This past spring, my son and his second-grade classmates took the Standford 10 test, a national assessment given to second- and ninth-graders in Arizona.
Last week, the results arrived in the mail. Our district, and several others, mailed them home. Mesa Unified - the state's largest district - will give them to students when they return to school this year.
The Stanford 10 is designed to evaluate student progress and compare that to students at the same grade nationwide. Because states have their own standards, some questions may be on par with what students are learning, while others questions may be advanced, said Joe O'Reilly, executive director of student achievement support for the Mesa district.
Making heads or tails of the results can be a task in itself. There's percentages, codes to read and the general parent thought, "What does this mean about my child?" But educators say it's only one piece of the academic puzzle and, good or bad, the score needs to be looked at with the child's progress on the whole.
Helen Minor gets to use the scores two ways: as a parent and as a 19-year veteran in the education field who teaches in the Chandler Unified School District.
She said the Stanford 10 data shouldn't be looked at as a complete picture of how a child is doing in school. It needs to be combined with report cards, district assessments (which Chandler offers weekly), the AIMS test and communication with teachers to give insight into a child's strengths as well as areas that may need to be addressed.
"I use that information to celebrate my child's strengths and identify areas ... where they may need to work," she said. "It's nice to have, but really it's one piece." As a teacher, she said she can again celebrate her students' achievements. She can also see if there are trends - groups of students who miss the same question - to identify areas she can improve on.
Michelle Hufford and Deborah Simion, third-grade teachers in the Chandler district, said they use that information from their incoming students to know where they're at.
"It gives us just a snapshot. We don't know all of the sudden everything about this child (from the Stanford 10 scores)," Hufford said. "Sometimes it's a good reflection of what they know and sometimes it's not." That may be because a student simply isn't a good test-taker or had a bad day, they said.
"We look at this picture of the student as one piece of the puzzle," Simion said. "From those results (combined with other assessments), we can drive our instruction. We look at this test as well as other measures to see how the student is progressing academically."
Minor said that if a parent is concerned about how a child is performing in a particular subject, teachers welcome a conversation at the beginning of the school year. Having that information can give the teacher another look into what the child may need help on.
"Your teachers need to get to know your child," she said. "She may see something and say, ‘Oh no, your child is right on track,' or ‘Yeah, let's work on that.'"