Skip to main content

I used to avoid discussing my students’ reading difficulties with their families. I didn’t realize I was withholding information, but in retrospect I see that, in parent/teacher conferences and on report cards, I’d focus on a child’s strengths even if multiple data points showed they were below benchmark.

I would share how I was teaching and give suggestions for helping at home–but I never said, “Your child is behind in reading and there is cause for concern.”

If someone had asked me why I didn’t look at standardized test scores with my students’ families, I might have said, “The data’s not very helpful” or “I don’t believe it’s relevant.”

A recent survey (opens in a new window) from Learning Heroes shows that I wasn’t unique. When asked to rank the most important ways to understand a child’s achievement, teachers rated standardized tests below: in-class observations, results from teacher-created assessments, and interactions with students.

Now that I understand objective measures of reading, my appreciation of them has grown. But for a long time, my thoughts and feelings about test scores were a tangled mess.

I didn’t see that if my class was reflected accurately in the data, then larger data sets illuminated problems in my school, district, and state.

My thinking about standardized testing was full of contradictions

I distrusted standardized tests

And yet, I always knew which of my students would score below proficient on state and district assessments

I didn’t see that if my class was reflected accurately in the data, then larger data sets illuminated problems in my school, district, and state.

I saw an achievement gap in my classroom’s data

However, I didn’t believe I could fix the problem 

I didn’t realize that I’d lost the idealism and determination that first brought me to teaching.

I took pride in good test scores and in the growth I saw

But I didn’t feel responsible for data that indicated problems

I failed to see that my emotions were invested in the data of the students who needed me the least.

I didn’t know how to improve my students’ scores

And so, I told myself that the tests were less important than my own read on my students’ progress

I didn’t see that my inaction was in conflict with how I hoped my students would approach their own learning.

I wanted families to care about their children’s reading progress

But I didn’t want families to worry about their children’s data

In upcoming blogs, I’ll explain how my understanding of testing has changed, how I now use data, and what information I share with families.

But at this moment, I want to explore just one idea:

No matter my feelings about standardized testing, I could still predict my students’ scores. Which is why this recent ad campaign (opens in a new window) and the survey data it reflects is so important.

busstop PSA

According to surveys (opens in a new window), parents overestimated their children’s reading abilities.




8th Grade ELA State Test Data

Parent Perception Data 


Percent of students proficient and above on 2022 state tests

Percent of parents in 2023 who believed their child is at/above grade level in reading


30 %

85 %


22 %

91 %

Washington DC

31 %

83 %

A quote in a news article on the topic — Many kids are struggling in school. Do their parents know? (opens in a new window) — sums things up:

Parents can’t solve a problem that they don’t know they have.”

Cindi Williams, co-founder of Learning Heroes

And former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently spoke (opens in a new window) about the gap between how families perceive their children’s performance and their actual scores:

It’s not just a perception gap. It’s a reality gap. And it actually breaks my heart… the fact that we’re being dishonest, both with students but also with their parents, we’re missing a massive opportunity to help parents help their children to catch up.”

Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education

He’s right. And whether or not educators feel conflicted about standardized testing, we know how well our students will do on those tests, and that means that we have a duty to explain the data to our students’ families.

If we’re worried that parents will be surprised, frustrated, or even angry, we can prepare ourselves with some possible responses (opens in a new window). But we have to give families a chance to understand their children’s current abilities while they have an opportunity to take action. 

“Many districts have poured their federal pandemic recovery money into summer school offerings, tutoring programs and other interventions to help students regain ground lost during the pandemic. But the uptake hasn’t been what educators hoped. If more parents knew their children were behind academically, they might seek help.” (from Many kids are struggling in school. Do their parents know? (opens in a new window))

Low scores on standardized tests are a red flag, and if teachers are the only ones seeing those flags waving, kids miss out on support from the people who will care for them long after this school year is over.

About the Author

Margaret Goldberg is the co-founder of the Right to Read Project, a group of teachers, researchers, and activists committed to the pursuit of equity through literacy. Margaret serves as a literacy coach in a large urban district in California and was formerly a classroom teacher and curriculum developer. All posts are reprinted with permission from the Right to Read Project (opens in a new window).

Publication Date
June 3, 2023