Feel the Churn (in State Assessment): Effective, Innovative Parent Communications are More Important than Ever

State K12 assessment is in significant flux both within and across states. Parents, teachers and students are feeling the churn! With state testing already facing an identity and constituency crisis, it is more important than ever that education leaders effectively communicate their purpose and results . . . especially to the key stakeholders of parents and families.

As one example, the number of states administering the named federally-funded consortia tests has fallen by some two-thirds in just a few years, from 40 in 2015 to a baker’s dozen today (12 SBAC; 1 PARCC). At the same time, many are shifting to use of college entrance exams or to interim and formative approaches. 

According to FutureEd’s recent review: “Unfortunately, turnover, not stability, is the mark of most state testing programs, as states shift from one vendor to another.” 

“The past few years in state assessment have been rough,” understated Bellwether Education Partners’ recent analysis

What is the impact of this churn? Parents may not (need to) fully understand testing validity and reliability, but they certainly need to understand their child’s performance. This includes their academic growth, comparison to relevant cohorts (school, district, state, etc.), and the alignment between state tests with their local report card as well as certain national benchmarks (AP, ACT, NAEP, etc.). That story becomes ever more challenging to tell when not only the resolution, but the setting and plot and characters, change so much from year to year. 

FutureEd continues: “But such turnover comes with a price. The disruption makes it hard to track trends in student learning, maintain stability in accountability systems, and build parent and educator trust and support as the benchmark keeps moving.”

One way to better inform families, and to therefore maintain (and even build) their valuation of state assessments and their student’s score, is enhanced communications. As the Data Quality Campaign and National PTA recently published, “Parents deserve clear information about student growth in schools.” It’s not enough to simply send a pdf score report in the mail or backpack. Effective communication requires more than just explanation and findings - it requires narration, tone, and engagement around otherwise complex technical and policy points. 

Spotlight is working with states like California, Hawaii and New Jersey to apply personalized video technology to tell the story to families, both about the state assessment design and purpose as well as about their child’s score, what it means, and what resulting steps they can take. These videos are also in the family’s home language, helping ensure that the parent language gap does not turn into a student achievement gap. 

Yes, personalized, actionable video reports are important to provide timely, relevant information to families necessary to improve parent understanding and engagement and therefore student learning. They are also an important means for increasing parent faith and support at a time where turnover in education officials and tests is creating churn that threatens to undermine the value of state testing for students as well as their intended goal of educational transparency and accountability, equity and quality.

“States embarking on this path [to redesign their systems] should have clear goals, a theory of action . . ., and realistic expectations . . .,” concluded Bellwether. “They also should not underestimate the importance of proactive, clear communications with districts, educators, families, and political leaders outside of education.”

The future of state assessment requires parental support; and parental support requires their understanding and value. Now, too often, all parents see is the churn. States and their partners have a chance to translate that churn into the opportunity for effective, engaging communications with families and positive educational impact for students.