Education Matters: Reviewing your child’s tests at home

Although last year’s court ruling on what’s known as the test-return policy came down in favor of the San Dieguito Union High School District, parents are still able to have their child’s tests sent home for review.

So says Michael Grove, SDUHSD’s associate superintendent of educational services.

“We think it’s good practice,” he said. “We believe it’s important for parents to see the work.”

But Michael Robertson, Torrey Pines High School parent and Del Mar resident, claimed it’s not true that teachers must send tests home if requested.

“They don’t give out tests. Period. Hard stop. No exceptions,” Robertson said.

Frustrated by being rebuffed after repeated requests to have his son’s math tests sent home so he could review them with his son, Robertson sued the district several years ago. He lost his case, mainly because, according to Grove, Robertson was asking for a change in policy to allow all tests and assessments to be public.

Grove said there are three instances when the district will not release tests: tests that are proprietary such as College Board assessments used in Advanced Placement classes, common formative assessments used for data tracking and professional development district-wide, and other assessments used longitudinally that he said would compromise integrity if they were made public.

But Robertson countered that he was never asking for those tests – only pop quizzes and other classroom tests, specifically in math.

“I asked for my kid’s tests, not College Board or assessment tests,” he said in an email. “I asked many, many times over many months. I asked informally and formally. They delayed many times, several times telling me the policy had changed but it had not. After more than a year, I filed the lawsuit.”

Robertson said the district is not putting kids first. “They’re putting teachers first and that’s wrong,” he said. “They can and should order teachers to send tests home to help keep parents informed.”

Robertson said the district offered to settle and give him his son’s tests but not change policy.

“I refused because my goal was to get the district to alter policy to help all students and parents,” he said. “How can parents play an active role in their children’s schooling if they can’t see the tests?”

Robertson agrees with the district that parents can see tests if they come to the school and sit with the teacher on the teacher’s schedule, but that’s not always possible.

He said the district shields teachers so they don’t have to create new tests.

In a letter to the district from Paul Boylan, Robertson’s attorney, Boylan wrote, “Mr. Robertson is attempting to champion not only his personal parental rights but also the rights of all parents who wish to participate fully in their children’s education.”

The letter accuses the district of “flagrantly abusing [its] duties to work with parents to maximize student educational excellence” and that the wish to retain copies of quizzes and tests “panders to the desires of lazy teachers who want to use the same test over and over again.”

In rejecting the settlement offer, Robertson, through his lawyer, states, “The district has sold out the education of its students in order to allow teachers to work less.”

Practice, not policy

The district said it was just a practice and never policy to prohibit sending tests home.

Grove said in his declaration to the court last year that the district’s informal practice “was that each teacher could decide whether to provide parents with an original or copy of the pupil’s completed exam or, instead, to invite the parent to personally review the completed exam without being provided the original or a copy to take home.”

When the issue was raised several years ago, Grove said parents “have always had the right to see the tests. It’s just a matter of whether they come to the school. It’s individual teachers who decide whether to send tests home.”

“Can we force them to, if they don’t want to? That’s the crux of the matter,” he said. “In the past, our practice has been that we did not tell teachers that they had to send it home.”

In a declaration given to the court last year by Robertson’s son’s TPHS math teacher, Erica Soderlund states, “My practice as a teacher is that I never release copies of either completed or blank math exams to parents, or to students to take home. Students and parents are welcome to review exams and other student records in my classroom at any time.”

She stated that this is the general practice of the entire math department.

“The reason for my practice is because the same test is used by multiple math teachers over multiple years, and sometimes by multiple school sites,” Soderlund stated. She said releasing the tests would compromise the integrity of the exams.

When parents request to review their child’s exams, teachers first ask parents to come in so the parents can go over the tests with the teacher.

“I think there’s value in sitting down with the teacher at school to have a conversation,” Grove said.

Robertson said he did make an appointment before school with Soderlund to review his son’s tests but ran out of time when students came in for class.

He contends that parents who work full time or have other commitments cannot always adapt to a teacher’s schedule of availability.

The district has since clarified its practice in a document titled “SDUHSD Test Return Practices,” which was developed with input from SDUHSD’s teachers union.

The first bullet states in part, “We encourage teachers to send assessments home for student and parent review whenever possible … An assessment should be both a measure of learning and a learning activity.”

The second bullet says,“If the parent is unable or unwilling to come to school [to review the test] … the teacher should send the assessment home for review,” as long as it does not fall under the previously cited list of exceptions.

To counter the resistance of teachers who want to reuse tests, the final bullet states: “Teacher concerns about test security can be overcome through annual revision of assessments and creation of assessment tasks which do not lend themselves to rote learning, but rather to high order thinking, application of knowledge/skills, and performance tasks.”

Providing access

California’s Education Code states that school districts must provide “access” to student records including assessments, which many interpret to mean that parents can review tests in the classroom with the teacher.

“We have the right not to send home any,” Grove said. “The law says we don’t have to. Ed. Code is pretty clear on that.”

But the district’s practice has now been modified.

Grove agreed that it can be a logistical problem for some parents who don’t have time to come in. “It’s good for parents to be engaged and looking at assessments,” he said.

The district can now compel teachers to send tests home if parents request that, Grove said, as long as other teachers in the same department who might be using the same assessments have completed that testing cycle.

When the change was made, he said there were teachers “who weren’t very happy about it.” But he said it’s not been an issue so far.

Robertson remains skeptical.

“They spent district money fighting the release of pop quizzes,” he said. “Now they’re telling you they advocate tests being given to parents? Oh the irony.”

Just last week, Robertson said one of his sons asked for tests in math and economics to be sent home and “was told no tests are given back to take home.”

Torrey Pines principal Rob Coppo said he can compel teachers to send tests home but looks for other options first, saying “the practice is limited.”

“We typically like to approach this on a case by case basis, and our administrators work individually with the teachers and the family,” Coppo said in an email.

It would appear that simply asking for the tests will not suffice, and parents will need determination to exercise their right to see tests and quizzes at home.

Robertson called this a stalling technique because the district is beholden to the union, which he says favors teachers’ rights over the best interests of students.

“The teachers union controls the district,” he said. “Nothing happens without their approval. In this case teachers want to reuse tests because that’s what is easiest for them, so that’s what they get.”

But Grove said he’s wrong – that the district can and will compel reluctant teachers to send assessments home for parental review.

Countered Robertson: “If this is a new policy, why not inform students? Why is it a state secret? Wouldn’t be helpful for parents to know they can now track their child’s progress in an informative manner?”

A secret no longer.

Opinion columnist and Senior Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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