Parents and formative assessment

Within the framework of the Assess@Learning project, a European policy experimentation which aims to support the systemic uptake of Digital Formative Assessment (DFA) practices in schools, Parents International was invited by the European Schoolnet to provide experiences and views of parents on assessment and formative assessment in particular. It was a very topical question for us as one of the main action points of the #NewEducationDeal #ParentsFirst initiative is this: “Since schools have already collected ideas on replacing these tests, it is a great opportunity to use the replacements – mostly based on evaluating student effort over a longer period of time – instead, if there is an agreement that summative assessment is necessary at all. The best deal would be to only have formative assessment in a new education deal aiming at real learning. This is also a great opportunity to introduce inclusive ways to reduce competition stress. We all know that some students are very competitive but in a formative assessment regime they can still compete – against themselves. For the overwhelming majority of students, this would be the opportunity to experience real and deep learning instead of learning for the test.”

The questions raised covered topics around parents’ expectations about and views of learning, ways of adopting new practices, use of digital tools, parents’ supporting the learning of their children and assessment methods themselves. When discussing these topics, it is necessary to discuss what is to be assessed – and included in school curricula – not only the how, but it is beyond the framework of this article (while actively discussed in our Basic skills initiative).

We were trying to help them avoid generalisation about parents, and advised them to consider diversity of parents’ own experiences with school and learning, cultural background, linguistic register (or even knowledge of the language teachers speak), parenting styles, academic expectations of their children, relationship with teachers and school, and also aspirations for their children. At the same time, it is of utmost importance to understand that all parents have dreams for their children and want the best for them. While this is often not understood by teachers, it is even more difficult for many to understand that all parents have the capacity to support the learning of their children, but some will support their learning in other ways, not by doing homework. Formative assessment done properly gives a wonderful opportunity for parents to understand what and how their children learn at school, and how they can complement the work done by teachers as partner educators.

We know from research and experience that it is difficult for schools to engage parents, especially others than white, middle class parents. Discussing about new assessment methods, especially now, when parents are much more focused on this topic as a result of recent school closures, makes it possible to build on experiences of harder-to-engage parents – both their school-related experiences with their own children or with their own schooling, and experiences of assessment in other walks of their life. Making the link between real life and school is especially important in the case of parents with bad own schooling experiences who are often afraid of school as an authority, but also in the case of high-tech methodology, it is an excellent opportunity to engage parents working in technology in co-designing the process. When designing formative assessment methods, it can also be attractive for parents to be engaged as assessors: co-evaluating children’s learning as school may not be aware of factors at home or generally outside of school parents know well that have an impact on outcomes, but also as assessors of teachers and the school.

Using digital technology in the process can also help certain groups of students to achieve more. It is a clear wish of parents that technology stays as a tool used in schools and for supporting learning. In the case of special needs children, for example dyslexic, blind or having special physical needs their assessment has been supported by technology for some time. It is time to think about other students. One example is those whose mother tongue is not the language of instruction. It has been – not surprisingly – proven by research that they have much better outcomes if they can use their own language. And in this case, their parents also understand more what their children are doing at school.

The most important message to convey to any system considering the introduction of new formative assessment is to engage the parents and engage them ALL from the very beginning. Before introducing anything, make it possible for everybody to understand all details of the plan, raise their questions and concerns, and last but not least contribute to the new system with their ideas. Parents are co-educators, equal partners of professionals in educating children, so it is only natural that they should also be engaged in developing assessment. Co-created methods can be especially beneficial for students who are not the most successful in traditional academic achievement, but with the right incentive they find their own passion possibly outside of this framework. Our aim at the end of the day should be to raise happy professors as well as happy street cleaners, to ensure children that neither path is inferior to the other. Summative assessment is not the right tool to support this, but well-designed formative assessment can be.

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