4 Tips to Use Student Data for More Productive Parent-Teacher Conferences

Thursday, December 22, 2016 -- McKenna Wierman

Parent-teacher conferences are all about making connections. For parents, they help put a face to the name of the teacher their child is always talking about, who sends home newsletters, assignments, and announcements and who awards the all-important grades. For you, as an educator, these meetings help build a more complete picture of what students’ home lives are like and the influences shaping them. This is invaluable information to better guide you toward individualizing the learning process for all of your pupils.

One of the keys to facilitating a meaningful conference is to make sure that you’re giving parents a full picture of how their child is doing in the classroom—both in terms of behavior and academic progress. And, if you’re a teacher in a 21st century classroom, you’re not painting the whole picture clearly if don’t talk about the student data you’ve been gathering throughout the year. But, before you pull out the pie charts and spreadsheets, take a moment to consider—what is the best way to present student data to parents in a way that is relevant, concise, and easy to understand? After all, you don’t have hours on end with every child’s parents to dive deep into all of the data you’ve collected throughout the year.

Here are a few ways you can easily incorporate and share the data you’ve gathered on your students during parent-teacher conference meetings.

1. Stay organized

You’ve been collecting data all year long, probably from multiple sources, on each and every one of your students; don’t think you can break down even a quarter’s worth of data in the week (or a couple of days) right before conferences. As with any long-term project, you’re better off getting started early and staying organized throughout the year to have meaningful data to present during conferences. Make it a priority at least once a week to translate your raw data into a more organized format, whether you prefer spreadsheets, charts, graphs, or any other visual aid. Try to keep your use of academic jargon and complicated terms to a minimum—this will make it easier for you to convert it to a digestible format for parents. You should also keep in mind that not all of the data you collect will be data that you need to share with parents during conferences, such as the data that you use to measure the success rate of one teaching style compared to another. If your data is organized and simple to navigate, you’ll have a much easier time packaging and presenting it for your students’ parents.

2. Prepare parent packages

The first step to successfully sharing student data with parents is to know what you’re sharing. You don’t want to overload them with raw information, so make sure that you are breaking down your data into manageable bites. One strategy for packaging your data is to have numbers prepared on your classroom as a whole, including traditional measures like classroom grade averages and progress rates, as well as what subjects students are having trouble with and where they are excelling. Then, for each student, compile a brief but informative report on the individual data. This will allow you to better highlight to parents how their child is performing compared to the rest of the class and call out their specific areas of strength and need. Parents will also feel more confident walking away from a parent-teacher meeting with a student data packet that they can refer back to with their child at home. Offering key areas for parents to work on with their child at home can mean all the difference by the end of the year.

3. Use the sandwich effect

For many parents, student data reports will be a totally new concept. Some parents may embrace these reports from the get-go, while others may be a little resistant or confused by them. So, it’s important to be delicate in the way you go about introducing student data reports into your parent conferences. One effective strategy is to think about presenting data to parents like a sandwich. Start off with the bread, telling them something positive about their child, like how creative they are or how they have a great sense of humor. Next, highlight their child’s learning opportunities or areas where their child might improve. Show them the data to back up your points–using a visual element here would be especially useful—and offer a strategy for helping the child make progress. Finally, wrap up on a positive note, highlighting another area of strength for the child. This way, parents are less likely to feel defensive when you present them with their child’s data, even if you don’t have great news to share. Coming into the conference prepared with a data-informed strategy to help their student improve will also make parents feel better about using the data at home to assist their child.

4. Let your students in on it

It’s not always a good idea to bring students in on parent-teacher conferences, but letting them in on some of what you’ll be discussing with their parents when it comes to data can ease anxieties and help them focus their own learning. Talking to your students about data can also be beneficial later on if parents need help deciphering or translating the data you’ll give them. However, keep in mind that, as with parents, not all of the data you collect will be appropriate to share with your students. Data on academic progress, test scores, disciplinary actions, and classroom behavior are usually the most meaningful to share. This also give your students the opportunity to sit down with their parents at home after conferences are over and discuss the data together. Everyone will be more likely to embrace the data and use it to take action if they’ve had a chance to go over it with you one on one.

Collected, presented, and used in the right way, data can be an outstanding tool for you, your students, and their parents to improve academic outcomes. Looking for more tips to make the most of the student data available to you? Check out this blog post on Best Practices for Using Data in the Classroom