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Using data to engage parents

Parents often don’t understand the value of student data. Here’s how we changed that.

4 min read




Parent engagement plays a huge role in a child’s academic success. When schools and families work together to support learning, student engagement and achievement increase.

In the Buena Park School District in Orange County, California, we provide many opportunities to involve parents in their children’s education. One of the most significant strategies we use to ensure that parents are full partners in their children’s education is sharing data about students’ progress on a regular basis And we aim to make this information as easy for parents to understand as possible.

Data-driven decision making is ingrained in the culture of our district, which serves nearly 5,000 students in grades K-8,. Our teachers give a variety of universal screening, diagnostic, formative, interim and summative assessments to students throughout the school year, and they use the insights they glean from these assessments to inform their instruction.

We have tried to extend this data-driven culture beyond our school walls and into students’ homes. When parents have a clear understanding of which skills and standards their children have mastered, as well as which skills their children are still learning, they can work with their children to foster the development of these incomplete skills, especially if we give them resources to support this learning at home.

Our teachers use several modes of communication with parents regarding data. For instance, teachers go over the previous year’s student data during parent-teacher conferences at the beginning of each school year. They also discuss the current year’s student data in subsequent conferences during the year.

In addition, our teachers take advantage of a feature within our assessment and data management system, Illuminate Data & Assessment, that allows them to generate a letter to parents after each assessment. The parents can see what their child has mastered and what’s still in progress. The letters also explain the scoring process. We print these letters out and send them home with students because many of our students come from low-income households where their parents might not have access to email.

Many of our students have parents who either don’t speak English or have limited English skills. We print the parent letters in both English and Spanish, and we also translate these data reports into Korean as needed.

When we have parent meetings that report data out to parents, we always include translation in these same two languages. Parents wear headsets and receive the verbal information through their headset in their home language. We also encourage engagement and involvement from our second-language parents at the site level through English Learner Advisory Councils and at the district level through a District English Language Advisory Council. These councils review student data and help to guide decisions for the English-language learner programs in our schools and for the district as a whole. 

What’s more, we have also had district-wide training for all teachers on the topic of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning. This has helped to create a culture of inclusive learning for all students.

One fascinating outcome of participation in our ELAC and DELAC committees has been parent empowerment. These parent organizations now put together a yearly parent symposium. We have a group of outstanding parents called “Parents Leading Parents,” in which parents share what they have learned about project management, successful habits of mind, and leadership. Our parents put these lessons to the test in planning and executing the symposium each year. We have seen this group continue to grow as parents come to see they have valuable input into their children’s education.

Language barriers and cultural nuances can affect the home-school relationship, and often parents don’t understand the importance of student data and why they should care. When engaging parents in the use of data to improve student learning, we have been very deliberate in explaining the value of student data and how parents can use this information to support their children’s education more effectively — all while addressing any language and cultural barriers.

As a result, our parents are feeling more included in the educational process — and they are using the data we share about their children to help them supplement the instruction we provide.

Debbie Clark and Stephanie Williamson are Teachers on Special Assignment for the Buena Park Elementary School District in Orange County, California.

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