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It’s that time of the year again in education.

That time when we are looking ahead to “Standardized Testing Season.” Yay! ;0)

That means, in the next few weeks, we may need to have some conversations with parents and caregivers about complex data…things like Lexile Levels, DIBELS results, and NWEA scores. 

Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out what information to share, how to share it, and what words to use to ensure that when we share data, we are building relationships with parents and caregivers and not creating more barriers. 

That’s because the world of data and data collection seems to be particularly full of complicated terms, confusing acronyms, and incomprehensible graphs and charts.

Here are my top tips for having data conversations. 

Never Underestimate Parents and Caregivers.

Parents and caregivers can understand data, test scores, standards—all of it. The responsibility is on us to present the data in ways that are clear and concise. In other words, when we simplify our information, we are not dumbing it down. The information is as complex as ever, we are simply conveying it in a way that is understandable.

Out of Sight, In the Mind.

Read over the data report you want to share with a parent. Then put it away where you can’t see it. This is key. Don’t keep the report in front of you, or you will be tempted to use the language in the report which, I’m willing to bet, is “educationese.” After you’ve put the report aside, think about what it shows and what it means. Then, pretend you’re sharing it with just one person, your mother or best friend, someone who doesn’t have a background in education. And pretend you can share it only once. That will help you get to what is really important.

Start with Three Key Points.

Ask yourself: What are the three points my parent needs to know? And then think about how to share those three ideas in simple ways, using simple words. After you’ve shared your three points, parents may ask questions, or you layor in can more details or more information slowly. 

Remember to present data to parents in a way that is factual and not judgmental. If the data isn’t encouraging, you don’t want parents to feel they are to blame.

Put the Data in Context.

Share with the parent what the data means, what it can indicate, and what it suggests might address any issues. If you’re struggling to explain to a parent what the data means, remember why you gave the assessment or test in the first place. 

Talk it Through.

Explaining and interpreting data is important, but the conversation that follows is “the money moment!” These conversations are where parents will be able to bring their expertise to the table. There may be things going on at home that you know nothing about; you may learn things about the child that you never knew. Talking through the data together gives a parent a chance to share and help you understand.

Develop a Plan.

Work together with parents to develop a plan and action steps. Come with suggestions, but let parents and caregivers set their own goals based on what will work in their lives. Sure, we want parents to read to their kids every night for 30 minutes, but let’s be real, that’s not doable for many parents. And, make sure you offer parents more than one option for supporting learning at home. Perhaps reading at night isn’t possible, but maybe working literacy skills into the drive to school is: “Look at that big red sign. What are the letters on that big red sign?” 

If parents help develop the plan, they are more likely to buy into the plan and take ownership. Which means it’s more likely the plan will work.

Follow Through And Follow Up.

Follow-up meetings are simple enough, and keep the work moving forward. Checking in often can help build strong relationships with parents.

One last thoughtremember, when the student achieves the learning goals, celebrate the team effort together with your parent—and don’t forget to include the student!

If you’d like more tips on communicating with families, reach out to me on my website, and let’s talk. Be sure to download my free Playbook for Clear Effective, and Meaningful School Communication.

Patricia Weinzapfel

Author, Educator, Journalist & K12 Communications Expert

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