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Assessments of Deeper Learning Earn High Marks from Parents

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February 08, 2012 09:27 pm


Amid the often-heated debates over assessment, one group is rarely heard from: parents. So the report issued February 8 by the Northwest Evaluation Association is welcome. The Oregon-based assessment and research organization conducted a survey of 1,009 parents, along with surveys of 1,024 teachers and 200 district administrators, to find out what they wanted from testing.

Not surprisingly, parents are most interested in information about their own children’s progress. They overwhelmingly want to monitor their children’s performance, to know when to be concerned about it, and to determine their preparedness for the next stage of learning. Teachers also thought monitoring individual student performance was most important, while administrators ranked monitoring growth in learning over time and monitoring teacher effectiveness highly.

Parents and teachers agreed that formative and interim assessments—measures given during the year to provide information to inform instructional decisions—were more important than the summative tests given at the end of the year. And they thought that test information needs to be timely: assessment data more than a month old grows stale, the survey found.

One hopeful sign was that parents overwhelmingly want tests that measure a broad range of knowledge and skills. Ninety-two percent of parents considered measures of problem solving “extremely” or “very” important; 89 percent rated measures of critical thinking that high; and 88 percent rated measures of communication vital. (Teachers and administrators agreed.) Creativity, innovation, and collaboration also were considered important things to measure.

These findings show clearly that parents want schools to develop for all students the kinds of abilities most necessary for success in college and careers—the deeper learning abilities that, up to now, only a minority of students have had access to. Of course, these abilities are more difficult to measure than factual recall and low-level skills, the kinds of abilities measured by many conventional tests. And they can be more expensive, because they often require teachers to score written responses, rather than machines to scan multiple-choice responses.

The two state consortia that are developing assessments to measure student performance against the common core state standards—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)—are committed to creating measures that assess the full range of standards, including deeper learning competencies. The consortia also plan to develop items that can be used in formative and interim assessments. They face a challenge, though, because states will have to pick up the cost of administering their assessments once they are on line, in 2014-15.

The survey results suggest that parents might be willing to support these new assessments. However, their support comes with a caveat: parents don’t want more tests; they want better tests. If the consortia follow through with their plans, and states carry them out, parents might get their wish.

Robert Rothman is a senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education.



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