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Summative Assessments Message Shifts

Messaging Shifts for the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments What Parents Want to Know.

As schools gear up for the 2015–16 administration of the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments, we have an opportunity to refine our communication strategies with parents. The guidance that follows is based on data collected from sixteen parent focus groups across nine states.1

These findings show that the certain messages resonate with parents, and should be reinforced, while other messages are no longer effective. Finally, some messages are effective only if they are corroborated with concrete action on the part of schools and teachers. For example, the message that “scores will be used to improve instruction,” is important. If, however, parents do not see teachers using the test results to improve instruction for their child, the corresponding message is irrelevant, and could potentially do more harm than good.

The three groups of messages are summarized below:

Messages That Resonate

  • The test is just one measure.
    It is one of several indicators, in combination with report cards, teacher feedback, and classwork used to create a complete picture of a student’s progress in school.
  • This is a much improved test—focused on real-world skills such as critical thinking, analytical writing, and problem solving.
    Students are asked to do more than fill in the bubbles on a multiple choice test. They now have an opportunity to show their work and explain their reasoning as part of the testing process.
  • The test is connected to classroom instruction.
    The test matches the skills and content that students are learning and practicing in the classroom on a daily basis. Each grade level has clear, prioritized goals that describe what students need to know and understand before the end of that year, and the test is mapped to those goals.

Messages That Are Important (but need to followed up with concrete action)

  • Scores will be used to improve instruction.
    The results identify where students are doing well and where they need additional support in order to meet grade level expectations. Teachers will use the results to address students’ individual strengths and areas in need of improvement.

    • This message is effective only if parents see that teachers are examining individual student data and using it to target the students’ needs. Additionally, it will be important for teachers to discuss student test results with parents and explain how they will address the areas that need improvement.

Messages That No Longer Work

  • The scores are setting a new baseline.
    This is no longer true. The baseline has already been set. Parents now want to know when they can start seeing improvement in their child’s scores.

  • The Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments replaced the previous state assessments.
    This is no longer relevant. The Smarter Balanced assessments have already been in place for two years

  • This year is a transition year.
    The tests can no longer be framed as “new” or as a transition. Parents are interested in knowing how their children are making progress from one year to the next.

  • Scores may look lower this year.
    Parents have already experienced lower scores in the first year. Their attention has now shifted to what will be done to help their child improve.

Additional Guidance

It is clear that parents want and need to know the basic facts and logistics of how the tests will be administered. The more information parents have available to them, the more confident they will feel in their ability to help their child. Therefore, we recommend that schools and teachers adopt the following practices:

  • Equip parents with basic facts about the tests, including how the tests are structured, how much time their child with have, and the role of technology. This will go a long way in making parents feel more comfortable with the test.

  • Refer parents to the California Department of Education’s (CDE’s) Parent Guides to the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments. These guides include sample test items for English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics and help parents better understand their children’s test results. Separate grade-span guides are available—in both English and Spanish—for grades 3–6, 6–8, and grade 11. They are posted on the CDE’s CAASPP Student Score Report Information Web page.

  • Encourage parents to look at the practice test for their child’s grade level. This will help parents see the connection between classroom work and the skills being assessed. The greatest criticism among parents (based on the parent focus group findings) was the belief that the tests were separate from the daily work that took place in the classroom and therefore did not reflect what their children actually learned every day.

  • Refer parents to the sample test items in English language arts/literacy and mathematics that are posted on the Smarter Balanced Sample Questions Web page External link opens in new window or tab.. Grade-specific scoring guides have been developed for both the computer-adaptive testing portion and the performance task for each content area.


1 The High-Quality Assessment Project (HQAP) commissioned Edge Research to conduct 16 parent focus groups, across nine states.

Questions:   California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Office | | 916-445-8765
Last Reviewed: Thursday, April 14, 2016
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