SMARTER BALANCED READY: Big Idea #6

Communicate Early and Often

Illustration of a group of people with many speech bubbles above them.District staffs found that communication with school principals and test coordinators needed to be frequent, regularly scheduled, and inclusive to engage all members of the implementation team. Key messages about the goal and purpose of the assessment system were important to build stakeholder confidence in the validity and value of the assessments. As these examples show, most districts enhanced their communication systems from 2015 to 2016 to include more staff and stakeholders. Some districts used formal communication networks to ensure all stakeholders were included.

The public relations staff and Education Commissioner in the US Virgin Islands faced communication challenges before and after the first test administration. They worked with school leaders to reach the public in English and Spanish with letters and brochures (ZIP), as well as radio and TV infomercials, emphasizing contrasts between the new tests and previous paper and pencil tests with students using technology, and adjusting to new schedules. After testing, they planned radio appearances and key talking points for each appearance, as well as radio and news spots, and they targeted messages month-by-month leading up to the release of the first score reports.
When the superintendent and members of the district leadership team transferred to Delano Union Elementary District, California, in 2015–16, their first priority was to build the confidence of parents, students, and staff that had seen multiple turnovers in administration in recent years. To change the conversation, the March Superintendent’s Message (DOCX) set out the vision for student success and expectations for district staff as a promise to the community. With this overarching message, the superintendent signaled to the school and district administrators to “focus on teaching and learning, and the test will take care of itself.”
In Sierra Sands Unified School District, California, district staff created an awareness campaign to communicate the district expectation of administering a minimum of two IABs to implement assessment for learning for teachers and students. Prior to the awareness campaign, there was fear and anxiety about navigating the computer-based assessment and the rigor of content. During the campaign, district and school staff acknowledged their collective fears and embraced the concept of exploring the interim assessment for teacher/administrator/student learning.

The awareness campaign encouraged various district stakeholders to engage in discussions of the CAASPP (California Assessment System of Performance and Progress). Both administrators and teachers communicated with parents about the administration of interim assessments through auto-dialer messages, newsletters, Parent-Teacher Organization meetings, School Site Council meetings, and site websites. The district supported the campaign through the district website and the Superintendent’s Council meetings. More in-depth information about the campaign is available in the CAASPP in Action Report on the California Department of Education website.

In Lakeland School District, Idaho, district staff hold five Town Hall meetings by geographic area and include discussion of the state assessments. Staff share student test data and test preparation activities. At the end of the Town Hall there is an open question forum for parents where staff can dispel myths about the assessment and clarify the purpose and benefits of the test.
West Virginia districts use monthly newsletters and monthly academic coach meetings to communicate information about the system—interim assessments, Digital Library, and the testing portal. Several educators who participated in item writing and committee work share their insights into the assessment system with colleagues at schools and districts.
During testing in Vancouver Public Schools, Washington, staff asked for daily feedback from school coordinators to create a weekly fact sheet. Each Friday, they would send a complete list of the weekly feedback with an FAQ or descriptions of problems that needed to be addressed and proposed solutions. These weekly notices were gathered into a handbook available to staff on a secure server along with every communication sent out during testing. District staff logged all calls and shared call information among testing and technology staff to make sure calls are handled consistently by everyone.