What If Parents Actually Valued State Assessments? (by Spotlight's Mark Schneiderman)

State summative assessments have evolved dramatically over the last 30 years. While education leaders have refined their design and role in many positive ways, support is flat -- at best -- as families and teachers doubt the utility of these end-of-year tests. But what if parents better valued state assessments? 

Indeed, parents may hold the key to reversing declining support trends. As a parent myself, I’ve long supported the idea and ideal of state assessments: to increase transparency and equity, inform instruction, and enable accountability. But keeping up with their ever-evolving nature and purpose has been exhausting and confusing, even for those of us working in education. Sure enough: support for state tests is weak among parents (46%), while more than five percent (5%) of students are opting out in many states.

That’s one reason I’m so excited to have recently joined Spotlight: to help parents better understand their children’s performance, including their state assessment scores, in an accessible and actionable manner. Unless and until parents advocate for these tests, their future will be uncertain.

In most states, individual score reports (ISRs) are an excruciatingly negotiated two pages of dense text with a few charts or graphs. Some parents never even receive them via mail or backpack, and they most often fail to inform and enlighten most who do -- particularly those who don’t speak English or who lack data savvy.

At the recent National Conference on Student Assessment (NCSA), education leaders gathered around the purpose of improving high-stakes testing. Among the more popular topics was assessment literacy, primarily for teachers, administrators, and legislators. But what about parents?

What if parents awaited their children’s test scores as eagerly as report cards -- or their SAT results? What if parents received not just a flat, paper report, but a personalized story about their child’s performance, told through clear terms -- in their home language -- and with engaging animation? And what if instead of the dog eating that paper ISR, parents received a secure text message linking them directly to their child’s video report?

In this age of video, Spotlight’s Video Reporting Technology (VRT) is making this possible for hundreds of thousands of families across the country. In a 2018 study of VRT conducted by WestEd,, over 80% of parents felt that video reporting helped them better understand how their child was doing in school; that number was nearly nine in ten for non-English speaking families. Parents also reported that they they were more likely to communicate with their child’s teacher (70% overall; 85% for non-English speaking families). In another study, 67% of parents found assessment results delivered by video report to be easier to understand than paper score reports; only 11.23% disagreed.

Now imagine the assessment literacy of that parent! And how they will become advocates of those tests with their teachers, school and even legislators. And how this understanding can bring enlightenment, engagement and empowerment to students and families, as well as educators. 

A key to state assessment support and maximizing their impact is family involvement, and increasing that value starts with delivering a personalized story about their child’s performance.