Questions About Testing For Parents

With the new Common Core Standards and increased emphasis on rigorous instruction, parents have many questions regarding testing and assessments as it pertains to their child. JPS Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, Jessie Joy, answers some of most commonly asked questions.

Q: Why is testing important?

A: The goal of education is for students to acquire information, ideas, understandings, and skills that they can use independently to succeed in future learning and employment. During the learning process, students will engage in class discussions and practice of skills, where teachers may check for understanding, but students may not always be working independently in these situations. They may have help from a teacher or parent, work with friends to complete a problem or project, or look to other resources for answers or ideas. Testing – or other forms of assessment – are an opportunity for students to show, and teachers to know, that they have developed independence in their thinking and understanding.

Q: Why are standardized tests important?

A: A standardized test is one that measures a commonly agreed upon set of concepts and skills, with scores based on how well a student performs compared to what is expected for the grade level or compared to other students. They are one tool that parents and educators can use to determine whether a child is making progress as expected for their age group. Parents of young children often want to know if their child is “normal” in developmental milestones such as walking, talking and reading. Educators similarly use standardized tests to assess whether children are developing academic milestones. We can use a student’s performance on a standardized test to identify whether he or she needs more time and support to catch up to their peers. We can also use information from standardized tests to assess whether groups of students are making expected progress, and to make needed adjustments to our curriculum or instructional approach where needed.

Q: I am hearing a lot about formative assessments. What are they and does this mean more testing for my child?

A: Formative assessments aren’t necessarily more tests. They are more like “checkpoints’ in a student’s learning process. It typically involves feedback (rather than scores) for both student and teacher that focus on the details of content and performance. Teachers have always given tests and quizzes as part of the instructional process. If these tests and quizzes are used just to give a grade, then we aren’t using them in a formative way to help our students. If we study the results of tests, quizzes, and independent class work to identify specific things that students didn’t learn as well as they should have, and we make adjustments to future lessons to correct this, then we are using these assessments to help our students to improve their learning. It’s not that we need to test more often, but that we need to test more intelligently. Research does show that short, frequent assessments have a much better impact on student learning, as long as we use the results of the assessments to give students extra support, more practice, or a different approach to learning. One way to think about formative assessments is like a diabetic who tests his or her blood sugar frequently, or a patient who has regular blood tests to see if certain medications are working. The patient can only avoid serious illness with regular check-ups and adjustments when the tests show that one needs them.

Q: With the focus on testing, isn’t education just becoming test preparation?

A: It depends on what one considers test preparation. If the test is well written, and requires students to think critically, analyze information, and solve complex problems, then preparing for the test requires that students have rich and challenging learning experiences in order to be successful. If tests only require students to memorize facts or solve predictable problems, and we practice that to death, then we are shortchanging our students. The New York state assessments, aligned to the Common Core, are demanding a much deeper level of thinking and analysis by our students. It’s difficult to prepare for a test with less predictable and non-routine problems, other than to give students practice with tasks that require complex thinking, applied in an authentic situation that they might encounter outside the classroom setting.

If you would like more information on assessments, please visit www.jamestownpublicschools.org. Under the “Academics” tab, click “Assessment Information.” Parents should also always feel comfortable asking their child’s teacher for more information about the assessments and tests that are given in the classroom.