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Conferring With Amanda's Mom.

Julie Bennett, 1st-grade teacher in suburban Michigan, is getting ready to meet with Amanda's mom at the fall parent-teacher conference. Although Julie can honestly tell Amanda's mom that her child is doing "fine" and has "no problems," Julie also knows that her professional obligation as a teacher means she needs to provide much more than those vague statements. She has some notes and work samples to share with Amanda's mom, but will they be meaningful? Julie also is concerned that Amanda's mom might not be satisfied with the information she will share during the conference. There are no major test scores to report. The statewide tests will be administered in February, and Julie's experience has been that such scores do not give her much useful information anyway. She wants to tell Amanda's mom about what Amanda is doing on a day-to-day basis. Julie believes that the information she shares should not only give an accurate picture of Amanda's progress, but also help Amanda's mom to understand the curriculum goals, and how those goals are guiding what goes on in Julie's classroom.

The results of a state-wide survey about assessment in Michigan show that Julie Bennett is not alone in her struggle to communicate with parents about children's progress. The survey, conducted under the leadership of the Michigan Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educators, received 2,772 responses, including 942 from parents. Their answers give us insights into what parents think about assessment and how teachers might respond.

How the Survey Came About

The survey project sprouted from informal discussions at professional gatherings, where educators shared their concerns about assessment of young children. Some of these discussions focused on the not-always-successful efforts in the schools to move toward alternative forms of assessment, with special focus on the amount of attention given to standardized testing.

Educators wanted to know what teachers use as assessment approaches on a daily basis, and what approaches they find most useful. They wanted to know to what extent teachers, administrators, and parents trust various types of assessment, and to know the place of standardized testing in the overall assessment of the child.

Similar survey questions were used for the parents, teachers, and administrators. To avoid focusing on the state-mandated test, it was not mentioned in the parent surveys; a reference to it appeared only as an example of a mandated test in the teacher and administrator surveys.

What Was Found

The survey revealed that parents, teachers, and administrators have much in common when it comes to beliefs about assessment of young children. Among the shared goals are improved communication with each other and children achieving as much as possible.

The clear desire by all three groups for communication about children's progress is noteworthy. It is consistent with The Education Commission of the States 1996 report, which states that parents most often rely on teachers for education information. It is worth noting that the same report indicates that parents also rely on their children and on other parents for information. These findings suggest that if teachers wish to communicate with parents about educational progress, they should make accurate and useful information readily available. It also supports the value of helping children to understand their own progress so that they can respond to their parents' questions about how things are going at school.


* Information about their child

* Concrete evidence of their child's performance

* Assurance that ample learning is taking place

* Advance notice of concerns about their child's progress

* Recommendations about how they can help.

Contrary to what might be expected, the survey revealed that most parents are not highly interested in test scores. In spite of the attention given to standardized testing, the survey results did not show a high level of parent support for them. Parents, as well as teachers and administrators, put the least value on mandated test scores when looking for verification of student progress. Less than three quarters of the parents surveyed indicated that they are interested in test scores, and only 58 percent of the teachers felt that standardized test scores are useful in conferring with parents.

Problems With Test Scores

Why do parents have such limited faith in standardized test scores? A number of possible reasons can be identified. Parents seem to recognize that a test score is just a "blink in time," rather than an ongoing indicator of the child's performance in the classroom. Parents also may doubt that the content of a statewide test is similar to what the child is learning in the local school. They may sense that their child is a poor test taker. Furthermore, parents may suspect the validity and reliability of scores, due to variations or improprieties in the way they are given. Many educators are well aware of the credible stories about unprincipled practices in the administration of state-mandated tests. Rules may be bent when teachers and principals are driven to a high level of concern over how the school will fare, and how the public will react when test results are released. For example, results of the Michigan testing program are available in all media forms, including on the Internet.

Parent comments on the survey repeatedly questioned the accuracy and efficacy of standardized testing programs. One parent stated, "Tests have their uses, but too many schools are teaching to the test, not teaching what kids need to learn for happy, creative, thoughtful, compassionate lives." Another parent said, "... children are overly prepared for these tests and I don't feel it's a true indicator of the child's progress."

Although parents lack faith in tests showing the child's skill level and progress, they are keenly interested in using test scores to compare school districts. Parents appear to need assurance that schools are serving their children well. Teachers need to find strategies for both documenting children's progress and reassuring parents that ample learning is taking place. Teachers also need to share ways in which parents can help. Parents want to know how to supplement school learning at home. As one parent commented, "We need help learning how to teach our kids. I am not skilled in how to understand the young mind."

What Teachers Can Do

A significant segment of a teacher's responsibilities is to communicate with parents. Parents want to know what is going on within the school setting and, more than anything else, they want to know about their children's accomplishments. Teachers need to have strategies for communicating effectively with parents about curriculum goals, children's progress, and ways in which the family and school can work in partnership.

Julie Bennett, the 1st-grade teacher highlighted in the beginning of this article, was on the right track by providing samples of Amanda's work and classroom observations. The parents surveyed put the highest value on the teacher's observations and samples of the child's work, with 98 percent indicating they were the best ways to communicate their child's progress. Teachers must ask themselves whether they are enabling parents to see the child's ongoing progress, understand the teacher's goals for their child, and have a clear picture of the child's strengths and needs. The information offered to the parents must be accurate and reliable. This means that test scores alone are not an answer.


* Can parents see their children's ongoing progress?

* Do parents feel informed about my goals for their children?

* Is the information I am offering parents accurate and reliable?

* Do parents understand their children's strengths and needs?

* Do parents want more information than I am prepared to give? If so, what can I do to improve my assessment skills?


The information that is communicated to Amanda's parents should be broadly based and should demonstrate how Amanda is progressing on the specific goals established for her. Parents care about their children's progress. Teachers need to listen to parental concerns and to provide sufficient information, to reassure parents that learning is, in fact, taking place.

While we focus our efforts on providing parents with trustworthy, varied information about children's day-to-day progress in the classroom, such information helps teachers as well. The more information the teacher has about a child's skill levels, the better job the teacher can do in responding to the child's academic, social, and physical needs.

Parents and teachers share the same goal--the hope that each child will progress as far as he or she possibly can, each school year.

References and Resources

Adams, L., Edgerton, S., & Van Ee, Y. (1998). Report to the Michigan Board of Education. Paper prepared on behalf of Michigan Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educators. (Available from authors.)

Adams, L., & Karabeneck, S. Teacher, parent and administrator views of assessment. Manuscript in preparation.

Berger, E. (1995). Parents as partners in education (4th ed.).Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Education Commission of the States. (1996). Listen, discuss &act: Parents' and teachers' views on education reform. Denver, CO: Author.

Helm, J. H., Beneke, S., & Steinheimer, K. (1997). Documenting children's learning. Childhood Education, 73, 200-205.

Wortham, S. (1995). Measurement and evaluation in early childhood (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Wortham, S. C., Barbour, A., & Desjean-Perrotta, B. (1998). Portfolio assessment: A handbook for preschool and elementary educators. Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International.

Leah D. Adams is Professor Emeritus, Early Childhood Education, Eatearn Michigan University, Ypsilanti.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Association for Childhood Education International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:pertinent information to be included in parent-teacher conferences
Author:Grossman, Sue
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Previous Article:Figuring in the Father Factor.

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