By: Holly Windram, Ph.D.
There’s no question of the value of engaging families in their child’s learning at school (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Sharing data is an effective strategy that schools and districts can use to engage families and communities for school improvement (The Education Trust, 2004). It follows that educators can take advantage of this opportunity about how universal screening data are shared with families as a means to foster family engagement for overall academic success for their child/children.
Why is it important to communicate screening data with families?
As educators, we know the importance of why we are collecting universal screening data. But do families share this same value or understanding? This seasonal activity of benchmarking provides educators with a fresh opportunity to do more than just “transmit information;” sharing data with families about their child’s individual education performance can be an effective strategy to increase family engagement in school improvement as well as in their child’s education (Baldwin & Wade, 2012). This is an opportunity for us to rally as a family-school team around our mutual child-centered goals. When considering how to share student data with families, it is important for us to be thoughtful about the perspectives, barriers, wants, and needs of parents and caregivers, as it relates sharing student performance data in general (Education Trust, 2004).
What to Communicate
Remember back to the first time you were introduced to a Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) and the concept of screening and benchmarking? What about the first time you viewed a Group Screening report in FastBridge? It was probably like learning a new language and overwhelming to interpret at first. However, you had training that introduced you to MTSS and FastBridge reports either in-person or maybe through the FastBridge online modules. Our families don’t have the luxury of an online learning module. They need the courtesy of having universal screening information explained to them in a way that is meaningful and so they can understand as it relates to their child/children. Further, we need to frame this in language that promotes the message that we (together) serve “our kids.” Then, after laying the groundwork for data sharing as a partnership activity, we can dive into the “nuts and bolts” of what the screening data for their child means.
Explaining Universal Screening
This is an opportunity to help introduce or reinforce this concept for families as part of the school’s overall MTSS framework. We assume that schools have already communicated with families that the activity of universal screening will be occurring, what that is, and how teachers and administrators will use this information. However, whether the first or one of many, the message when sharing universal screening data needs to state how the universal screening process consists of using brief assessments for academics and social skills/behavior to do a systematic check on what our kids will need instructionally to succeed during the school year. We will do this check three times – fall, winter, spring – to ensure all kids are making progress toward their grade level goals. Put another way, screening is akin to going for an annual well-child check-up at the pediatrician; educators also need to get a “well-child check” on kids in terms of their academic and social/behavior skills. They do this to make sure everyone is healthy as they start the school year, and identify those kids that might need extra support to ensure they are on-track to “good health.” This analogy might be a good one that resonates with most families.
Recall that we conduct universal screening within an MTSS framework to ensure effective resource allocation for instructional services, determining the effectiveness of the curriculum, instruction, and interventions for all kids, and determining which kids are at-risk for not meeting end of year grade level standards. This is done by comparing the child’s performance in relation to peers and to grade level standards. Further, teachers will use these data to adapt teaching strategies to students’ needs as well as to help students work toward specific learning goals. Knowing how teachers use screening data helps reassure families that the data are used in meaningful ways, and that their child is not seen as just a set of numbers (Harvard Family Research Project, 2013).
Screening details. Provide families with a quick summary – maybe in a table or chart – of the specific assessments that are being used for universal screening. An example can be found in the FastBridge Blog Communicating with Parents about School Data. Most important is to show the skill or skills for which screening information is provided. For example, while the title “CBMreading” clearly indicates an assessment of reading, let’s state specifically what the assessments does and, by default, does not assess. In this example, CBMreading assesses rate, accuracy, and expression, all of which are correlated to comprehension.
Understanding reports. The first time, the color coding and numbers in FastBridge reports will be completely foreign to families, and all families will need on-going reminders at each benchmark period. Educators should provide specific clarification for families to visually and cognitively navigate the screening information. They will need a “key” or “guide” to know what they are looking at. Here is where educators have the opportunity to clarify the difference between norms and benchmarks, and norm-referenced versus criterion-referenced in parent-friendly language.
Ultimately, families want to know the bottom line of how is their child doing. Is the child healthy or not? We provide this information by showing how that child’s score compares to expectations for grade level peers. Does the child’s score place that child at low risk, some risk, or high risk? Or, at the College pathway where there’s opportunity for content acceleration? Give an overview of what these data show about a child’s relative strengths and where there might be relative weaknesses in learning. Educators can then use information as a springboard to extend the offer to families of how they can reinforce, encourage, and support their child’s learning in school at home.
We’ve established that when communicating screening data to parents that it is critical for the school to communicate the ‘why,’ the ‘what,’ and the ‘so, what.’ In all cases, it must be emphasized that the communication is clear and in language that non-educators, but those that are motivated to know the information because they care about their children, can read and understand. Avoid technical sounding words or phrases like “standard error of measurement” or “probes” or “computer adaptive “or “automaticity” that can distract from the main points and even alienate some parents who feel overwhelmed by this vocabulary. Instead, explain the assessment tasks with phrases such as “a page to read” or “a test taken on the computer” or “read quickly, but without making mistakes; not speed reading.”
Practically speaking, there are many venues in which these data may be shared with families including parent-teacher conferences, family letters, an online family information portal provided by the school, etc. In all cases, educators should be mindful of the most effective communication settings. For example, since parent-teacher conferences are in-person, parents can stop to ask questions or teachers can pause to check for understanding “in the moment,” but often there is not much time. In a letter, all the information is written for the family to consume without our ability to clarify if parents have questions as they read, but there is not a time constraint. How can we provide visual representations and terminology that will communicate most clearly and thoroughly the key messages about screening data and a child’s performance depending on the medium we are using for communication? Regular references to student data in conversations with families is an easy way to incrementally build shared understanding and shared value of the data as important to student learning. FastBridge has templates for letters to families about screening and progress monitoring scores in the Downloads section of the website. Educators might decide to create their own letters such as the example below.
An example for aReading
You may recall that each year, while we are building relationships our kids, we also get to know them through collecting some regular data on their reading, math, and social/behavior skills. We do this three times per year (fall, winter, and spring). These data help tell us how we can best serve your child at school. We are pleased to share the results of your child’s fall screening.
Below are the FastBridge Learning screening assessments your child participated in this fall:
|Name||Assessment Method||Skills assessed|
|aReading||Computer-based||Broad reading abilities|
Your child’s scores tell us two important things. First, the scores tell us how your child’s scores compared to other kids in their grade. This score is a percentile ranking and we call it a “norm-referenced” score. It allows us to compare to other kids in their class, their grade level, the district, and nationally. Imagine 100 children lined up along a wall. If a child is at the 75th percentile, that means that child is number 75 in that line. On one side of that child are 74 kids whose score was lower. On the other side are 24 kids whose score was higher.
Next your child’s score is compared to the growth expected to be on-track to meet the grade level learning standards by the end of the school year. We call these benchmarks and there are benchmark targets set for the fall, winter, and spring for each grade level. We also call these scores “criterion-referenced.”
Each kind of score is color-coded using the following key:
On the fall FastBridge Learning aReading assessment, your child scored 476. This score places him at some risk for not meeting the end of year grade level benchmark target, i.e., learning standards. Further, your child’s score places him at the 45th percentile compared to his class, the 49th percentile compared to his school, the 36th percentile compared to kids in the same grade in the district, and the 25th percentile compared to kids in the same grade nationally.
Next steps for your child:
Insert here if and what there will or will not be instructionally different for this child. For example,
Since Ody’s scores show him as being at some risk and at a low percentile rank nationally, we will collect more data to determine the specific areas of reading that Ody may need more direct help with from the classroom teacher. Further, as part of our school improvement plan, we prioritize that all children receive a full 120 minutes per day of reading and writing instruction.
What can you do to help?
[Insert some no-cost ideas for what the family can do at home to help with relative weaknesses and also capitalize on strengths.]
- Have a time for your child to read every day. In the car, before bed. Anytime!
- What does your child like? Sports? Dinosaurs? Arthur? Let them chose what they want to read.
- Ask your child to read you something they learned to read at school.
- Ask your child to bring home books from the school library.
- Give your child a ‘high-five’ when they have been reading at home. Ask them about what they read.
When it comes to universal screening data, communication with families includes creating shared understanding for why screening data are collected, and what these data mean for their child/children is useful, meaningful, and actionable. But, educators are also encouraged to see this as an opportunity to foster engagement from families on what actions they can take to support in school improvement and overall academic success for their child.
What Tools in FastBridge Exist on Communicating with Parents?
“Communicating Data about Achievement and Growth to Parents”
“Sharing Student Data with Parents”
“Communicating with Parents about Student Data”
“Ask the Experts: Communicating Data about Achievement and Growth to Parents”
Baldwin, M., & Wade, S. M. (2012). Improving family and community engagement through sharing data. Briefing Paper. Retrieved from http://www.msapcenter.com/applicationdoc/c037e1d9-20fd-4449-83d3-f268b1f5348dimprovingfamcommunity.pdf.
Harvard Family Research Project (2013). Tips for Administrators, Teachers, and Families: How to Share Data Effectively. Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/var/hfrp/storage/fckeditor/File/7-DataSharingTipSheets-HarvardFamilyResearchProject.pdf.
Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
National Center on Response to Intervention. Parent Frequently Asked Questions.
The Education Trust. (2004). Making data work: A parent and community guide. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://1k9gl1yevnfp2lpq1dhrqe17-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/dataguidefinal.pdf.