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4 steps to encourage parent involvement in early elementary school

parent involvement

When it comes to encouraging parent involvement in your schools, starting early is key.

This week, our research team presented national trends on school climate and safety data at the National Head Start Association’s 2018 Parent and Family Engagement Conference.

At K12 Insight, our research team partners with hundreds of school districts across the country to help gauge their perceptions around school quality and climate.

Our recent study reflects perception data of nearly a quarter of a million parents, school-based staff, and students over the last three school years. We reviewed parent responses for students in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten classrooms and compared them with the parents of students in all K-12 grade levels.

Here’s a quick snapshot from our findings:

  • 98% of parents of preK and Kindergarten students perceive that families are encouraged to attend school-sponsored activities–such as back-to-school night–compared to 82% overall.
  • 87% of preK and Kindergarten parents said that staff members are responsive when students report bullying, compared to 78% overall.
  • 89% of parents of preK and Kindergarten students feel that school-based administrators are responsive when they have a concern, compared to 83% overall.
  • 84% of preK and Kindergarten parents feel teachers give timely feedback about student work, compared to 74% overall.
  • 83% of preK and Kindergarten parents feel their child is challenged by their school work, compared to 82% overall.

The survey item related to challenging students has particularly critical implications. Educators work hard to ensure that students are engaged and challenged. Research finds that children need to master reading by the end of third grade (Hernandez, 2011). When students fail to meet this benchmark they are often the students who are more likely to drop out of school prior to earning a high school diploma (Hernandez, 2011).

Our research team wanted to unpack strategies teachers and school leaders can use to ensure all students are exposed to the type of learning environment that will ensure they meet this critical benchmark.

What we found is that encouraging strong parent involvement is critical to improving early childhood learning.

Ensuring high quality experiences

It is well-established in the research that the quality of a classroom environment can have a big impact on student achievement. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 2009) created five guidelines for providing quality in the preschool environment. They are:

  • Sensitive and responsive caregiving, including setting clear and reasonable limits, and listening to and acknowledging children’s feelings
  • Intentional teaching that involves understanding desired goals for instruction, scaffolding each child’s learning, and incorporating the child’s cultural and linguistic background into teaching and all interactions with children
  • Using a curriculum for instruction
  • Monitoring children’s progress and differentiating instruction to match children’s skills
  • Establishing reciprocal relationships with families

This last point is key. When schools build partnerships with families—responding to their concerns and honoring their contributions—they create a range of benefits for students. Benefits include better academic performance (Henderson and Mapp, 2002); higher reading scores, language growth and development, motivation to achieve, prosocial behavior, and quality work habits (Harvard Family Research Project, 2006/2007); higher graduation rates and reduced alcohol use and antisocial behavior (Michigan Department of Education, 2011); improved school readiness, higher student achievement, better social skills and behavior, and increased likelihood of graduating.

4 steps to better parent engagement

Seeing how important parent involvement is to early childhood success, here are four practical strategies—based on our research–to ensure parents’ voices are being heard and that your Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten classrooms have access to a challenging and supportive learning environment.

  1. Administer a Parent Interest Learning Survey to help teachers get to know parents and the students in their class. Information obtained can help educators teach in a way that is best for your child’s needs and preferences.
  2. Use the data to drive decisions. Anecdotes, while helpful, may not actually highlight the most critical issues faced by your early learning students. Make sure you are using relevant and valid data to make key decisions.
  3. Ensure teachers are incorporating these results into their students’ classroom experiences.
  4. Encourage parents to support their child’s learning outside of school. Make sure teachers are outlining for parents what kind of activities–both academic and enrichment–they can do with their child.

Want to learn more about how schools partner with K12 Insight to inform strategic planning and improve school climate? Sign up for a free demo and consult or contact your strategic account executive.

About the Author

Dr. Alisha Martinez
Dr. Alisha Martinez is senior director of research and business analytics at K12 Insight.

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