New Report Digs Into the Causes of the Disconnect Between How Families Think Their Child is Achieving and How the Child is Actually Achieving

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:

  1. Parenting styles drive how parents engage in their child’s education.
  2. Report cards sit at the center of the disconnect.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Winter Activities for Kids

Whether you’re a “frolic in the snow” or “cozy up around the fire” type of winter family, iMom has lots of suggestions for winter activities with kids. It’s a list of lists with all sorts of things to do with your kids for New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl, or the “I’m bored” times. Among the lists:

  • 20 Ideas for a Family Fun Night
  • 5 Ideas for Teens on New Year’s Eve
  • 10 Best Classic Movies for Families and Kids

Check out the full list of things to do with your kidsto enjoy the cold winter days.

Making Time for Your Kids

A parent’s life is busy, and the holidays are busier than usual. If you’re having trouble finding time to spend with your kids, All-Pro Dad has a list of ten ways to make time for your children. Among our favorites are:

  • Commit to a family mealtime each day.
  • Identify one thing on your weekly schedule that you can do without and replace it with kid time.
  • Volunteer to participate in a regularly scheduled child activity, such as coaching a softball team or helping with a school activity.
  • Identify one children’s show on TV that you secretly like to watch and make a point of watching it with your child. (Holiday bonus—watch your favorite specials with them!)
  • Develop an interest in a hobby you and your child can share together.

Check out the full list at All-Pro Dad, and consider the question posed at the beginning of their article: what insignificant things are we wasting our time on that are preventing us from spending time on things that really matter?

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Life can be stressful at times, even for kids. Concerns about grades, peer pressure, friend issues, bullying, traumatic events, and more can lead to stress. Some stress can be productive—cortisol, the “stress hormone,” increases blood sugar, metabolism, and memory function, and provides a temporary boost to physical and mental ability. Those brief periods of stress can be productive and help a child be motivated to accomplish tasks that might be a little intimidating.

However, when stressful feelings continue over time, cortisol impairs brain functioning and suppresses the immune system. During childhood when the brain is still connecting the neural circuits for dealing with stress, chronic stress can rewire the brain to become overly reactive or slow to shut down when faced with threats. Chronic stress in childhood can evenincrease the risk of diseases in adulthood.

How to Cope with Stress

Much of how to cope with stress applies to anyone, adults or children.

  • Take care of SELF (Sleep, Exercise, Leisure, and Food)—get plenty of sleep, get some exercise, do something fun and relaxing to take a break, and eat healthy.
  • Talk to others, sharing your problems and how you are feeling and coping.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol—while they may seem to ease stress in the short term, over the long term they create problems that increase stress.
  • Take a break from what’s causing your stress.
  • Recognize when you need more help.

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Stress often comes in part from feeling unable to manage what life is giving you, and for children, there are many things that can leave them feeling helpless, as they have less experience in dealing with difficulties. Keep in mind the coping strategies above, and talk with your child to help them to process what is causing their stress. Additional ways you can help your child cope are:

  • Maintain a normal routine—familiarity helps to provide a sense of stability.
  • Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Give your child opportunities to talk, but don’t force them. Listen to what their thoughts, feelings, and worries are, and share some of yours. Keep the lines of communication open, and check in with them to see how they feel after a week, a month, or more.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any changes in behavior, including sleeping, eating, and connecting with friends. Even small changes may indicate your child is having trouble dealing with stress.
  • Reassure your child about their safety and well-being, particularly if the stress is caused by a traumatic event.
  • Connect with others—your child’s teachers and other parents may have additional suggestions on how to help your child cope.
  • Promote a growth mindset. If your child is stressed about their grades or school work, developing a growth mindset can help. Research indicatesthat while many students’ stress levels increase after receiving a bad grade, students who believe that intelligence can be developed are more likely to see academic setbacks as temporary, they stress less over a bad grade, and they return to normal stress levels more quickly afterwards.

What Schools Can Do

Teachers and other school personnel see students almost as much as their families during the week, so they may also notice children exhibiting signs of stress. In addition, some student stress may stem from poor academic performance, bullying, or other stressful situations related to school (e.g., worries about safety after news coverage of a school shooting). Here’s how schools can help students cope with stress:

  • Reach out and talk. Create opportunities for students to talk, but don’t force them. Try asking questions like, what do you think about these events, or how do you think these things happen? You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation. When children talk about their feelings, it can help them cope and to know that different feelings are normal.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students talking more or less? Withdrawing from friends? Acting out? Are they behaving in any way out of the ordinary? These changes may be early warning signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.
  • Maintain normal routines. A regular classroom schedule can provide reassurance and promote a sense of stability and safety.
  • Take care of yourself. You can better support students if you are healthy, coping, and taking care of yourself first.

Resources

If you need to reach out for extra support or immediate help, contact one of the following crisis hotlines:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
  • Youth Mental Health Line: 1-888-568-1112
  • Child-Help USA: 1-800-422-4453 (coping with stress)
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990