Five Questions to Ask Your Child’s Teacher About School Tests


By Fred McDaniel, SVP of Product Management & Publishing, NWEA

If you’re a parent of a school-age child, you’ll probably be heading to your first parent-teacher conference of the year soon. This is an incredibly valuable opportunity to learn more about your child’s education, but it can be difficult to know what to ask your child’s teacher, especially when it comes to the complicated but important topic of school tests. As both a parent and a developer of education assessments, I can provide some guidance on what you can ask teachers to better understand the purpose and the value of the tests your child is taking.

First, Do Your Homework

Just like children complete their assignments before heading into school, do your homework before meeting with your child’s teacher. Parent-teacher conferences usually aren’t very long, so having the right information on hand before stepping into the meeting will give you more time to dig deeper with the teacher.

I recommend looking up what assessments your school system uses, particularly those that your child has taken or will be taking, and doing a quick web search to learn more about them. This will allow you to ask meaningful questions and also let the teacher know that you are an advocate for your child and interested in leveraging your child’s assessment experiences to maximize their learning. Most district and school websites have testing information readily available, including links to external providers where even more information can be gleaned.

Five Questions to Ask

While you should feel comfortable asking the teacher any questions you may have about the assessments your child will be taking, or to explain aspects of the testing process where you may need more clarification, here are five key questions to ask that help you better understand the purpose of the tests, how the scores will be used, and how you can support your child’s testing experience.

What are the different tests my child will take this school year, and what is the purpose of each test?

Many schools are trying to reduce the number of tests children take during the school year. You want to learn the purpose of each test your child takes, what value the test results have to your child’s learning, and how teachers use test results to adapt their lesson plans, personalize instruction to meet your child’s needs, and choose learning materials.

Do you use tests that measure my child’s academic growth as well as grade-level proficiency?

Some tests, like the end-of-year state test, are designed to reveal if your child is performing at grade level. Others are designed to measure your child’s ongoing academic growth – which could be at, above, or below grade level in different subjects. You want to learn if your child is performing at grade level, and also how your child is acquiring new skills.  This is particularly important to know for a child who is below or above grade level, so that appropriate academic supports can be provided to meet each child’s individual learning needs.

How are my child’s test results used to help him or her learn? Are they used to help my child set his or her learning goals?

Test results should not be the end of the learning process. Ideally, they provide valuable information to guide instruction for your child and his or her next learning activities.  You want to learn how your child and teacher use test results to set learning goals, and how your child’s test results will be used by your child’s current teacher, his or her next teacher, the school, and the district.

Is my child comfortable taking tests? If not, what can we do to reduce his or her anxiety?

Test taking doesn’t have to – and shouldn’t – cause fear or anxiety. You want to learn about your child’s responses to taking tests, what is being done to make testing a positive process, and how the teacher responds if your child expresses anxiety. Ask the teacher how he or she talks about assessment with the students, and if he or she is helping students understand how tests can help them all learn and grow.  And finally, ask what can you do at home to ease your child’s worry.

What is the testing schedule, and when will your child’s test results be available?

It is important to know when the tests will be administered and when the results will be available to you. Ask for an assessment schedule that outlines the tests your child will take throughout the semester or year. Knowing when your child will be tested can help you ensure he or she is well-rested and relaxed going into school on test day. Ask how else can you support the teacher and your child to ensure the best information is yielded from each test.

Parent-teacher conferences are a great way for you, as a parent, to learn more about your child’s experiences in the classroom. Don’t be afraid to ask questions so you can better understand the tests your child is taking and how they are being used to help your child learn.  And keep the lines of communication with your child’s teacher open throughout the year so you can partner together to ensure your child is learning, growing, and succeeding in school.

Fred McDaniel
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