Measuring and Correlating Engagement to Achievement

By: Joseph Fratoni

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

There are many instances where this statement is not accurate; however, it’s corollary, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” is closer to the mark. Lord Kelvin, Peter Drucker, and Edward Deming have had these quotes attributed to them, but like many great ideas, there are many authors.

The concept of observing, measuring, developing a hypothesis, and retesting, and re-observing, etc. is the basis for science lab classes in our schools, as well as managing clinical studies, businesses, and many other human endeavors. The best outcomes are the result of well-connected dots. How do we connect these properly? Great studies have the following in common:

  • They develop the correct metrics. Collecting the wrong data will not provide improvement.
  • The data is important to the user. If the information, although correct, is not actionable, progress cannot be made.
  • The collection of data is not intrusive. In many cases, the testing skews not only the results, but the methods it was designed to measure.

Addressing constituents’ needs is complex, yet achievable.

The process of educating a child involves more than just the teacher and the student. There are other constituencies involved, including the family, school administrators, the school board, and the community and the public at large. When we talk about measuring family engagement and the parent teacher partnership, we need to address each of these constituents’ different needs.

First we need to know what each group wants to measure.

They want to evaluate what’s important to them. They need to receive information on which they can take action; it needs to be easily understood and delivered in a timely manner.  In this way, light adjustments can be made without it being obtrusive. Let’s take a closer look at the following constituents.

Parents

Studies have shown that most parents feel that they are responsible for their child’s progress, regardless of the success or lack thereof. They view the teacher and the school as providing the service of educating their child, but the parent still feels responsible. In many cases, parents feel disenfranchised, and this is perceived as disengaged. Studies have also shown that parents are not that interested in the education system as a whole; they are more focused on their child’s education.

So what do they want to see?

Parents don’t only want to know how their child is doing; they want to see how their child is doing according to their ability. Who knows this best? The parent. They want to see how she fits in to the rest of the class, and how the class is doing. They want to see how their expectations are met in relation to the rest of the parents in that class. If the other parents are happy but they aren’t, decisions can be made. In all this, FERPA issues must be recognized and addressed. Meeting a parent’s need for information is paramount to a successful Parent Teacher Partnership.

Teachers

Teachers need to easily receive insights from home. By knowing the parents’ expectations early, they can address any disconnect between a parent’s vision and educational reality. Similarly, they can address when parent expectations are too low. This is considered by studies to be the most important influence on positive family engagement. Understanding objectives become the basis for parent teacher partnerships. Ongoing, civil dialogue strengthens this relationship.

Teachers also need to gauge how they’re doing with parents. They need to see when parents go on ‘auto-pilot’, no longer engaged in the partnership. They want to see the performance of their students not only as it correlates to family involvement, but also based on other factors. This “whole picture” helps them develop better methods for teaching that may not always be restricted to the classroom.

Knowing that a teacher’s time is limited, whatever system is used must be able to become a natural part of the fabric of their day. In this way, managing many parent teacher partnerships influence the performance of the whole class, in line with the teacher’s objectives.

Administrators

Administrators need to see that teachers are actively engaged with parents. Targets can be set for the level of parent teacher partnerships, and these can be correlated to student and teacher performance. They can measure the timeliness of information provided to the parents and work with teachers when this information is lacking. Through this system, administrators can develop an atmosphere of respect for the parent contribution.

School Board Members and the School Community

How does the School Board and the public enter into this conversation of metrics? What context do they need? Remember the phrase, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”? Although there are many, many studies that prove family engagement is important to a child’s success, none have developed the key metric: family engagement will give you “x” improvement in student performance, which can be correlated to “x” improvement in teacher effectiveness, and into an “x” return on investment in their community.

Using measurement, we can gain momentum.

If it’s not quantifiable, it’s not fundable. With all the pressures of conflicting concerns, family engagement funding has lagged far behind its importance. Of the average $12,400 spent per year on average per K-12 student in the US, less than $10 is earmarked for parent involvement! It is this metric that One Green Apple seeks to change, being cost effective, but more importantly, creating an effective system for involvement.

Metrics help make this a reality.