How can assessment, evaluation, and curriculum redesign involve family and the community?
It is important to involve family and the community in the work teachers are doing in the classrooms. Many studies have shown how parental and family involvement contributes significantly to the academic success of students. Sometimes it can be difficult to get families involved -- but there are things that educators can do to draw them into the work being done in classrooms.
Efforts like newsletters, Web-based student portfolios and in-school conferences can help to explain what teachers are trying to accomplish in their classrooms. This is based on the key principle in assessment -- that all of our teaching goals should be transparent to students, as well as parents. If parents know and value these goals they might be more open and supportive of their children's work and of the teachers' efforts to redesign their curriculum. Some projects can be designed so that they involve the parents or at least keep them informed about how things are progressing.
One of the barriers that rises up between educators and parents is that the two communities often use different vocabularies to describe what is happening in the classroom. Reform-minded teachers, administrators, and curriculum developers have developed a specialized discourse, with all sorts of jargon and buzz-words (many of which we have tried to identify and define in these workshops).
Recently, the University of Wisconsin developed a tool for teachers to create newsletters that can be sent home to parents to keep them informed of what was happening in reform-minded classrooms. One of the problems they noticed was that children were bringing work home that didn't look like traditional homework. Students, in one instance, were asked to count the number of M&M's in a package, and then do ratios and proportions for each of the colors. The parents of the students didn't recognize this as a legitimate homework assignment, and needed to be educated. The problem was that teachers and students were using one kind of vocabulary in the class, but the parents were outside of that conversation. The newsletter that was developed was intended to create a common ground and a common vocabulary among parents, students and teachers. It also saved teachers time and effort by simplifying the process of assembling a newsletter by hand.
Often, when we talk about portfolios, rubrics, formative assessment, summative assessment, project-based instruction, inquiry-based learning, we are leaving parents behind. It is necessary to educate parents about the meaning of this vocabulary - so there is a common ground of understanding and so they can choose to participate in the process as equal partners.