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Data Dialogue

Tips for Educators on Sharing Student Data with Families
Data Dialogue

How can teachers help families understand their children’s progress in school? The answer may lie in the numbers. Schools collect massive amounts of data on each student: standardized test scores, homework completion, attendance records, and even peer interaction. Like the stars in a constellation, an interesting picture can emerge — but only if educators know what to do with all these data points and how to communicate them, says HGSE researcher Lorette McWilliams.

A new paper from the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) aims to help, providing tips on how teachers and schools can safely and productively discuss student data with families. The article, co-authored by McWilliams and Christine Patton and published this month in Educational Leadership, also highlights common characteristics of successful data-sharing programs.

How to Share Data with Families

  • How to Share Data with Families #usableknowledge #hgse @harvardeducation
    Use discretion
    . Schools have access to sensitive information about students and their families. Teachers must ensure that the data is shared appropriately and privately.
  • Make data “accessible, understandable, and actionable.” Rather than handing Dad a list of his daughter’s math test scores, offer comparisons of the child’s performance both with grade expectations and with her own performance from earlier in the year. Be ready to recommend ways parents can help their child improve.
  • Provide training so that teachers are prepared to discuss data. In order to head a conversation about standardized test scores, for instance, teachers have to fully understand the grading system.
  • Give families the opportunity to learn more. Just as they prepare teachers, schools should provide training for families on how to understand data.
  • Recognize that each family is different. Families are more likely to positively respond to data if they are given a choice on how and how often to receive it. Once a week or once a month? Email, text message, or face-to-face conference?

What Does Effective Data Sharing Look Like?

  • Good data-sharing programs encourage connections between school life and home life. When a teacher presents a chart showing how often a student completes his homework, parents can explain the student’s typical afternoon and evening schedule. Both parents and teacher can then pinpoint common threads or areas of growth and set consistent goals.
  • Conversations about data should help contextualize the numbers. When teachers describe state standards alongside a student’s standardized test score, families better understand their child’s performance.
  • Conversations about data should keep the door open. Schools and families should view data sharing as an ongoing process. In between parent-teacher conferences, teachers can text and email to hold regular mini-conversations on students’ progress.

These strategies can help schools and families foster a more targeted learning experience for each student, McWilliams says. “A number in isolation is essentially meaningless, and a bunch of numbers can be confusing. We hear from those in the field that sharing data is important, but even more important is eliciting insights of families, which are also data, and co-developing the next steps, such as creating learning goals, identifying accessible resources to extend and expand learning, and having follow-up conversations to monitor progress and circle back to prior exchanges.

“Giving families information in context, in ways that are understandable, combined with the data that families provide about the student's out-of-school life, fortifies the family-school partnership and gives a fuller, richer picture of that student."

Additional Resources


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