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FINE Newsletter, Volume II, Issue 3
Issue Topic: Using Student Data to Engage Families

Voices From the Field

Maria C. Paredes, Director of Community Education at Creighton School District in Arizona, discusses one of the district’s family engagement strategies that was developed—in part—from data she collected demonstrating that parents were more interested in attending academically-oriented activities than other types of events such as potlucks or family-fun nights.

Creighton School District is a small urban community in Arizona with approximately 7,200 students, of whom 85% are Hispanic and 90% qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Children in the district are tested informally on a weekly basis and then formally every quarter with a district-developed standards-based assessment in the areas of reading and math. To help families better understand the results of these tests, educators in the Creighton School District have reorganized the structure of parent–teacher conferences to accommodate the shift to a more focused discussion around data.

A new paradigm for the parent–teacher conference

Instead of relying on traditional parent–teacher conferences, Creighton gives the option for teachers to use a new program consisting of Academic Parent–Teacher Teams (APTT). Teachers who elect to participate in Academic Parent–Teacher Teams (APTTs) agree to hold 75-minute parent team meetings three times a year and individual parent–teacher meetings once a year. (See text box for a description of the two main components.) This structure diverges from the usual parent–teacher conference schedule where teachers hold 15-minute individual conferences at the beginning and end of the school year. Instead, parents of children in the entire class come together three times over the school year to analyze data together as a team.

Presenting the Data: During team meetings, the teachers provide data on aggregate classroom performance. Each parent receives a folder containing his or her child’s academic data and is able to understand the child’s performance in relation to the rest of the class on standards for reading and math. Over the course of the year the data also depict how a child is progressing in relation to these standards. Teachers present the data in creative and concrete ways. For example, some teachers make a linear achievement line designating where the “average” child might score at different points in the year and ask parents to chart where their own child falls. Other teachers have parents color bar graphs to represent areas their child has mastered.

Academic Parent–Teacher Teams involve two main components:

  1. Three 75-minute classroom team meetings each year.  These team meetings are initiated by a personal invitation to the parent by the teacher, and consist of the teacher, the entire class of parents, and a parent liaison.  Each meeting includes a review of student academic performance data, parent–student academic goal setting, teacher demonstration of skills to practice at home, parent practice, and networking opportunities with other parents.
  2. One 30-minute individual parent–teacher conference.  In this yearly individual meeting parents and teachers review student performance data and create action plans to optimize learning.

Click here to view two videos about Creighton's Academic Parent–Team training.

Setting Goals: The teacher then helps parents set 60-day goals for their child based on his or her academic scores. For example, if the standard is for 1st graders to learn 120 high-frequency words by the end of second quarter, children working ahead of the curve might have a goal of mastering all 120 by the end of November, whereas a child behind the curve might have a goal of 75.

Demonstrating how parents can support learning: After families set goals for their children, the teacher models different ways parents can support their child’s learning at home. Parents are then given an opportunity to practice these activities with other parents. The district has also developed Parent Learning Calendars in Reading and Math for each grade level. These are academic pacing guides that inform parents what skills are being learned in the classroom and that provide practical home activities for each academic skill. Teachers use these calendars to select the activities they will model for parents during team meetings (see http://www.creightonschools.org/departments/communityed/calendars.php).

Team meetings end with an opportunity for parents to network and socialize with other parents and families. One-on-one parent–teacher meetings are held once a year, or more regularly if requested, to also give parents a formal opportunity to meet with teachers on an individual basis.

Managing the new structure

The Director of Community Education is responsible for meeting student achievement goals through family involvement. This individual provides training for teachers, district board members and administrators, and the parent liaisons. The Title I facilitator at each school oversees the APTTs and helps teachers plan for each team meeting, reflect on past meetings, and ensure that the process goes smoothly. The teacher is considered the master of teaching strategies and helps explain to parents their children’s progress. Each school in Creighton District also has a parent liaison who is hired by the school to promote family engagement. The parent liaison sits in on APTT meetings at each school and supports the teacher in outreach and making sure attendance is high. The parent liaison also coaches parents in academic activities and receives extensive training in understanding data and offering extra support to parents.

Measuring the results

Data sharing has helped Creighton School District shift the paradigm for how parents and teachers work together. A study of how APTTs influence student achievement and parent involvement is under way; however, anecdotes, short surveys, and analysis of utilization rates suggest six main results:

  1. Improved social networks: Parents report expanded social networks as a result of getting to know other families at team meetings.
  2. Increased teacher participation: APTTs are not a district mandate, but rather an optional grassroots project that teachers can adopt if they chose. In the 2009–2010 school year, 12 classrooms participated, while 79 classrooms have already signed on for the upcoming 2010–2011 school year. This increase speaks to the power and success of the program.
  3. Increased father involvement: A surprising result has been the high numbers of fathers who have come to team meetings—more than in classrooms with conventional parent–teacher conferences. When fathers were asked what made them more interested in coming to team meetings, they said that they were specifically interested in academics and wanted to be involved in understanding their child’s progress.
  4. High attendance: In the classrooms that had APTTs, attendance at meetings was 92% on average. That was much higher than participation in conventional parent–teacher conferences.
  5. Improved efficiency and time use: With APTTs, teachers are more efficient and use their time in a more productive way. APTTs require the same number of hours as conventional conferences because the entire group of parents meets together at once, but instead of seeing parents only twice over the school year parents and teachers have four formal opportunities to meet.
  6. Parents are empowered: Many of the parents who participated in last year’s APTTs asked to continue the program. They want their children to be in a classroom that will be participating in APTT this coming school year.

For more information and tools to develop Academic Parent–Teacher Teams visit http://www.creightonschools.org/departments/communityed/teams.php.

This resource is part of the October 2010 FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family involvement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access the FINE Newsletter Archive, visit www.hfrp.org/FINENewsletter.

© 2014 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project