Beyond the score: A mom’s advice for interpreting summative assessments

African American mother helping daughter do homework in workbook

It is amazing how different your kids can be. You can have one child who is academically gifted and one child who struggles in school. And, if you are like me, receiving the score report from the end of the year test of the child who struggles is met with a little trepidation and parental stress. What if he didn’t pass? How would I tell him? How do I address any disappointment he may have in his results?  And most importantly, what do I do with this information?

Mother with two children drawing on paper

Tests are important. But what we care most about is that he tries his best and recognizes that no single set of numbers will ever define him, what he knows, or can do.

I’ve worked on large-scale, statewide assessments for about 13 years, both as a content developer, trying to make the content reliable and valid, as well as engaging for students, and as a manager, delivering on these complex programs to the best of my ability. Before that I was a teacher and testing coordinator. Given my background in this field, surely I’d be in a great position to talk to my son about his results and handle it with poise and expertise, right?

Wrong. Now that I’m a parent, I look at these measures differently, through the eyes of my elementary-age child and as someone trying to strike a balance between reacting to the results and considering what I know are his strengths and weaknesses. As a Mom, I have a few tips on how to review and use this information.

1. Review them privately first so that you understand the results before you talk to your child.

This year, my son was asking, “Did I pass? Did I pass?” while I was desperately trying to interpret the student report and a parent was waiting to take him to art class….standing there at the bus stop staring at both of us.  In a sweaty panic, I just nodded yes because I couldn’t bear the thought of telling him otherwise right then and I couldn’t figure out what the report was saying that quickly and under so much pressure. Yes, in hindsight I could have just told him we would wait and discuss later (add that one to the long list of parenting mistakes I’ve made). Regardless, my lesson learned is to review and understand first so I can approach the conversation a little more informed.

2. Once you figure out if your child actually passed or not, take the time to review the other information on the report because it can in many ways be more useful.

For example, many reports provide some sort of longitudinal measure so you can see how your child performed this year relative to previous years. They often also provide sub-scores, such as on standards like Numeric Fluency or Geometric Measurement in mathematics. These measures are more granular and can be better indicators of individual strengths and weaknesses.

3. There is a lot of misinformation about the development, scoring, and use of data on statewide assessments.

Take the time to read parent report interpretation guides or information on the state assessment website because they can help demystify the results and their uses and inform your discussions with your child and his teacher. For example, most of us are accustomed to some sort of passing percent, such as 70%, whereas statewide assessments often use “scale scores and “cut scores” to make the test equivalent from year to year, which can be confusing. It’s hard to know whether a score of 1480 is good or bad so review the guide which should help explain what the results mean. And, if the guides don’t help, call your state agency so they can explain it. These results can have varying implications for interventions and even retention. Inform yourself so you can be the best advocate for your child.

4. Remember that this is just a snapshot, often times of your child on one day.

Corroborate any interpretations you make from the report with your child’s teacher. Are the results consistent with his grades or concerns that the teacher has shared? If so, then I would be more likely to pursue outside interventions such as tutoring or extra attention during the summer. At the start of the new school year, share any concerns with his new teacher so you both can be right on top of it from the very beginning.

In our home, we take these tests seriously because we respect that the aggregated results can have a positive or negative impact on our teachers, school and even our community and we want to make use of any information that will help our son be successful in school. So we emphasize, to a degree, their importance and review the results with him. However, at the end of the day, what we care most about is that he tries his best and recognizes that no single set of numbers will ever define him, what he knows, or can do.


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About the Author
Amy Reilly

Amy Reilly

Amy Reilly is our director of research coordination. Previously, she served as a program manager for programs including Tennessee, Arkansas, and Utah. Her previous experience includes roles as a test development manager and lead content specialist in the area of English/Language Arts, as well as a Texas public school teacher. Amy holds a BS in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas A&M University and a Master of Business Administration from St. Edwards University. Follow Amy on Twitter: @areillytx