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Talking to Kids about Test Scores

Regardless of how we as educators try to make assessment as authentic as possible, the fact remains that state and national standardized tests are the ruler by which our teaching skills and our students’ successes are measured.  New York test scores have been trickling in during the past few weeks, and with scores themselves inevitably come many triumphs and some disappointments.  For these high-stakes tests, the results are obviously much-anticipated, but what do we do with the information when it finally arrives?  While it’s easy to excitedly share the good news when students have done well and met their goals, it can be more challenging to inform students when they did not meet their goals.  

I feel like it’s important to be honest with students about their scores, positive or negative.  I think not telling kids the truth or trying to disguise the reality of a poor score makes it seem shameful or something to hide, and not sharing a positive score can breed unnecessary anxiety in certain students.  When “the buzz” gets around school that scores are out (and of course, after your administration has given you the go-ahead to share scores with students and parents), I believe it is important to communicate the scores with students and parents as quickly and openly as possible.

Before sharing scores with students, I obviously get to see them and can frame what I would like to say to each child.  I generally make a statement to my entire class about how the scores are in and how I am proud of everyone’s efforts.  I explain that I will be sharing scores privately and that scores are individual business, not class business.  I also give my kids the breakdown of how many students scored on each performance level so they can get a sense for their performance relative to other students and a sense for how the class did overall (this is a personal decision, some teachers choose not to share this information to minimize hurt feelings in lower-performing students).  I have found that taking the kids one by one into the hallway to share their scores and re-emphasize that they are not to be shared with others is the most effective way to individualize score delivery.

For the kids that did well, I simply share their score, congratulate them, and cite a specific strategy they used while preparing that must have paid off.  I want to emphasize the mindset that hard work is what led to their success on the test; not luck, guessing, or last-minute prayer!  

For the kids who may not have done as well, and especially for kids whose not meeting a benchmark score may mean retention in the same grade or summer school, I try to speak to them right before lunch or a prep period so the conversation can go on for longer if it needs to.  I immediately share the score so as not to drag it out or create anxiety and then follow up with pointing out positive steps the child took to reach his or her goals, even if they did not meet the standard on the test.  For students with IEPs whose promotional goals are far below those set by the test, I emphasize progress toward their individual goals and try to show concrete examples of their improvement.

Once I share scores with the kids, I make sure to touch base with parents by phone, email, in person, or with a ‘sign-and-return’ note.  I want parents to have the information and sometimes even the best-intentioned flyer gets eaten by the backpack monsters, so personal communication seems to be best for sharing important information.  Whether positive or negative, test results are always fraught with anticipation.  How do you present them to your students, and how do you handle any ‘fallout’ as a result?  Post your comments here!

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Special Education & Inclusion Classrooms are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.