Learning Heroes Help Parents Bridge The Gap Between Report Cards And The Truth

At a Friday morning coffee meeting with a new friend who works at a highly respected Tennessee education policy organization, I was happy to share information about a project I’ve been married to for the past year. Equally excited and bummed about the findings from months of research, one of the things that I had not been able to justify, I admitted, was that more than 80 percent of Metro Schools’ black and Hispanic students in grades 3-8 read below grade level but can’t say with certainty if 100 percent of these families know their children’s performance truth.

Immediately, the veteran journalist-turned-comms professional recommended a Learning Heroes report that explores the disconnect between what parents believe or are led to believe (report cards) and student performance on state and national standardized tests. Turns out the report was published six months ago, not long after I blogged about the shameful episode where a parent asks me to help him figure out his son’s MAP assessment report.

Sadly, I couldn’t help him because I’m not fluent in %^*(<{]+.

So, I spent the following weekend reading and re-reading the December 2018 report Parents 2018: Going Beyond Good Grades produced by Learning Heroes, an organization that connects parents “to useful information and simple actions you can take to help your child thrive in school and life.” A mission after my own heart.

The Lie

“Nearly 9 in 10 parents, regardless of race, income, geography, and education levels, believe their child is achieving at or above grade level. Yet national data indicates only about one-third of students actually perform at grade level.”

Learning Heroes is smart to grab the reader with such a startling statistic on the first page of the executive summary, one they generously label “the disconnect”. That almost all parents with children in public schools believe their child is getting what they need to be successful in school, and ultimately, in life yet only a fraction of them is actually right in their belief, quite frankly, is more of a lie than a disconnect. Whatever you the label, the purpose of the report is to identify the variables responsible for the disconnect and offer a complete picture that plainly illustrates what parents need to fully understand their child’s performance. It does this by:

  • categorizing parents by levels of engagement (or detachment),
  • evaluate the value and validity of report cards, and
  • provides parents a worksheet that gives them an accurate assessment of their child’s performance.

The researchers performed three phases of focus groups and face-to-face and virtual interviews of parents teachers in California, Massachusetts, Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.  Additionally, some of the report findings are collected from national online surveys of parents and teachers with oversamples of black, Hispanic, and charter school parents. I only add this information because it informed my lens as I perused the report for the third time.

Seein’ is Believin’

As I am a visual learner, two graphs in the report compelled me to check out other studies with similar information to see to try to grapple with unsettling illustration before me.

The graphic below answers my question posed during that Friday morning coffee. In 2018, 91 percent of parents say their child is achieving at or above grade level, yet the national test (National Assessment of Educational Progress) says just over one-third of them are not lying to themselves. Hence, thousands of Nashville parents with students in grades 3-8 that are reading and performing math below grade level believe their children are achieving.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 2.19.37 PM

But how does this happen, you ask?

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 2.30.31 PM

The graphic above perfectly illustrates the communication cave, another aspect of the disconnect, where teachers and parents miss each other in plain sight. Parents see report cards as “the thing” that tells how their child is performing. Teachers, however, do not value report cards as heavily even as they are the writers of the report. Also complicating the disconnect, school and district leaders apply pressure on teachers to avoid giving low grades, thus painting a fictional performance profile on report cards – the very thing parents rely on to get an accurate accounting of their child’s achievement. Finally, teachers feel they have little incentive to call parents with news of inferior grades as parents often blame them or report them to their principal, and some feel ill-equipped to have that type of discussion with parents.

After reading this portion of the report, I was reminded of the parent and teacher survey Schooling in America, also released in December 2018 and is another example of the disconnect. To this day, I live with the survey question that asks teachers to rank stakeholders in order of who they trust the most to the least:

In order of trustworthiness, parents rank below the principal, students, union leadership, and district superintendent. To wit, of all the stakeholders listed in the survey, parents ranked at the bottom with elected officials, state and federal bureaucrats. I’m going to take a bit of liberty here, but I believe if parents were asked the same question, teachers would be at the top of the list of stakeholders they most trust. Trust is the most essential building block for any relationship, without it attempts to engage families are cosmetic and futile. 

Solution Ahead: Parents, Be A Learning Hero

Teachers in this report say report card grades are inclusive of progress, effort, and class participation and parents should consider both the state test and report card to get an accurate accounting of their child’s performance. Also, Learning Heroes gleaned from their research,  “parents with a few, already available pieces of information in one place in a clear, decipherable format leads parents to reconsider their views about student performance.”

Learning Heroes offers the From Puzzle to Plan Family Worksheet that guides parents from darkness to truth by asking the questions that inform parents thinking about performance as well as provides helpful tips to assist their child at home.

Good stuff.



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