By Cynthia Menzel and Karen Taylor
Communication between parents and teachers is key to student success, so connect with parents early and often, not just at the official parent-teacher conference. Here are a few tips to be prepared for the conference itself:
- Encourage both parents to attend when possible. Misunderstandings are less common if both parents hear what you have to say, and you’ll be able to gauge the kind of support both parents give the child.
- Allow enough time, at least 20 minutes. Greet parents/guardians/stepparents at the door by name.
- Give yourself a short break between conferences. Arrange seating so everyone is equal and you have no physical barriers between you. Use positive body language. However, keep in mind cultural differences about eye contact and seating arrangements.
- Open on a positive note about the child’s ability, work or interests. Focus on strengths as well as needs. Identify problems and concerns with examples. Suggest specific things parents can do at home to help, and ways you will proceed at school.
Have a plan, and prepare in advance to answer specific questions about a child’s ability, skill levels and achievements. Assemble grades, test scores, student work samples and attendance records.
- Ask for parents’ opinions. Then hear them out, even if the comments are hostile or negative.
- Be prepared to help parents understand the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) student score report (see sidebar).
- Avoid the use of acronyms and jargon. Use Google Translate or the help of a district translator with families who do not speak English or have limited English.
- Summarize the discussion and steps you and the parents will take at the end of the conference. Keep a record. If you and the parents make specific plans or set a course of action for the child, follow up in writing in a day or two.
Let parents know that the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) includes the Smarter Balanced tests of math and reading. (It also includes alternative tests for students with significant cognitive disabilities.) These test knowledge of state standards.
Federal law requires that states annually test students in math and English language arts in grades 3-8 and once in high school, usually 11th grade. Since the state piloted new tests aligned to Next Generation Science Standards last spring, science scores will not be released this year.
Remember to stress that students are more than one test score. As an educator, you have a better sense of how your students are doing through work going on in your classroom. It’s important to have those conversations with parents.
For details of interpreting CAASPP reports, see testscoreguide.org/ca.