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About Test Scores


Q. On the last day of school, our child's teacher sent home a couple of charts that show how our second-grader did on a couple of year-end standardized reading tests. On one, she was 'way above average, but on the other one, she was right at average. She didn't improve very much in either measurement, which makes it look like the whole school year was wasted. We can't even tell what subject the tests covered. If we knew what specific reading skills she tested as just "average," we could work on them this summer. The problem is, there was absolutely no explanation of how to read the chart, what was tested, or what the scores mean. Meanwhile, testing seems to be the biggest issue in education today. How can I get better informed about what my child's scores mean?


Call the teacher or the principal and make an appointment to come in and go over those scores. It is a mistake for them not to have explained what the scores mean in a note to parents. The information probably should be in the student handbook as well, and on your district's website.


Here are questions every parent deserves to have answered by school officials:


   How many school hours or days are used for standardized tests in the school year?


   Are they supplied by the state, or does the district buy them from test publishers?


   Who chose these particular tests, and why?


   How many questions were on each test and how long did they take?


   What specific reading subskills did these two tests cover, and how are they different?


   How closely aligned are these tests with the curriculum the school has selected?


   If it is a reading test, at what grade level is my child now reading, according to the results?


   My child's score was 'way above average in both tests, given at the start of the year and near the end, but the score didn't improve that much. Meanwhile, the district average went 'way up. Does that mean my child's reading skills were ignored or back-burnered because she was already reading at above grade level?


   In the other test, my child's first score was a little above average, but at the end of the year, her score fell right on the average. If it also is a reading test, how can she be so far ahead of her classmates on one test, but right on the average on the other?


   Please show me my child's writing sample that was used to assess her writing and come up with a score; the score is meaningless to me without seeing the actual piece of writing.


   Why don't you inform parents of how these scores were derived, and what these scores mean?


Be aware that mistakes do happen with testing, but it's up to the parent to figure that out and rectify them. One parent had a daughter who was usually the smartest in her class, but when it came time to determine who could be in the gifted program, the school said her standardized test score was too low to qualify. The mother asked to see her daughter's test answers. She discovered that one out of the four pages was missing; the questions on that missing page had all been scored as "wrong." The girl hadn't missed a single question on any of the other pages. But if the mother hadn't been assertive, no one would have ever found out. So you have to be alert, aware, and willing to put in some extra effort.


Standardized testing is a complex matter. You have to know at what grade level test questions are asked to evaluate scores. If your son got a high score, but the questions were written five grade levels beneath his, it changes the meaning of his score considerably.


If your daughter receives what you consider to be a terrible grade on a state assessment, such as a 49%, but still passes, that is because kids in your state overall did pretty terrible on the same test, and educators were forced to lower the "cut score" or suffer the political consequences of failing masses of students.


Other questions you might want to ask:


   Were students using calculators for math tests?


   Did some kids get to have the test questions read to them?


   Did some kids get extra time?


   Did some kids get help from their teacher during the test, and others did not?


   How do our district's average scores compare to districts in other states with similar demographics?



Homework: Some parents think schools have gone overboard on testing. For more on that point of view, see the book, Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It by Peter Sacks.


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 09 2008



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