Grades and Testing / Ages 5-18

What Parents Need to Know About Assessments

With the school year well underway now, you might’ve started hearing about different types of assessments or tests in your child’s classroom—even if you have a kindergartner! What should you expect? And what ARE all these tests, anyway?

When we think of tests in school, we usually think of two things: tests created by teachers to measure students’ understanding of specific material, and the state standardized tests that students take toward the end of the year. But schools and teachers also use different types of assessments throughout the year to figure out how students are doing and where they need support. That’s important information for teachers—and for families. Unfortunately, the education world is full of jargon that can make it harder for parents to know what’s happening in their kids’ classrooms.

Here’s what you need to know about the assessments your child might encounter.

  • Most assessments fall into 5 big categories:
    • Tests that measure students’ mastery of specific material. These are your usual tests and quizzes. They measure how well a student understands a topic they’ve just studied.
    • Beginning-of-the-year assessments. You might hear words like “diagnostic,” “formative,” or “benchmark” used to describe these assessments. They usually happen in the fall, and they’re quick ways for teachers to measure your child’s starting point in particular areas of learning, like reading or math. Usually, a school will use a single set of assessment tools at the beginning, middle, and end of the year to see how much students are learning.
    • Progress checks. You might hear these called “interim assessments.” They happen throughout the school year to measure students’ progress.
    • End-of-the-year assessments. These are sometimes called “summative assessments.” They help teachers understand how far students have come over the course of the year—and they’ll help next year’s teachers understand students’ starting points, too.
    • State standardized tests. Students in certain grades (usually 3-8 and then again in high school) take these exams toward the end of the school year. They are used to measure how students are doing overall and ensure that schools are doing their job of educating all students.
  • Most of these tests don’t “count” for anything—but they’re still important! Wait, what? That’s right. The purpose of most assessments, especially in elementary school, is to provide information to teachers and families about how students are doing. That helps your child’s teacher make sure your kid is getting what they need to learn. In some ways, these assessments matter more than the grades on their report cards—not because they’ll determine whether or not your child gets onto the Honor Roll, but because they provide important information that informs your child’s experience in school.
  • As your child gets older, tests will have different purposes. Probably starting in middle school, your child’s teachers will incorporate test and quiz scores into their course grades. In high school, graduation requirements might also include passing the state standardized test. (For example, in Massachusetts, high schoolers must pass the 10th grade MCAS exam in order to graduate on time.)
  • There are some instances where students’ test scores might be used in other ways, too. For example, some school districts use in-class assessments to determine eligibility for gifted programs or advanced coursework, or to “track” students into more or less challenging courses. To make sure you’re fully informed, ask your child’s teacher if the assessments they give are used for anything other than informing their instruction.

Want to learn more? Here are some common assessments that might be used in your child's classroom.

Get the Guide by email

You’ll get early access to our newest resources, timely tips on how to support your child, and more!

Sign Up