Last year, Learning Heroes released the results of their parent survey that showed that nearly 90% of parents regardless of race, income, geography, and income levels believe that their child is working at or above their grade level. Yet national data shows that only about one-third of students are actually performing that well. This year, Learning Heroes surveyed parents to dig into the reasons behind that disconnect.
Their research indicated that there are three key drivers of this disconnect:
- Parenting styles drive how parents engage in their child’s education.
- Report cards sit at the center of the disconnect.
- The disconnect is solvable.
Effect of Parenting Styles
Learning Heroes’ research discovered that there are four different parenting styles regarding how they engage with their child’s education. These four styles can be used by teachers and administrators to inform their communication and engagement with families. The four styles are:
- A-OKs:About 25% of parents are confident that their child is performing in the classroom and on their annual assessment and use both to track achievement. The survey indicates that these families are open to more information, but feel like they have what they need.
- Problem Solvers:About 22% of parents believe their child is struggling academically, socially, or emotionally. These parents already spend a lot of time communicating with teachers and trying to address challenges at school. For these parents, the disconnect is a secondary concern because they already know their child is struggling. The survey indicates that they would welcome more engagement and know that there is more they could be doing.
- Protectors:23% of parents have high expectations for their child, but it is a false sense of security since they are more likely to rely on report card grades than other parents do. These families report the highest level of involvement, with 40% saying they attended a PTA or other school parent organization meeting in the last year.[emphasis added] Information about the performance gaps gets their attention and makes them question their assumptions. These families are very interested in more information and in engaging with the school to close the disconnect for their child.
- Accepters:The remaining 30% of parents are more hands-off. They are less college-oriented and believe their child is “fine.” This group of families is the least engaged of the four groups, and they are skeptical about the disconnect. These families will be the hardest to engage on this topic and on getting them to be more involved in their child’s education, and as a result, will need targeted strategies to reach them.
The Role of Report Cards
A second key finding of the Learning Heroes survey is the role that report cards play in creating the disconnect. While teachers have many different data points about how a student is actually learning and performing, families tend to rely mainly on report cards. The survey shows that parents see report cards as the most important tool for understanding how their child is achieving, and that’s not surprising given that report cards are the one piece of information that they reliably receive.
In contrast, teachers consider report cards only the third most important source of information on how a student is doing, behind regular communication between families and the teacher and graded work on assignments, tests, and quizzes. The reason for this is that teachers indicate that report card grades also reflect progress, effort, and participation in class as well as mastery of the material.
While 90% of teachers report that it’s important to communicate with families about how their child is doing academically and to tell those families when their child is struggling, they also report a number of barriers to providing that information. Among them are:
- 71% say that “parents blame the teacher when their child isn’t performing at the appropriate level.”
- 51% say “parents might not believe the teacher, especially if that information contrasts with what the parent sees at home.”
- More than 20% say “parents could elevate the matter to the school principal, which could create problems for the teacher.”
- Nearly 25% say “teachers are not given the proper support from school administrators to relay this type of information.”
- 53% of teachers say they have no formal training or workshops on how to have difficult conversations with parents, and only 29% are very satisfied with their support in these situations.
- Teachers are more likely to contact families about behavior problems (82%) than about academic problems such as lack of progress over the grading period (79%), dropping more than one letter grade (73%), receiving low scores on standardized tests throughout the year (71%), or failing to meet grade-level standards on annual state tests (70%). Middle school teachers are less likely to reach out to families for any of these reasons than elementary school teachers.
Solving the Disconnect
The Learning Heroes survey also provides some direction on how schools and PTAs can help solve this disconnect between how families believe their child is performing and their actual performance. A key part of solving that disconnect is sharing information.
The survey indicated that the 88% of parents who think their child is performing at grade level in math declines to 61% when told their child has a B in math and didn’t meet expectations on the state test. That percentage declines even further to 52% when they are also told that their child’s school received an overall performance rating of C.
In addition, when families learn about the disconnect, the percentage that agree or strongly agree that report cards are the best way to know how their child is doing academically declines from 60% to 34%. Even so, the majority of parents when informed of the disconnect are more likely to see how that information could apply to “parents in low-performing schools” or “other parents at my child’s school” than to “me and my child.”
Finally, Learning Heroes developed a tool called From Puzzle to Plan: A Family Worksheet that should be available soon. The worksheet puts a grade level indicator based on test scores side-by-side with feedback from the parent, teacher, and child. The tool also provides families with questions to ask in a parent-teacher conference and references to tailored, skills-based resources they can use to help their child at home. The worksheet is designed to help families engage in more productive conversations with teachers about their child.