Collect data to guide family engagement implementation
A recent webinar on family engagement in high school provides implementation pointers that apply across preK-12, especially when working with your most at-risk Title I students.
During Family Engagement for High School Success: Implementation Success and Challenges, presenters discussed key implementation steps, including effective parent outreach for launching engagement strategies, maximizing family liaisons, and collecting data and evaluating progress.
The webinar is one of two that complements the Family Engagement for High School Success Toolkit that stems from a $2 million AT&T grant. The project is lead by the Harvard Family Research Project and United Way pilot sites that partnered with school districts.
In particular, pilot sites grappled with how to gather and use data effectively during implementation. It's a critical issue because such information can elicit partners' feedback, keep partners informed and focused on long-term outcomes, and guide mid-course corrections, explained Heidi Rosenberg, senior research analyst for HFRP.
Here are some tips from Rosenberg on collecting and using data during implementation.
Track your success
For each family engagement strategy, ask how you will know if that strategy was successful. When you begin with the end in mind, you'll know what types of information to gather.
Here are three major areas that you'll need information about, Rosenberg said.
- Implementation: Gather data about whether your strategies are implemented as planned. If something isn't, you need to know why and address any resulting issues. For example, if you planned to roll out three workshops over two months but there was much more lag time than expected between sessions, consider that when reengaging parents at later sessions. Adjust your interpretation of outcome data if implementation doesn't go as planned.
- Outreach: Track how many families you've reached and through what avenues. Try to also track individual family participation across activities for your targeted subgroup. This way, you'll know participation levels for various families and spot whether it's time to reengage certain families.
- Progress: Besides pre- and post-surveys and data for areas like attendance and grades, consider whether families' behaviors are changing. For example, are your identified families showing up more often for conferences? Also, it's helpful to gather more than one data point. Rather than just survey parents on whether they are having conversations about post-secondary plans with their children, take time to ask students as well.
Maximize your data
Here are some other ways data can guide your work, according to Rosenberg:
- Mark milestones. Short-term indicators linked to long-term goals are a must. For example, attendance and credit accumulation during ninth grade are valuable short-term indicators that help you measure success toward long-term outcomes like increased graduation rates.
- Share successes. If you're making excellent progress even early in your first year, share that with your partners. Sharing even small victories keeps everyone encouraged and supportive for the long haul.
- Guide discussions. If you run into an implementation obstacle, use data to spark conversations and gain input from multiple perspectives.
- Adjust early; always improve. Never wait to review data until the end of an initiative. "We want to make sure we have that information in time to make changes as we go," Rosenberg said. For example, if your participation rate for a workshop series is low or starts high and tapers off, you may need to improve outreach, provide more flexibility in scheduling, or decrease the length of meetings.
Build in effective data collection
You don't necessarily need lots of bells and whistles to collect and track data on your family engagement initiatives, according to the Washoe County (Nev.) School District and United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra who partnered up to plan, implement, and track the success of family engagement strategies within the district's 12 high schools.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, the district added a custom tab to its data system so a dozen AmeriCorps parent involvement facilitators could input data into a common collection system, said D'Lisa Crain, administrator for the district's Department of Family School Partnerships.
FERPA doesn't allow the district to report out certain information to partners, but it can provide aggregate data, explained Karen Barsell, president of the local United Way. For example, partners analyze statistics such as the number of contacts made, the types of topics covered, and how many at-risk students in the targeted subgroup are being reached, Crain added.
For more information, access the archived webinar Family Engagement for High School Success: Implementation Success and Challenges at www.hfrp.org.
--Tricia Offutt covers family and community engagement and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.
January 13, 2012
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