This guest blog post was written by Char Shryock, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Bay Village City Schools in Ohio, parent, and member of the CenterPoint Teaching and Learning Advisors. She has significant experience and expertise integrating technology to transform instruction. She holds a bachelor's degree in biology and English (with minors in chemistry and education) from Baldwin-Wallace College and a master's degree in education administration from Ashland University. She is the Leader of the Ohio Standards Advocates, working to help the state implement the Ohio's Learning Standards and the testing/assessments that measure student achievement.
Parents are natural data collectors. We take pictures, save artifacts of our child’s successes and milestones, and compare and share stories of our child with other parents. As my own daughter grew up, I regularly tracked her height by making marks on the inside of her closet door. Each mark was carefully dated and she loved looking at how much she had grown since the last time we had measured. I also kept a folder of projects and papers she brought home from school. At first, these were hung on the refrigerator door in celebration of the quality work she had done. But when I started to look more closely, I realized that the contents of her take home folder were really windows into her learning progress over time. When I began to compare the work from earlier in a school year to current work, I began to see patterns, and this helped me to ask more specific questions to her teachers about next steps for her learning. The real challenge for parents is not collecting data, but recognizing what data helps us understand our child’s learning, and then deciding how to act on it.
A good starting point when looking at data are the state test score reports your child receives at the end of each school year. State tests are summative, so they are good for identifying learning strengths that can be built on the next school year. When you receive the score report, there are two pieces of information that can be used to start a conversation with your child’s next teacher or teachers.
First, the scale score, or the total score, is a way to see what kind of foundation your child has built in that subject area. The higher the score, the more confident you can be that your child has mastered the knowledge and skills they need to begin the next grade (or if they are a junior or senior, move on to college).
If the scale score is low, look at the second piece of information that is on the score reports, the subscores. These drill down into more specific skills within a subject area and are a way to find where your child’s strengths may be, and where your child may need additional support or have gaps in their learning. Subscore information will help you to ask your child’s teachers specific questions that will help you support your child’s learning at home and at school. Some of these questions might include:
- What strategies does my child know that can help them read a passage with unfamiliar words or solve a math problem that is challenging? How can we work together to help my child build additional strategies?
- How can I use everyday tasks or activities at home to reinforce skills my child is learning at school?
- What gaps in learning might my child have? What interventions or supports are you planning to put in place to help close those gaps?
- What areas of strength do you see in my child? What opportunities are available that might help my child grow these skills or apply these skills in new ways?
Another source of helpful data are the results of diagnostic tests or benchmarking tests that are given throughout the school year. These tests are more formative so the results are meant to be used to plan immediate next steps in learning. The questions on the tests help your child and her teacher see what the child knows or can do at that moment in time. This may be below, at, or above their current grade level. What is important is looking at where the child’s learning is right now, and how it is progressing. Because diagnostic and benchmarking tests are given more than once during the school year, the report you might get as a parent may contain a line graph or bar graph that shows how results have changed over time. It should also give you a summary of what your child currently knows and can do, and specifics on where her learning should be going next. If there is a graph or table showing the current result compared to past results, you can use that information to help you ask questions at a parent teacher conference or phone call. Questions you might ask include:
- I notice that the graph of my child’s results is showing an upward pattern. What should we continue to do at home to support learning? What will you be doing at school during the next few months to build on what my child knows?
- I notice that the graph of my child’s results seems to have ups and downs. What do you think is causing this? Are there specific areas that my child may need additional practice or opportunities to build their skills or knowledge?
- I notice that the graph of my child’s results is showing a downward pattern. Are there other factors that might be affecting my child’s learning at school? What supports are you putting in place to get my child’s learning back on track? What games or stories can we work with at home that might help my child build this knowledge or skill?
The most informal type of test or assessment any parent can use as a source of data are projects, quizzes, and tests your child brings home as part of their day-to-day school work. Usually these projects and tests come home with points or letter grades on the top and possibly written feedback from the teacher. Have your child go through the test and make a list of questions that she got wrong because of a careless mistake—maybe she rushed through the answer or misread the question. Talk about what she might do differently on the next test to slow down or double check their work. Next, look closely at the questions that were wrong because she did not have a strategy for solving a problem or may not be able to apply what she has learned to a new situation. Make a plan with your child that will help her see what questions she may need to ask the teacher to help clear up a misconception. The plan may also include what your child’s next step will be to grow her own learning on a skill or topic she doesn’t have a solid understanding of yet. On a project, look at the rubric the teacher used to grade the assignment (if it was provided). A rubric helps you and your child understand what the expectations were for the quality and content of the work. Talk with your child about what she felt were the strengths of her project work. If she could revise it, what would she do differently? What did she learn by doing the project?
Remember, as a parent, you are the best advocate for your child’s learning. You need to be able to look at the data you have available to you and use it effectively to support your child as a learner at home and at school. Results of different kinds of tests can be used to build a data picture of your child. Knowing how to use those results to ask specific questions is a great first step in creating a clear communication path with your child’s teachers.
Written by Char Shryock