It’s no secret among educators that when parents and teachers are on the same page, students do better. I’ve seen this firsthand in my career as a teacher and family engagement specialist. But the truth is the system isn’t always set up to support candid conversations between teachers and parents about the reality of a child’s academic and developmental progress.
Since 2016, Learning Heroes has conducted national surveys of parents annually, and we have learned that far too many parents have an incomplete and potentially misleading picture of their child’s achievement—a perception based on the information readily available to them. Consistently over the past four years we’ve found that nine out of ten parents, regardless of race, income, or education level, believe their child is at or above grade level in reading and math. Yet the reality is that only about 37 percent of students nationally are meeting grade level expectations.
What can schools and educators do to ensure parents get an accurate picture of their child’s progress? Here are three things our research trends tell us can help.
1. Go Beyond Good Grades
Too often, parents simply don’t have the information they need to know whether their child is meeting academic expectations. Our research tells us that the vast majority of parents (89 percent) rely on report cards to know if their child is performing at grade level—and their reliance on report card grades has increased over the past four years. Yet, nearly half of teachers say report card grades reflect effort more than achievement, and most teachers (64 percent) report that parents rely too much on report cards alone.
That’s why report cards can be an important tool for keeping parents informed, but they shouldn’t be the only one. Just a few pieces of information in one place can go a long way in closing the gap between how parents think their child is doing and the reality. Teacher feedback, state test scores, graded classwork, as well as what parents are seeing at home can all help provide a more holistic picture.
Informed by teachers and parents, we’ve developed resources to support educators with their family engagement. For example, the “From Puzzle to Plan” worksheet helps strengthen parent-teacher conferences, putting a grade level indicator based on test scores side-by-side with feedback from the parent, teacher, and student. Additionally, teachers can use our Spring Forward resource to help parents navigate the upcoming state tests as another measure of their child’s progress.
2. Engage Parents as Partners
You might be surprised how eager parents are to be an active partner, when given the resources to do so. Our research has confirmed time after time that the vast majority of parents are deeply invested in their children’s education. Sometimes, though, barriers such as language, work schedules, as well as the perception that their child is on track make it difficult for parents to “show up” in the ways teachers expect.
It’s crucial that teachers recognize these barriers and still find ways to engage parents. For instance, our surveys show that most parents (71 percent) say that a simple explanation of what their child is expected to learn in a given year would be very/extremely helpful. To support teachers in communicating grade-level expectations to parents, we’ve created the Learning Hero Roadmap which guides parents with interactive tools and videos so they can see how their children are progressing and how they can support classroom learning at home.
3. Meet Parents Where They Are (Literally)
According to research, only half of parents communicate with teachers outside of parent-teacher conferences, and the number of parents attending these conferences is declining.
When I was a second-grade teacher in the South Bronx, I found home visits incredibly helpful in building trust with parents and helping me be a better teacher. It was quality time to ask, listen, and better understand my students’ learning styles and interests, while also sharing more about their progress in the classroom. While not all schools incorporate home visits, there are other ways to connect with parents that acknowledge their busy schedules and prompt more regular communication such as phone calls, texts, notes, and in person meetings.
Ensuring parents have a complete and accurate picture is a shared responsibility and can’t fall on educators alone. Teachers need the time, resources, and training to provide parents with multiple measures of achievement in a clear and meaningful way. Parents need concrete and candid information in order to be more proactive in their engagement with teachers and supporting learning at home. Closing this current ‘perception gap’ and keeping parents in the loop, in turn, accelerates classroom learning, setting teachers and students up for success.
Our hope is that these actionable research insights and adaptable resources will support teachers and parents as true partners to advance student learning and achievement.
Image courtesy of Learning Heroes