Rethinking the Parent-Teacher Conference

Rethinking the Parent-Teacher Conference

Last year, Aimee Guidera wrote that standards, assessments, and data form “three legs of a stool”:

Without one of the legs, the stool falls over. Let’s take data, for example. Yank the data away, and you just have standards and assessments—we’d simply be testing kids for the sake of testing and compliance reporting. We must employ the highest standards and most effective tests, but without using the resulting data, student improvement and system performance will be stymied.

What if we incorporated this idea into our parent-teacher conferences? Imagine if parents could sit with teachers for more than 15 minutes and really dive into the standards and their child’s assessment results—and make a plan to move forward. And what if parents were given strategies and tools in these meetings to support that effort? In a few places this is becoming a reality thanks to the innovative work of Maria Paredes, director of community education at Creighton School District in Arizona, and it’s spreading nationally thanks to her partnership with WestEd. Dr. Paredes developed the Academic Parent Teacher Team (APTT) workshops to use family engagement as an instructional strategy.

I was thrilled to discover that my son’s DCPS elementary school was piloting this program! At a diverse school (40 percent African American, 48 percent white, 25 percent free or reduced-price lunch), this conversation is a great way to engage all parents around real information to discuss paths to improvement for their children. I recently attended my first APTT meeting with the other parents of my son’s second-grade class. Each parent received a folder with their child’s performance indicators, and the teacher walked us through the associated math and English language arts standards. She was very clear that this isn’t a competition and that regardless of where your child is currently, every child is expected to set a goal and all parents are expected to work collaboratively with the teacher to move their child toward that goal.

What I found incredibly valuable (in an unexpected way) was the conversation among the parents in the room about the challenges and opportunities we all faced in meeting these goals—because they were largely the same!

Here’s what a few other second-grade parents had to say about this APTT meeting:

  • “I found APTT more useful than a parent-teacher meeting. The confidential data on my son’s levels in math and reading relative to his classmates was incredibly helpful. The data felt actionable because I was able to set goals against it.”
  • “I think that the traditional conferences are so short that we’ve always kind of rushed through the data and I’ve just found myself taking away, ‘Well, OK, he’s meeting expectations, but I’m really not sure what that means.’ Last night, I was able to walk away knowing exactly what the goals are for midyear and end of year and the best ways to meet and exceed those goals.”

As we wrapped up the meeting the teacher asked us, “How will you know when your child has mastered this skill?” One parent yelled out, “Test him!” This brings me back to Aimee’s statement in the beginning. Parents inherently understand the value of data and assessment but it needs to have meaning and context. Perhaps I can add to the analogy—the APTT meeting is the seat that sits atop the three legged stool (standards, assessments, and data) and with all of these structural elements in place we can truly begin to support our students and schools in the manner they deserve.

Check out this video to see Dr. Paredes in action and learn more about APTT meetings!

New World Open Academy parent teacher teams la times

Photo: APTT at New World Open Academy in Los Angeles, CA (Al Seib, L.A. Times)