ERIC Identifier: ED302559
Publication Date: 1988-09-00
Author: Eissenberg, Thomas E. - Rudner, Lawrence M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests Measurement and Evaluation Washington DC., American Institutes for Research Washington DC.

Explaining Test Results to Parents. ERIC Digest Number 102.

Students are taking more standardized tests than ever before. This means that their parents are seeing more test results. As a result, parents may call on you, as their children's teacher, to explain these test results.

Standardized test scores can give parents useful information about their children. Explaining the results to parents, however, can be difficult because parents may not understand what the tests are for or what the scores mean. To help educate parents, you need to

* explain why students are tested,

* explain what the different types of scores are

* help parents to interpret test scores.

This digest will give you some basic information to help you answer parents' general questions about tests. It may also raise questions of your own. On the next page are some sources of more detailed information.


Parents often ask, "Why were my children tested?" Help parents understand that standardized testing programs usually serve several purposes. They help teachers, principals, and superintendents

* evaluate and improve the school district

* evaluate and improve the individual school

* identify a child's academic strengths

* identify areas where a child may need to improve

You can also point out to parents that a testing program is only one of several tools you use to evaluate their children's performance. Children are never measured on the basis of one test alone.


You can help parents better understand test scores by helping them understand that they can compare their child's test scores to the scores of one or more groups of students. Three popular ways of making comparisons are by using stanines, percentiles, or grade-level equivalents.

Test publishers use one of these three methods to report test scores so that teachers and parents can compare an individual student's scores with the scores of other students who took the same test.


Stanine is short for standard nine. The name comes from the fact that stanine scores range from a low of 1 to a high of 9. For instance, a stanine score of

* 1, 2, or 3 is below average

* 4, 5, or 6 is average

* 7, 8, or 9 is above average

If a child achieved a stanine score that was below average in a particular area, the test revealed an area in which the child needs improvement. If the child achieved an average stanine score, the test indicated that he or she performed at about the same level as other students who took the test. If the child achieved a stanine score that is above average, the test results mean that he or she performed better in that area than other students who took the test.


In contrast to stanines, percentiles give parents a more detailed description of how their children compare with other students who took the test by showing scores that range from 1 to 99.

For example, if a student scored in the 66th percentile on a test, that student achieved a score that is higher than 66% of the other students who took the test. So, if 1,000 students took the test, the student in the 66th percentile scored higher than 660 students.

Do not confuse percentile scores with percentage correct scores. Percentile scores allow you to compare one student's scores with a group of students who took the test. Percentage correct scores simply reveal the number of items that a student answered correctly out of the total number of items.


Grade-level equivalent scores are determined by giving a test that is developed for a particular grade to students in other grades. For instance, test designers establish grade-equivalents for a 4th grade test by giving that same test to students who are in the 6th and the 2nd grades.

Grade-level equivalent scores are often misunderstood; be careful when you interpret them with parents. If a 4th grader received a 7th grade equivalent score on a 4th grade reading achievement test, the parents may believe their child is ready for 7th grade material. Actually, the score means that the child reads 4th grade material as well as the average 7th grader.


Stanines, percentiles, and grade-level equivalent scores all rely on measuring your students' scores against the scores of a large group of students who also took the same test. This other group of students, or the comparison group, may be composed of other students in your district who took the test at the same time or of students from a nationally representative sample who took the test earlier.

A student's test results are most meaningful for parents when you discuss them in relation to these other students' scores. When you compare one student with others who took the same test, you can discuss with the student's parents the ways in which their child is similar or dissimilar to other students in the group.


The most pressing question parents ask is, "What do the scores mean?" As their child's teacher, you are in a unique position to answer this question. Because you have seen their child's work every day, you should have a firm impression of their child's capabilities.

Before you talk with parents, compare each of your students' test scores with their daily classwork. Is there a large difference between the test results and your impression of how each student should have scored? If there is no difference, the test confirmed your impression of each child's skills.

If there is a large difference, however, look closely at the scores and the child's in-class performance. What do you think causes the difference? There is no easy way to determine the reason, but subskill scores can help you identify problem areas. Check to see if any one subskill score lowered the overall test score. For example, reading tests often have subskill scores in vocabulary and comprehension. Parents may believe that a child with an overall score in the 75th percentile has few reading difficulties. However, if the vocabulary subskill showed that the child was in the 65th percentile, he or she may need to improve vocabulary skills.

If the student's test results do not include an analysis of subskill scores, ask for it. Most test publishers will give you this information.

Remember that parents have a right and a need to know about their children's educational progress. Wherever possible, discuss past and current test scores together, as a way of helping them track their children's progress. Above all, remember that test results give you a powerful way of checking whether your students are working up to their potential.


Frechtling, Joy A., and Myerberg, N. James. Reporting Test Scores to Different Audiences. ERIC/TM Report 85 December, 1983.

Green, Donald Ross. "A Guide for Interpreting Standardized Test Scores," NASSP Bulletin. February, 1987, 71, 496, pp 23-35.

Hieronymus, A.N., and H.D. Hoover. Manual for School Administrators. Levels 5-14, ITBS Forms G/H Chicago, IL: The Riverside Publishing Company, 1986.

The Psychological Corporation. On Telling Parents About Test Results, Test Service Notebook. 154, San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation, n.d.


Lyman, Howard, B. Test Scores and What They Mean, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1986.

Merwin, Jack C. "Standardized Tests: One Tool for Decision Making in the Classroom," Educational Measurement. Spring, 1982, pp 14-16.

Rudman, Herbert C. "Classroom Instruction and Tests: What Do We Really Know About the Link? NASSP Bulletin, February, 1987, pp 3-21.

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