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DUP Week: Involving Families in the Data with Sondra Stegenga

I’m Sondra Stegenga, an occupational therapist, home visitor, educational administrator, and Ph.D. student at the University of Oregon.  Evidence has shown that meaningful family involvement is key to long-term outcomes for children. In early intervention and early childhood (EC) systems we are charged with basing services, supports, and goals on family needs and priorities. Given the varied learning needs and contextual and cultural values of families, and the lack of research on involving families in data practices, this process may be unintentionally overlooked or underutilized. In a recent study, Brawley and Stormont found that although 82% of EC teachers identified sharing data with families as important, only 42% reported regularly doing so. Data collection in EC programs can become a rote task, completed without much meaning or family involvement. Failing to include families in data processes not only violates foundational tenets of early intervention and early childhood but more importantly deprives families of valuable learning and reflection, greater involvement in their child’s plan, and improved chances of successful outcomes.

Lessons Learned:

  • In 20+ years of working with children and families I learned the impact of involving families in data practices. This lines up with what researchers and evaluators have noted that involving families in data processes leads to increased communication and better outcomes.

Hot Tips:

  • To engage parents in data practices we must first engage families in the whole educational process. Consider cultural, contextual, and family needs. Engagement may look different to each family, but should be conveyed thorough mission, goals, and formal practices explicitly outlining the importance of and practices supporting family involvement. Gathering input from through a variety of methods (via smartphone, in-person, and times convenient for the family) is imperative to meaningful family engagement.
  • Involve families from the beginning as “partners” in data collection, reflection, and use. This will demystify the process and support full, meaningful family engagement. Explain reasoning for data, timelines, and gathering data. Take time to understand parents’ prior experience, fears, and questions related to data. Ask parents what is meaningful to them and discuss how they would like to measure their child’s progress.
  • Use various modes of data presentation. Graphs and visualizations are shown to be powerful communicators of data. In addition, telling the story of the data and linking to family’s needs, priorities, and contexts is key to understanding.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is hosting the Disabilities and Underrepresented Populations TIG (DUP) Week. The contributions all week are focused on engaging DUP in your evaluation efforts. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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  • Kim Nichols · August 13, 2017 at 12:04 am

    Hello Sondra Stegenga

    I am a teacher in the Northern region of Canada and currently completing my Professional Masters of Education from Queen’s University. I am currently taking a course in Program Evaulation and came across you blog entry from last week titled “Involving Families in the Data.” This post couldn’t have come at a better time as I am about to implement a yoga course at my high school. I was the one who initiated the course and I will be teaching the course. I proposed this program because I believe our high school students need help fostering positive mental health and that yoga can be an avenue to that. I have been creating a program evaluation plan and I have been thinking about the parent piece in data collection.

    When I first began my plan I hadn’t thought about tapping into the parents as a resource. I was focused solely on what the clients (students) would tell me. My thinking evolved and your post encouraged me that I am on the right track. I appreciate your tip to engage parents in the whole process. I need to set up a way to communicate the yoga in schools program’s mission, goals and practice and while doing so will be able to get input from the families. You also reminded me that this dialogue has to happen at the beginning. If I want to collect data from the family’s, I need to make sure I have their support and understanding from the beginning. Parents will see any change in positive mental health before I as an educator will.

    I am struggling with how to collect data from parents that is meaningful. I am concerned that I will have my questions go answered. I find with high school students paper copies never make it home and phone calls/emails often go unanswered. Data collection will fall solely on my shoulders and I am concerned I won’t be able to get enough responses from parents to use the data. How do I get the parents to buy in and see how important their role is?

    Thanks and look forward to your response.

    Kim Nichols


    • Sondra Stegenga · August 22, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      Hi Jocelyn – Thank you for your thoughtful reply! It sounds like you already have some excellent practices in place to involve students and families. Regarding navigating the expectations of proficiency versus growth, this really may be an issue best be addressed through systems level supports. Messaging and early communications with families from the beginning about how data is gathered, stored (e.g. confidentiality), and used can be key to understanding and increased use and acceptance. Particularly, it is important that this messaging is consistent across grade levels and systems so parents are not getting mixed messages. This is where coordinated data structures within educational systems can also provide added benefit. The Data Quality Campaign recently came out with some good resources about working to establish a good messaging process with families. Here is a link: or Overall, as with any collaboration (as with parents), having an understanding of roles and expectations is imperative to positive outcomes, including that with data. Perhaps you could consider talking with your administrators/school leaders to discuss their messaging process related to data and resources for families. Perhaps you could even start up a committee devoted to this task if it was something you and your administrators felt was a priority! Thank you for your interest and great work involving the families!


    • Sondra Stegenga · August 22, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      Hi Kim – what a neat program you are working on and I appreciate your thinking in involving families and messaging about how the program relates to the school mission, goals, and practice! Regarding how to get communications home in high school, this often comes down to systems level messaging again, similar to my response to Jocelyn. Also, here is link to a few more resources on engaging families in middle school and high school: Overall, developing relationships and consistent expectations is imperative. Some ideas and ways to connect with parents of students at the high school level may include parent nights or events to get the word out about your program. Or, if there is a school website or newsletter or text system with announcements that discuss special programs, that may be another good avenue to get the word out to families. With most families having access to some form of technology (e.g. smartphone or other), technology may be an excellent avenue for communication (pending type of data/always considering confidentiality requirements of course). Last, it will be important to determine the main goal of parent input and how it will directly relate to outcomes of your program (e.g. will it help to gain parent input and support for carryover at home, participation, etc.)? This may help in your communication efforts and also to gather the most relevant data and buy in from families. If there is not an easy to see link of the value of their input, often participation decreases. Last, consideration of guardianship at the High School level is an added component to consider pending age and student status (e.g. can you legally contact parents)? Thank you for your work involving families and thoughtfulness about integrating new practices!


  • Jocelyn Molaro · August 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Hi Sondra,
    I am a graduate student currently studying program evaluation and an elementary school teacher. Your post has piqued my interest, as we constantly collect data to share with families, but I’m skeptical of how valuable this information and process is to families. As you mention, involving families in the data process is a valuable learning and reflection experience and allows families greater involvement, which leads to “improved chances of successful outcomes”.
    I appreciate your tips to engage families in data practices. One point that really stood out to me that I think I am missing from my practice is asking families what is meaningful to them and discussing how they would like to measure their child’s progress. I think that we as teachers are streamlined into assessment measures that that is the only data we share with families. They would be more engaged in the results of the data if they have a role in determining what data to collect for their individual child and how to measure progress.
    We facilitate student-led conferences twice a year for students to share their progress formally with their families. I see this being an opportunity to discuss data collection with families and tailoring it to their ideas and needs. This would open the door for culturally responsive collaboration with families.
    Many families that I work with value data results that show where their child ranks among their peers, which can be an aspect of culture. My personal evaluation beliefs are that children’s learning should be evaluated based on a standard expectation of an outcome, not in comparison to their peers. We practice outcome-based reporting and several families dislike this as they are more interested to know if their child is at the top of the class. How do you suggest we can navigate through these fundamental differences to come up with a meaningful data plan for all parties involved?
    Yours in education,
    Jocelyn Molaro


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