Distance-Learning Success: How Family Proctors and Engagement Lead to Clean Diagnostic Data

By: | 08/21/2020
Categories: Distance Learning, Leadership

The Takeaway

  • Family involvement is paramount to successfully assessing students at home.
  • Help families understand assessments and their purpose through webinars, informative literature, videos, etc.
  • The teacher–family relationship is the foundation of distance learning and assessment success.
  • Innovative Education Management (IEM)’s Parent Proctor Certification Program has been highly successful.
  • It’s important that communication about assessments is delivered in a deliberate order: Information about assessments needs to come from district leadership and school administration first, then teachers.


Approximately 800 schools that use Curriculum Associates’ i-Ready Diagnostic program chose to assess their students at home in spring 2020. When our research team analyzed these schools’ results, they found that very few of them ended up with clean data their educators could actually use to determine individual students’ learning needs.

Sky Mountain, Ocean Grove, and South Sutter IEM Charter Schools are among the schools that got clean data they could rely on to guide their instruction. These three California public charter schools are managed by IEM and based on a homeschooling model: parents or guardians work with credentialed California teachers to develop individualized learning programs for their children. Whether students learn at home or through community-based instruction, parents are, as Melissa Gonzalez, IEM’s Administrator of Assessment and Accountability, put it, “very involved.”

More important than IEM’s model is their experience with assessing at home. It has something to offer any district (regardless of whether they use Curriculum Associates’ i-Ready programs or not) that’s made the tough call to have students take a fall 2020 Diagnostic. Below, Gonzalez shares her schools’ assessment journey, pitfalls to avoid, the must dos, etc.

You, Too, Can Assess at Home

Assessing at home and getting good data can be done. We’ve done it.

As long-term users of i-Ready, getting to the place we are now took time, but we found a way to do this successfully—and others can, too. Even though IEM schools are based on a homeschool model, as a public school, we’ve also faced struggles with our state's shift to full-time distance learning.

Under our schools' model, one teacher supports several families and serves as their primary teacher for the duration of their time with us. It has been hard for us to not be able to have teachers and students meet face to face, as they would under normal circumstances. Typically, our teachers connect with students and parents in person, helping parents who are confused by or against assessments to feel encouraged and on board with the process. Virtual meetings can sometimes impact this process, making support for staff and families even more important.

Family Involvement Is Crucial

Our model requires families to be very involved in educating their child, and the extent of that involvement directly correlates to a student’s academic success. I cannot stress enough the importance of family involvement. If your school has a lot of parents who weren’t deeply involved before everyone had to move to distance learning, then getting them involved now could be a big obstacle—perhaps the biggest.

Help Parents Become Assessment Literate

We sometimes have parents confused about the Diagnostic, including what it entails or how it works. Parents aren’t used to adaptive, online assessments. They don’t understand why their third grader is struggling with an algebra question. It can take a long time to help parents understand the nature of an adaptive Diagnostic.

  • TIP: Hold webinars for parents. Record them for those who are unable to attend and make them readily available for future use.
  • TIP: Take handouts, brochures, videos, and all of the resources your assessment program would normally provide to your teachers and provide them to your parents. Your team might have to create these for parent-specific needs or use. We definitely appreciate all the ready-made resources being provided by Curriculum Associates for this purpose.

Foster Strong Teacher–Family Relationships

As previously mentioned, our teachers build strong relationships through direct contact with parents. This relationship creates trust, facilitates clear communication, and, ultimately, contributes to better learning outcomes for students. This strong communication is particularly helpful when it comes to helping families understand assessments, because it’s better that this information comes from the teacher. As the assessment administrator, I can host a webinar for parents, but they might not show up. You might get 30 parents out of 1,000 to come. On the other hand, teachers have parents’ direct attention on a regular basis.

I do want to be clear. It will take work. I can say from experience that if remote assessments and allowing parents to proctor will be new for a school district, there will be challenges to overcome and lots of planning involved. However, I can also say that it is doable when taken in steps.

Provide Teachers with Tools

Administration and advisors work together to give teachers the tools they need to communicate with families to ensure success in student learning and assessment. At our schools, advisors are administrators dedicated to supporting teachers and are also an additional point of contact for our parents.

  • Our Assessment team provides teachers with clear information to relay to parents regarding assessment processes as well as “talking points” to address various concerns and details with parents. They also meet with advisors to ensure they have a full understanding of our processes in order to assist teachers effectively.
  • Our Assessment team offers ongoing professional development (PD) opportunities. This could be in the form of mandated training for vital information or through self-selected PD for targeted topics. We then make the tools used during the PD training sessions available to them for future access. This often includes access to a recording of the session, the slides, and related scripts and support documents they may need when working with students (e.g., data chats, lesson tracking charts, goal-setting guides, etc.).
  • Our Assessment Program details are available to all of our teachers. This means that teachers are able to introduce families with kindergarteners to the assessments, even if the kindergarteners will not be taking the i-Ready Diagnostic yet. In parent meetings, teachers might pull up i-Ready information and explain, “This is something you’re going to use later.” This year, we’ve given additional guidance on offering i-Ready to kindergarten students who come to us with preschool experience.

Create a Proctoring Certification Program

After our first year of assessing students in the home, we started a Parent Proctor Certification Program. This contains two parts: The Parent Proctor Training and the Proctoring Protocol and Security Agreement. They are required to renew their certification each year, and the program has been highly successful.

The required Parent Proctor training covers topics such as:

  • Basic assessment literacy
  • The pros and cons of parents proctoring their own child
  • Rules relating to parents intervening during testing
  • Advice on setting up an ideal testing environment (including allowing for breaks)
  • Technology requirements and more

We have an entire section in the training devoted to “What help is not okay?” and “What help is okay?” The training is in video format and includes the follow-up Protocol and Security Agreement, delivered via a survey, to check for understanding and confirm acknowledgement of key points. If there is anything the parent is uncertain about, teachers or assessment team members can follow up with them to clarify. We also offer follow-up parent webinars to ensure they understand their partnership in the assessment process and the importance of collecting solid and meaningful data.

Though we make every attempt to ensure integrity through our Parent Proctoring Certification Program, it is inevitable that there is criticism of the validity of test results when a student is taking a Diagnostic test from home. Similar to the linking studies demonstrating a high correlation between the i-Ready Diagnostic and state and national tests (Research & Efficacy), we have found through our own internal research that there remains a statistically significant correlation between i-Ready and the California Assessment of Student Progress across all participating grade levels, regardless of whether or not the parent is proctoring the test.

Deliberate and Clear Communications

Not all families are going to be cheering about testing, even after you list the many reasons they help students learn and grow. This is why it’s so important for teachers and administrators to have a unified message.

Because our teachers are in students’ homes, they become members of the family in a way. They are able to tell parents who are reluctant about testing, “This is coming from administration, from school leadership, not from me. It’s school policy.” The unified message preserves the teacher–family relationship and also prevents confusion about assessment expectations.

Finally, the order of communication—who says what when—matters. Information about assessments needs to come from district leadership and school administration first. This means that families are expecting conversations with teachers, and they know that teachers are following the rules, not making them. So, it’s important for families to hear the expectation from an administrator first before teachers follow up with them.

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