep down that we don’t learn linearly. But we still get discouraged if we see a line on a growth graph take a downturn.
Seeing that it’s all part of the learning experience and that the line eventually recovers can be immensely reassuring, especially when tracked against an intervention or diversification of curriculum.
5. If you can, give the parents the experience of taking the MAP test. I’ve done this by taking a MAP test myself and capturing my progress on screen as I go. I then speeded up the film so that the whole test could be seen in about thirty seconds. When I show parents this they can see how a reading test can begin with questions such as “All sentences begin with…?”. But if I keep getting the questions right, question 30 could be asking me to identify patterns of figurative language in a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson!
This clarifies beautifully the adaptive nature of the MAP test. Currently, almost no parent will have had that experience from their own school days, so this is a useful link to their child’s assessment experience.
6. Give parents a taste of other measures linked to MAP such as Lexile levels. You can even make it fun! Present them with random book titles and ask them to rank them in order of difficulty. Then discuss how they got on.
It’s always good to get parents talking about how their children’s reading is monitored and cultivated. And, let’s face it, who would have guessed that Diary of a Wimpy Kid has a higher Lexile level than Wuthering Heights?!
7. Lastly, keep in mind that parents have a right to know how their child’s learning and growth is demonstrated through his or her performance in assessment. More importantly, they can only be an effective partner in the partnership for learning you are cultivating if school and home work from the same understanding of where strengths and weaknesses are at any given time.
We hope you enjoyed reading these seven cardinal rules and that they will aid you in your discussions with parents.