Dear Parent,

You play a major role in your children's education. Yet, student assessment, which plays a prominent role in education, raises many questions from parents.

Below, we've provided answers to commonly asked questions about the "how" and "why" of student assessment. You may also visit your state education agency's Web site, or www.ed.gov, the US Department of Education's site. Please send an e-mail if you have a question we did not answer.

Why do students take statewide assessments?

As required by No Child Left Behind, the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), one purpose of statewide testing is to provide independent insight into each student's progress, as well as student achievement in each school, district, and state.

Another important purpose of assessments is to help parents, teachers, schools, districts, and states learn which part of the curriculum students excel at and which they need to work on most. Educators can use this information to adjust curriculum and instruction, helping students do better in school. 

Statewide testing underscores efforts to ensure that all students receive a high-quality public education, regardless of race, ethnic group, gender, family income, or disability.

Who takes general statewide assessments? 

The federal government requires that schools administer general assessments to students in grades three through eight and one high school grade.  

Who takes alternate statewide assessments? 

Students with severe cognitive disabilities who are unable to show proficiency on grade-level content standards take alternate assessments. Approximately one percent of the student population takes an alternate assessment.

In most cases, students participate in the alternate assessment if:

  • They have an Individual Education Plan (IEP)  
  • Their demonstrated cognitive disabilities and behavioral skills prevent them from showing mastery of the proficiency standards on a general assessment, even with appropriate accommodations. In addition, these students require individualized instruction in multiple settings (school, work, home, and other environments) to acquire, generalize, and transfer skills necessary for functional application 
  • Historical data confirms the individual student criteria listed above

If you have questions about your child's eligibility or participation in alternate assessment, please contact your school or visit your state department of education Web site. 

Do students with disabilities receive accommodations? What are they?   

Accommodations for students with disabilities vary widely, depending on each child's individual needs and state rules. For example, students with visual impairments might receive read-aloud assistance, Braille, or large-print test accommodations, while students with certain physical disabilities might need a scribe to fill in their responses or require read-aloud. The goal is for as many students as possible  to participate in the statewide general assessment. For specific information on the accommodations permitted in your student's statewide assessment, please visit your state department of education Web site. 

When do states typically administer their assessments?       

Most states administer their assessments in the spring, to measure the mastery of the standards for a student's current grade level. However, some states test students in the fall on the previous year's grade level standards.  

While alternate assessments may be administered to students in grade spans, they still must assess students in grades three through eight and one high school grade. For those students, evidence supporting mastery of content standards is often collected throughout the school year and evaluated in the spring.

How do I obtain a copy of my child's test scores?   

Each parent should receive a report describing their student's performance on the statewide assessment. Reports typically show how students perform in each content area and how they compare to other students, both locally and statewide. For more information, contact your state department of education.  

What accounts for the delay between student assessment and the return of student test scores?    

Reports for spring tests are usually sent to parents the following fall. Reports for fall tests are often sent to parents after the first of the year. Between the time when student responses arrive student and reports are sent out, assessment experts must convert student responses into scale scores and school, district, and state data.

First, staff must scan each test booklet page with student answers to constructed-response items, as well as the bubbled-in answer sheets students used to record their answers to multiple-choice items. After these items are scanned, the constructed-student responses are scored by qualified scorers. 

Scoring data from constructed-response items is merged with a student's multiple-choice data in each grade and content area.  

Next, the data analysis team performs quality control checks and data analysis before converting each student's raw scores into scaled scores. The scaled scores are the scores parents see on student reports.  

How are general assessments developed?   

Read about test development

How are alternate assessments developed?   

Measured Progress works with state education departments to design alternate assessments that measure student mastery of the standards at that student's grade level.  

Measured Progress's special education leadership team has considerable experience developing criteria for and scoring alternate assessment portfolios, the most common means of measuring proficiency in students with disabilities.

A portfolio is just one of the means of measuring performance. Alternate assessment designs could include instructionally embedded performance tasks or separate performance events. Additional assessment strategies, including unstructured observations and evaluation of student work (where it can be obtained, can also serve as components of an alternate assessment. 

The desired goal of alternate assessment is to construct multiple methods of assessing each indicator, so that local educators have choices in determining which measures best suit individual students. 

Who scores assessments? How are they trained? 

Read about the scoring process.

Can students or parents see the original answers to a test?    

While we do not make original answer documents available, we do scan each page of a student's test booklet when it is received. Measured Progress retains images of each child's answers for a period of time that the state determines.  Parents can work with their school and state education agency to submit requests to review their student's responses. 

Can you explain how my child's test score ties in with No Child Left Behind?  

Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), reauthorized as No Child Left Behind in 2002, states are required to determine whether their schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) are making adequate yearly progress (AYP).

AYP is an individual state's measure of progress toward the goal of 100 percent of students meeting state academic standards in reading/language arts and mathematics.

Do students who are English Language Learners (ELLs) take general assessments?  

No Child Left Behind requires that all children be assessed, including those who speak English as a second language. States must provide reasonable accommodations for students with limited English proficiency. Some of these accommodations could include read-aloud items or native-language versions of the statewide assessment; however, students who have attended U.S. schools for three consecutive years or more must take the reading and mathematics sections of their statewide assessment in English. 

For more information on accommodations for English language learners, please visit your state department of education Web site.