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Districts work to bolster parent involvement

Students whose parents meet regularly with teachers and volunteer in school tend to perform better

Traditional parent-teacher conferences may go the way of dial-up internet as administrators experiment with innovative family engagement programs to increase student achievement, experts say.

“Parents are really interested in activities and events that involve interaction with teachers,” says Elena Lopez, associate director of the Harvard Family Research Project, a national platform for family and community engagement research. “Administrators need to think about how to integrate family engagement in all departments, so it’s not just siloed in one office, but championed throughout the district.”

Students whose parents meet regularly with teachers and volunteer in school tend to have better academic performance and fewer behavioral problems, and are more likely to graduate high school than are students whose parents are not active, according to a 2012 report from the nonprofit research organization Child Trends.

The percentage of students whose parents reported involvement in their schools rose significantly between 1999 and 2007 across several measures, including meeting with a teacher, attending a school event, and serving on a committee. However, these numbers fell or remained the same in 2012, the last year for which data was available, the report states.

“Schools should not just have random acts of family engagement, but really have family engagement as a core strategy that schools develop and support in order to achieve school goals,” Lopez says.

For example, Federal Way Public Schools in Washington state hosts workshops where parents and teachers share tips on advocating for students in the public school system and increasing achievement.

Other large districts, including Denver and Nashville, have created positions and departments focused on family involvement, offering resources and classes for parents to learn how to become more involved in their child’s academic success.

An evidence-based model

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education released a framework for parent involvement. It highlights an approach called the “academic parent-teacher teams” model, which replaces traditional parent-teacher conferences. Instead, teachers hold three group meetings a year with all the parents in each class, and meet once individually with each family.

Each parent is provided with a folder of their child’s assessment data. Teachers then lead team-building exercises, such as asking parents to share their goals for their children and their strengths as a family.

In-depth coaching sessions show parents how to interpret student data based on overall classroom performance, school benchmarks and state standards. Teachers also provide parents with strategies to support learning at home, and practice an activity that parents can then share with their children. Finally, the group sets realistic goals for each student and class.

Maria Paredes, senior program associate at the nonprofit education research agency WestEd, developed academic parent-teacher teams in 2009 while she was director of community education for Creighton School District in Phoenix, a high-poverty, primarily Hispanic school system.

Paredes saw that parents wanted to get involved in school, but the events offered were sporadic and not linked to student learning.

“The goal is to professionalize how parents and teachers come together to map out the success of every child in the classroom, and to turn the tide on educators thinking they have to create festivals and dinners to attract families,” Paredes says. “When parents are involved and have the right information and resources, they become critical in improving student achievement and transforming schools.”

WestEd has implemented academic parent-teacher teams in some 300 schools in 18 states nationwide. Students whose parents attend the team meetings progress more in the subject coached in the meeting than students whose parents do not participate.

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