I receive a ton of questions every time I talk to parents about their children’s educational experiences. Our conversations happen in person, through email, in private Facebook messages, and on Twitter. Sometimes I know the parent personally, but most times I don’t. These concerned parents span socioeconomic groups, racial backgrounds, and age range. But, the common thread among us all is our commitment to giving our children the best possible opportunities.

Before I can offer parents academic suggestions, I try to find out more about their children. More often than not, this proves much more difficult than it should be. It’s not the parents’ fault though; they give me as much information as they can. Unfortunately, across the board, it appears that parents are still in the dark about curriculum and student progress. Why that is the case is an article of its own. For now though, I want to give parents some tips on how to talk to their children’s school about instructional support.

children smiling in the parkQuestion 1 – In which standards does my child excel?

This is an important question, especially if you’re seeking additional support from tutors and consultants. Parents should be able to identify key concepts that are strengths for their children. Is it necessary for you to know the numbers like the back of your hand? Of course not. However, it’s important for you to be able to articulate what your child does well to others and to your child. If we want children to take an active role in their learning, we have to talk to them about their work, how it connects to real life, and whether they’re comfortable with the class pace.

Question 2 – In which standards does my child need more support?

Why is this question essential? Well, this is how we determine potential gaps that could widen over the years if sufficient intervention doesn’t occur. When we look closely at the concepts with which students struggle, we can zero in on where they’re struggling. It also allows us to create action plans for children that individualize instruction. For parents who work more closely with their child at home using apps, this question can provide more guidance when selecting enrichment.

Read more about educational apps to use at home.

Question 3 – What instructional support services are available?

Many campuses have before/after-school tutoring programs available for students. These are usually offered at no charge. Parents need to know what resources are available at the campus and district levels. Ask for a list of these options. Sometimes the list includes tutoring opportunities paid for by the district. If your child qualifies for special education services, you will have to advocate for other programs that might be available. Content mastery, resource, pull-out etc. are common support services for students with Individual Education Plans (IEP). For other learning differences such as dyslexia, talk to the school counselor about 504 accommodations.

Question 4 – How does the school handle instructional intervention?

This might seem like the same question above, but the biggest difference here is the amount of time allowed to lapse before support begins. You’ll want to know what measures teachers use to determine who needs additional support. Essentially, you want to ask: What is your Response to Intervention?

  • Is it based on mid-session progress reports, individual test scores, completed classwork etc.?
  • What is the cut-off for providing intervention?
  • How often is students’ progress monitored?
  • Do teachers use multiple measures to compare growth?

You’ll want to know the timeline for services. Sometimes an area of need appears early on, but for one reason or another, children don’t get assistance with it until they’re months into the school year.

Question 5 – How does the school communicate my child’s progress to me?

The most obvious answer to this question is through report cards. However, that should not be the only or most important way to share information with you. Find out whether your child’s school has any of the following:

  • Progress reports – How often?
  • Classroom website – How frequently is it updated? What’s listed?
  • Online gradebook – How do you gain access?
  • Conferences – How often? When are they available?tablet, computer, and mouse
  • Anecdotal reports – How often do teacher notes come home?
  • Class/School newsletters – How often? Do they include the focus standards or tips for parents?

Parents should receive feedback on their children’s learning progress through several means. That communication needs to occur regularly and be as transparent as possible. The more you know about the learning process, the more you’ll be able to support your child.

A brief note about progress reports and report cards… you’ll want to know the percentage breakdown for the grading scale. How heavily does the district weigh classwork versus homework versus tests? That has a lot to do with your child’s overall grade and whether you can glean anything of value from it.

Read more about school grades here.

Building Relationships

Parents and schools need to develop working relationships to support students’ learning experiences. These connections and communications require accountability from each member. When students understand that their parents and teachers are collaborating, they tend to commit themselves more in the learning process as well. It’s very hard for one-sided relationships to work, so it’s necessary for school administration to support parent-teacher collaboration by making the time available. Take these questions among others into your next meeting or add them to your email. When parents are empowered with the right questions, they will know more clearly what to expect from their children’s schools.