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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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

7 thoughts on “DUP Week: Involving Families in the Data with Sondra Stegenga”

  1. Crystal Boorman

    Hi Sondra,

    My name is Crystal Boorman, I am a student at Queen’s University in the Professional Master’s Program of Education. I am currently enrolled in a course called Program Inquiry and Evaluation and as a requirement of the course, I am responding to an article of interest.

    I teach very young children and I have always believed in creating a partnership for communication between families and the school. I appreciate your useful tips on involving families. I find that setting the foundation for communication at the beginning of the year and corresponding with families to find out what works best for them is so beneficial.

    That being said, I have come across some struggles with communicating and collecting data with some families. I have had success with questionnaires, phone calls, and student-led conferences, but I do find it challenging collecting information from families who are less present in the school. For example, I have a family who never makes it to student-led conferences or contact the school to reschedule. This family is one that I am constantly trying to communicate and collect information from because we have some concerns and would like to pursue some additional assessments at the school level. Their child is also in a reading intervention program that I implement. Unfortunately, there is a substantial daily at home piece needed for success in the program. I cannot seem to increase this family’s engagement. I will take your advice and have a discussion with this family addressing what is important meaningful to them and hopefully develop a plan for sharing their child’s progress.

    Thank you for your advice,

    Crystal Boorman

  2. Hello,

    My name is Jessica Lee and I’m a current student for a Professional Masters of Education program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (Canada). One of my assignments was to find an article on the AEA365 blog that interested me and to write a thoughtful response to the author of the article. The article I had chosen is called: Involving Families in the Data.

    I wanted to write because I chose this article as it related significantly to my professional work. I am currently a Reception teacher (equivalent to a Kindergarten teacher in Canada). At the school I am working at, they highly stress on the involvement of family in the school community and in their children’s lives with schoolwork as well as extracurricular activities.

    This is why at my school, we have a lot of parent workshops where parents are welcome to come into the school and learn about the strategies and methods that teachers use in the classroom that they could also use at home to extend their learning. We also have parent consultations and I meet with families every term (4 times a year) to discuss their child’s progress in the school. I discuss the level their child is at and what their achievements are in the class as well as the targets/next steps I intend to work with on the child.

    For example, I have one child who is capable of reading phonemes and writing them out as well as segmenting the phonemes. However, I need to work on the blending of the phonemes (he would read d, o, g separately but then hesitate blending and eventually answer something like duck as an example). The parent is aware of this and when homework is sent home with the work, she can work on the next steps with the child as well. Collaborating with parents are important because as much as I try to help their children, parents play an important role as well.

    It does not matter whether a child is below target level or above target level, I believe that every parent must be aware of the progress their child is making in school (for example, if a child is above target level, then I can work on what extensions can be made for his/her so that she/he can continue to advance and develop academically in school).

    As long as teachers and parents maintain constant communication and students’ work is assessed, then this ensures that students can be successful.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Jessica Lee

  3. Vasiliki Georgakopoulos

    Hello Sondra Stegenga,

    My name is Vasiliki Georgakopoulos. I am a student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I am currently enrolled in the Professional Master’s of Education. This semester I am taking a course called Program Inquiry and Evaluation where I am learning how to inquire and evaluate social programs.

    I find your article very relevant to my work. Working with families with young children, infants and toddlers, is my passion. I am an early childhood educator and I run a Child and Family Learning Centre in Ontario, Canada. I facilitate the program by recognizing the importance of a family as a whole in the child’s life.

    In your article you wrote that evidence has shown that meaningful involvement is key to long-term outcomes. My role is to facilitate an environment where I engage families to interact with their children and with each other. My goal is to support high quality interactions between parents/caregivers with their children.

    I agree with you that most data collection in EC programs is done without parental involvement. This creates a gap between parents and educators and I always try to have parents involved at every step of the way.

    I found your Hot Tips very informative and I plan to follow these tips.
    I really love how you stated that engagement looks different to each family. It is true that every family is unique with different experiences.

    Even though I try to always build a relationship with every family based on respect and trust, the only data that I collect and report is attendance right now. Aside from attendance, I collect pedagogical documentation that I share with the parents. As I recognize the need of data collection and its usefulness I will be looking more into your Rad Resources that you posted, especially the one titled “Tips on Culturally Responsive Parental Involvement”. Do you have any further suggestions of tips for me to help me get started?

    Thank you for your valuable information.

    Vasiliki Georgakopoulos

  4. 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

    1. 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: https://dataqualitycampaign.org/topic/empowering-families-and-communities/ or http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/pf/pf/documents/famengageframeenglish.pdf 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!

    2. 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: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/parent_engagement_in_middle_and_high_school_370144_7.pdf 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!

  5. 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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