High-quality assessments and the data insights they generate are powerful tools for educators to monitor students’ progress — and they can also offer valuable insights to families. After all, we know educators and families both play critical roles in driving student growth.
However, communicating assessment results and their meaning to families can be challenging. This is especially true when it comes to standardized assessments that use complex systems to scale scores or measure against norm groups.
Tools like the ERB Family Report, available to our member schools in the 360 Access data reporting platform, help educators share key takeaways about student performance with their families and make conversations about progress easier.
How to Communicate with Families About Student Assessment Results
As member school educators and ERB staff say, you can also use the list of key strategies below to ensure students’ families have the necessary information and context.
1. Reiterate the School’s Testing Philosophy
First, it’s essential to ensure families, school leaders, and educators are on the same page about the role of standardized assessments. The families of independent school students care deeply about the quality of their student’s education, so there’s a major benefit to communicating your school’s testing philosophy before test day and reiterating that philosophy after families receive the results.
Assessments like ERB’s CTP and Milestones are used to track progress and identify areas of relative strength as well as learning gaps, not as a way to “rank” students or as a standalone measure of a student’s educational attainment. Those two different perspectives mean disconnects are common if school leaders aren’t clear about how assessments are — and aren’t — used.
“We’ve made our philosophy around testing very clear to parents,” said Amanda Taglia, testing coordinator and former teacher at the Latin School of Chicago, at the ERB National Conference in April 2023. “This isn’t about getting the top score. This is really about growth. We use this test for instructional planning and for student goal-setting to ensure that we’re on track compared to independent norms. But most importantly, so that we’re able to provide learning experiences for all of our students.”
Many school leaders find it useful to refocus families on seeking an overall upward trend in scores rather than perfection on any one assessment. “This is a snapshot in time, and the more parents understand that, and that it’s just one piece of the puzzle, the better,” Taglia says.
2. Clarify Results Timeline and Process
For many families, assessments — and their results — can feel opaque. Allisen Haworth, Upper Elementary Division Head at the Epiphany School, shared at the ERB National Conference that she recommends frequent communication about assessments to demystify them and ensure families understand when and how they will receive results. Key questions to clarify include:
- When will the assessment results will be released?
- How they will be shared — digitally, by mail, or in a conference setting?
- If results are shared digitally, what platform will be used? Will families need to create accounts to log in?
- Will results come from the school or the testing provider?
Providing plenty of information upfront builds trust and encourages families to reach out to ask questions rather than make assumptions.
Haworth says that it’s generally preferable to share information with families soon after the assessment takes place. However, teachers and administrators should connect and review results to ensure they are on the same page before any communication takes place. Holding more in-depth training for teachers on assessment processes and results before test administration helps to streamline those conversations and allows for a quick turnaround.
“I release the scores pretty fast because I have learned that if the scores take weeks to get out, that angst just goes up and up,” Haworth says.
“This is a snapshot in time, and the more parents understand that, and that it’s just one piece of the puzzle, the better.”
— Amanda Taglia, testing coordinator and former teacher at the Latin School of Chicago
3. Be Intentional About How You Share Information
Interpreting assessment results can be daunting even for experienced educators — so it’s not surprising that sharing raw data with families who don’t work in the field can be overwhelming.
Some educators report that sharing detailed information in a parent-teacher conference setting can be more effective. During a conference, educators can add context around assessment scoring and the student’s overall performance, as well as answer any questions as they arise.
“As much as you can, doing these things in person goes so much further than putting something in writing, at times,” Taglia says. “Give them as many resources and as much information as you can.”
Whether educators share scores (and what they mean) with families in person or digitally, it’s important to include additional information about how they are calculated. Why? Because if parents receive results without insight about how results are interpreted, they are more likely to jump to conclusions or put their own filter on the data, which can lead to anxiety and frustration.
ERB’s Family Report alleviates that challenge and makes it easy for educators to share results in one of three customizable formats. They can choose to include information like norm groups and trends to help families understand their students’ results and add commentary to share their perspectives on factors that may have influenced a student’s score.
4. Define Key Terms
Terms like “norm group” and “stanine” are unfamiliar to many families, and providing clear definitions alongside assessment results makes it easier for them to understand results. While score reports vary by assessment provider, commonly used terms include the following:
- Norm Group: A group of students in the same grade who took the same assessment.
- Specific types of norm groups include national norms (all students who took that test across the country), independent school norms (test-takers from independent schools across the country), grade norms (all the students in a certain grade at one school), and more.
- Some norm groups only include students who took the assessment around the same time, while others include several years’ worth of data.
- Raw Score: Represents the number of questions answered correctly on each section of an assessment.
- Scaled Score: Calculated based on the number of questions answered correctly and the relative difficulty of those questions.
- Percentile Rank: Indicates how many students in a norm group had scores that were the same or lower — not the percentage of questions answered correctly.
- Stanine: Offers another way to compare a student’s performance to others in their norm group. The norm group is broken into nine groups (stanines), numbered 1 to 9, based on their scores. Different percentages of students fall into each stanine, with more students in the middle groups and fewer at each end.
ERB’s Glossary of Terms offers additional details about terms used in CTP and Milestone score reports.
5. Highlight the Factors That Can Impact Results
When school leaders and educators communicate with parents, it’s important to be clear that a number of external factors can influence scores. These can include larger issues — a student’s sense of belonging at school, changes at home, serious test anxiety, or outside events like the COVID-19 pandemic — and smaller ones, like a poor night’s sleep or mild illness.
Often, the real value of assessments lies in identifying the cause of any mismatches between how the student performed and what the educator and family expected. For example, if a student is doing very well in math in class but scored poorly on the assessment, they may have simply had a bad day — or they may be struggling in other ways that the educator and family can work together to address.
Additionally, given the many variables at play on any individual test day, school leaders and educators should focus on data trends rather than individual data points whenever possible. While this may not be an option with a child new to your school, once they’ve been enrolled for several years and have taken assessments like the CTP and Milestones several times, teachers can see whether any lower scores are aberrations or an indicator of a trend that should be examined.
They can also compare individual student trends against broader trends — for example, scores across the country dropped immediately following school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
6. Share Next Steps
No matter how a student scores on an assessment, their teacher must be prepared to tell their family how they will use that information to inform their approach moving forward.
At the individual level, if an educator identifies a concerning trend in student performance, this might mean planning for additional support. On the other hand, if a student’s scores are consistently high, the family may wish to know how the school will ensure they continue to learn and grow.
If scores are trending downward or aren’t competitive with comparable norm groups at the school level, school leaders should be prepared to address those findings and share their plans to drive improvement. Whether lower assessment outcomes result from a societal challenge, like COVID-19, or a school-specific one, like staffing problems or leadership changes, it’s essential to be transparent with families and make it clear that the school remains committed to improvement.
[RELATED READING: How Data-Driven Decision-Making Helps Drive School Improvement]
Simplify Communications with the ERB Family Report Tool
ERB’s new Family Report tool is designed to help independent schools share assessment results more effectively with families while reducing the staff time — and anxiety — that can result from conversations about assessments.
These reports can simplify complex scoring to answer questions such as:
- How did my child do?
- What do these results mean?
- How are my child’s results trending over time?
- What, as a family, should we do next to support our child’s learning?
Schools can choose which test events, scores, and norms to include in each report, and can easily share a student’s progress over time. Plus, teachers can add contextual feedback, comments, and suggested next steps.
Learn more to explore how ERB’s new Family Report tool can help educators and staff effectively communicate assessment results with families to support student growth.