Do you know what these words and acronyms mean: proficient, percentile, standardized, criterion-referenced, raw score, OAT, OGT? Welcome to the world of testing (officially called assessment), a place where parents can feel bewildered, no matter how smart they are.

Do you know what these words and acronyms mean: proficient, percentile, standardized, criterion-referenced, raw score, OAT, OGT? Welcome to the world of testing (officially called assessment), a place where parents can feel bewildered, no matter how smart they are.

Have you ever received your child's test score results with a number or a percentile, without any explanation? If your child has taken a state test, do you wonder what "proficient" in math or science really means? If the numbers look high, should you just breathe a sigh of relief? If they look low, what's your next step? As an educational writer and the mother of three, ages 16 to 26, I've received state and national test results in the past that left me puzzled about what my children's scores really meant.

Here's the good news: You don't have to be an educator to understand your child's test results. Ohio is the first state in the nation to provide an individualized report for your child that actually tells you what the numbers mean. These Family Score Reports come to you when your child has taken the Ohio Achievement Tests (OAT) in grades 3-8, or the Ohio Graduation Tests (OGT) in high school.


Columbus as pilot for nation
Ohio is the first state to distribute these reports created by the Washington D.C.-based American Institutes for Research. Hawaii, South Carolina, New Mexico and the city of Chicago have joined Ohio in issuing similar reports, according to Bani Dheer, the institute's director of score reporting and data use. Beginning in Columbus four years ago, the institute conducted research, test development and focus group conversations with parents and educators, and continues to refine these reports.


No educational jargon to translate
"We want to ensure that we are communicating test score data in a way that educators and parents can understand and use," Dheer said. "This information helps them know what kind of action they can take." The reports contain plain language and real-world examples of the skills and knowledge students need to have, she said. The institute's researchers found that both families and educators benefit from this plain-language approach.

Ray Murray, a state Parent Advisory Council member, said he and his wife "love these reports." Their anxiety about analyzing test results disappeared when they could better understand them. "They clearly spell out what the child is capable of doing and what he or she should be able to accomplish at a particular grade level. You don't need an interpreter to understand these reports. I would advise everyone to use the score report to start a conversation with their child's teacher the following year," Murray said.


In-depth summaries and details
Bright colors, easy-to-read charts and graphs, and clear, simple language help parents interpret these test results. The report summarizes how a child performed in mathematics, reading, writing, social studies and science. It shows a parent where the student placed in one of several categories: advanced, accelerated, proficient, basic or limited, in each of the subjects. The report also explains what that means and gives advice to parents. Dheer explained that What These Results Mean and Next Steps are the most popular sections of the report.

How to use: You may receive this custom report via mail, in your child's backpack, or it may be given to you at a parent-teacher conference. If you haven't yet received it, please be sure you ask for it from your school district. It's the perfect way for you to have a conversation with your child's new teachers this fall. You'll also find out what you can do to enrich or assist your child at home. When you and your child can talk to a teacher in the same language, you will better understand what your child can do to make more progress.

More web resources: A Family Report Interpretive Guide for the elementary-level OAT helps parents more thoroughly examine these reports. The guide is found at http://portal.success-ode-state-oh-us.info, where you also can explore in-depth information, take practice tests, review frequently asked questions and more. Just click OAT for the elementary grades, and OGT for the high school level.

Denise Harris, a member of the Parent Advisory Council from Columbus, is impressed with the report as she monitors the progress of her granddaughter, TaDajia. "I like the way it identifies where her strengths are and the suggestions parents and teachers can take. I like the visuals and the colors that help you follow along," she said.

While she will use this report to talk to TaDajia's third-grade teachers in the fall, she also will use it at home this summer. "During the summertime, it tells me where we can put some emphasis on areas she needs to strengthen, so she doesn't lose what she's already learned. But also, it tells us what we can do in the interim to strengthen her skill sets so she can be prepared when she goes back to school.

"Even though TaDajia is only in the third grade now, she will be ready for the workforce when she graduates," Harris said, expressing confidence that the Family Score Reports will help her monitor her granddaughter's progress throughout her school career.



Dorothea Howe, M.Ed., M.A., is a senior writer and editor at the Ohio Department of Education in Columbus.