District Transparency: The Importance of Family and Community Data Portals

Posted by Courtney StevensO

January 10, 2019


Effective communication between schools and families has been shown to improve student outcomes. Parent data portals can help facilitate that connection.

 

Educators at every level know that effective student learning must really begin and end at home. No matter how gifted a teacher may be, educators may spend as little as an hour with each student every weekday. Understandably, even the most dedicated, skilled, and experienced teachers can struggle to make a major impact on student outcomes in just five hours per week. In fact, studies show that the relative influence of the home on student achievement is 60 to 80 percent, while the school accounts for just 20 to 40 percent.

 

In order for students to achieve at their highest potential, parents and families must be schools’ greatest allies. Parents who are positively engaged in their children’s academic achievement help generate better classroom behavior, higher test scores, and more engaged students. That said, schools nationwide suffer from a lack of parental involvement: a 2017 study from the education nonprofit Learning Heroes showed that about a quarter of parents are not aware of their child’s annual state test scores.

 

Further, nine out of ten parents believe that their child performs at or above grade level in school, even though two-thirds of students nationwide test below grade level in both math and reading. Fortunately, there’s a tangible solution for increasing parental involvement in their students’ academic performance: parent and community data portals.

 

Closing the Parent Knowledge Gap

 

In many cases, complex challenges such as low test scores, chronic absenteeism, and disciplinary concerns can be vastly improved by making families aware of the problem and involving them in creating a solution. A 2014 study from Brown University and Harvard University researchers showed that the likelihood that a student would fail, drop out, or be dismissed from a summer school program steadily dropped as communication between parents and teachers increased.

 

Similarly, a study from researchers at Harvard and UC Berkeley showed that schools could significantly reduce absences simply by ensuring parents were aware of their children’s attendance records. According to the study, an outsize number of parents underestimated their child’s number of absences, and correcting their misbelief was all it took to solve the problem.

 

In addition, more than half of the parents surveyed in the Learning Heroes study reported that their level of involvement in their child’s education is lower than they would like it to be, and that more information and resources from their child’s school would be helpful and appreciated. All of this evidence points to a clear need for improved communications between schools and parents, more tools to facilitate that communication, and greater parental access to information — in other words, parent portals.

 

How Portals Can Help

 

Parent and community data portals can be used to communicate up-to-date information on grades, attendance, discipline, remaining balance in a student’s lunch money account, or even a student’s upcoming exams and assignments. While parent portals display child-specific information, community portals show everything from upcoming events to anonymized school and district-wide performance information.

 

The unprecedented access to student information that parent and family portals provide can make it easier for parents to help close learning gaps and support their child’s specific needs at home. These portals may also come equipped with a messaging feature to facilitate easy and secure communication between parents and teachers. Community portals, on the other hand, provide district-wide performance information that can serve as valuable context for an individual student’s performance, as well as a progress indicator for overarching district initiatives.

 

That said, portals aren’t necessarily a cure-all solution. With this level of real-time access, some families may be tempted check portals too often, prompting premature or unnecessary anxiety about their child’s academic performance. Other parents may choose not to use portals at all. To help strike a healthy balance, many schools have experienced success using a metered release of updated information. Parents may receive an email every one or two weeks letting them know that updates are available; this helps curious parents to avoid over-checking and reminds others to log in.

 

Of course, some students may need extra monitoring, so parent portals should allow for flexibility on a student-by-student basis. In addition, a well-designed portal should make data security a paramount concern, as sensitive, personal data requires a high level of protection.

 

Transparency between parents and schools has become a greater priority in districts nationwide in recent years, and parent data portals are one of the most effective and intuitive ways to facilitate that openness. Portals can be designed, tweaked, and tailored for each school and student’s individual needs, but no matter which added functions a school chooses, it’s clear that parents play a pivotal role in ensuring student success. Parents and schools need to be on the same team — portals can help make that happen.

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