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Communicating with Parents about Student Data

By: Rachel Brown, Ph.D., NCSP

With the recent increase in assessments used in schools, parents often have questions about how their children are doing.  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. This post includes some guidelines that schools can consider when communicating with parents about student test scores. These steps include sharing the purposes for assessment, schedules, student-specific results, and whom to contact with questions.

Explaining the Purposes for Assessment to 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 FAST™ aReading 3 times a year To learn each student’s current reading skills and identify students who need additional reading instruction
Progress Monitoring FAST™ earlyReading

FAST™ CBMreading

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.  

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.  

Student-Specific Results

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.

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.

Dr. Rachel Brown is FastBridge Learning’s Senior Academic Officer. She previously served as Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Southern Maine. Her research focuses on effective academic assessment and intervention, including multi-tier systems of support, and she has authored several books on Response to Intervention and MTSS. 

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