How—and why—superintendents should share student data with families

Report cards simply don't give parents the full picture. K12 leaders must provide families with real-time data so they can understand how to be a part of their child's next steps for success.

Ever since the pandemic, families have demanded a front-row seat to their children’s education based on what they witnessed as their students took part in remote learning. For the first time ever, parents could sit in on their children’s classes, allowing them a fully transparent view of what’s going on in their schools. And that transparency must continue.

More than 40% of parents reported believing their child did not suffer any learning loss during the pandemic. Yet, students are experiencing record-low test scores in reading and math. Educators play a substantial role in ensuring students meet their academic potential, but parental involvement is just as important. However, they need more than a report card to understand exactly where their child stands academically.

“I think it’s complex,” says Lauren Wells, professional learning manager at NWEA. “Parents may perceive performance based on whether that child is happy, engaged, excited to go to school and is doing good work, or whether they like their teacher.

“Report cards are a piece of the puzzle, but don’t provide the full picture,” says Russ Davis, CEO and founder of SchoolStatus. Instead, administrators should be leveraging real-time data so families can understand more than just what their child’s grades are.

“Through student-level data, educators can track and identify behavioral issues, absences, home life, involvement in extracurricular activities, and academic needs,” says Davis. “For instance, the student may have received a C on their report card, but this raises a concern for their teacher as that student has gotten A’s on their tests and classwork.”

This would inevitably help teachers and parents identify that the issue may stem from elsewhere, such as the student’s home life.

“What is happening at home or after school that could be contributing to challenges completing homework and how can school and home work together to help the student get back on track?” asks Davis.

Why it’s an issue for superintendents

While this may seem like an issue for educators and families to sort through, superintendents ultimately are the ones who can spearhead initiatives designed to bolster school-family communications. The first step for district leaders is to identify the “how” and “why” data-sharing is impacting their own classrooms.

“It’s then important for them to have language or ways to incorporate that information into regular conversations and messages with families,” explains Wells. “This requires the superintendent—and district staff—to have a strong internal communications strategy, one that focuses on building understanding and transparency and empowers teachers to share and talk about the decisions made to combat learning loss and how that has impacted their own classrooms and students.”

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Additionally, it requires leaders to build awareness well before they make decisions so families feel included in the process.

“Meaningful decisions are made with them and not to them,” says Wells.

Schools should also be engaging with those who are disconnected, such as those who may be facing language barriers and require easily digestible insights and data about their child. One-to-one communication is powerful in helping move the needs on academic outcomes, says Davis. Two-way communication, however, invites families into the decision-making process.

“Data-informed outreach helps build relationships between school and home to get to the why,” says Davis. “Why are students missing school? Why are students struggling? Instead of talking about the state, district or class, talk about their child and what the data means for their student. Communications with student-level data tied to outcomes feel relevant and actionable to families.”

Helping families find relevancy in data

Wells mentions that time constraints and trust are some of the largest barriers when it comes to establishing successful school-home communications. Engaging with families is a sustained and intentional effort that requires time for families to review and understand what their child’s next steps are. And when schools succeed in building trust with their communities, they reveal to families that they’re committed and care about their students. One of the best ways administrators can achieve this is by personalizing student data for families.

It’s important for education leaders to think about all of their students, these experts declare. For instance, if a district has a large ESL population, Wells explains, they might consider making data available in different languages.

“All modes of communication are important as well,” says Wells. “Sending a letter home or sharing electronically does not capture the entire picture. When it comes to data, I believe that context and explanation are important. Are all stakeholders familiar with the assessment and what it measures? How will the data be used and how does that impact the student?”

The data must also be specific to a family’s child. The more leaders know about each individual’s students’ progress and district trends, the better they can communicate them to families and take actionable measures to improve student outcomes.

“Data allows district leaders to clearly define where improvements are needed and where interventions are succeeding,” says Davis. “Quality data can help administrators to better understand and meet each individual student’s needs, better support educators and communicate in more meaningful ways with families and caregivers.”

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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