Parents: Is Your Child on Track at School?
By Jason Zimba
My choice for the best parent resource of the year is the recently released Readiness Check, an interactive digital tool from Learning Heroes.
The Readiness Check is free, and it’s available in English and Spanish. The tool helps parents and teachers see how students from Kindergarten to eighth grade have learned reading and math skills that are foundational for their current grade. Take a look for yourself by going to bealearninghero.org.
How does the Readiness Check work? A parent or teacher can have a student answer several questions on their desktop, tablet, or smartphone. This is not a test that students have to stress over; there is no grade or numerical score. Instead, students should view it as a low-key review of the previous year’s material. When the questions have all been answered, the tool gives the parent instant feedback. Friendly explanations are available for each question. The tool also connects the parent or teacher to insights, videos and activities to support specific skills at home.
A new school year is underway, and the Readiness Check can help parents and teachers get a jumpstart. By working together and knowing better what students need at home and in school, parents and teachers can help set students up for success this year. Last week I emailed the Readiness Check to a teacher I know, and she wrote back quickly saying, “I’m so excited about this resource!” I hope she’ll share the Readiness Check with other teachers in her school, and with parents of her own students.
Parents are always being advised to talk to their child’s teacher but as a parent myself, I have struggled to make those conversations specific. The Readiness Check can help. I’ve told my kids’ teachers about the Readiness Check. When parent-teacher conferences come up, I’ll be able to ask how my kids are doing on grade-level problems like the ones in the tool.
If you don’t know about Learning Heroes, they are a nonprofit organization that gives parents useful information and practical ideas for helping their children thrive in school and life. When Learning Heroes approached me last year to create the math problems and explanations for the Readiness Check, the digital tool was still just a sketch on paper. A year later, Learning Heroes has done an amazing job in building this engaging and useful tool. Every part of the Readiness Check has been tested and refined with input from parents and teachers.
The Readiness Check has a larger context in American education. Learning Heroes’ Parents 2017 research report found that 9 in ten parents believe their child performs at or above grade level in reading and math. I wish I could believe that myself. I believe we have much more work cut out for us. Improvement will be especially difficult if parents can’t see clearly what grade-level work even looks like. The Readiness Check can help address this perception gap by helping parents get a more accurate picture of how their child is progressing with specific grade-level skills. And if parents have a clear sense of what their children need, they can better support them at home with the right resources and activities.
Every morning before school, I tell my kids to “Work hard and learn a lot.” I trust they’re listening to me, but what I know for sure is that they’re watching me. Would my own kids say that their dad likes to learn? When they see how I spend my free time, do they ever see me reading a novel, absorbing a new science discovery, or solving a puzzle? We all want our kids to love learning; I believe that loving to learn is one of the many lessons we can teach to our children only by example.
It may be especially important to demonstrate curiosity about what your child is learning in school. Fortunately, several friends of mine who are parents have told me that they enjoyed working on the problems in the Readiness Check. Try them yourself! You’ll see a variety of situations where math can be used — such as making a quilt, fixing a blueprint, being on a polar expedition, or walking out on a boring movie. You’ll also see problems that are about necessary calculation skills, like 6,547 ₋ 2,371 for example, as well as problems about remembering basic facts such as 7 × 8 = 56. Finally, you’ll see problems about mathematical ideas: for example, the idea of a hexagon, the concept of length, or the relative sizes of hundredths and tenths.
Looking at the problems for your child’s most recently completed grade can suggest topics where your child might benefit from some additional practice or conversations about math. Viewing the collection as a whole can also give parents and teachers a sense of how the expected topics in math develop from Kindergarten through eighth grade. Nobody ever reached a difficult goal they couldn’t see. The Readiness Check brings some much-needed visibility to the work required to learn reading and math in school.
Jason Zimba, a parent of two children in public schools, was a lead author of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and is a founding partner of Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit organization