After Phoenix teacher Monica Chiago told Perla Gausin her first-grader son surpassed his goal identifying commonly used words but needed help increasing words read per minute, Chiago handed Gausin cards with phrases to review with him at home.
“Do about 10 cards a night,” Chiago said. “Tell him to hand you a card that says ‘all for some.’ That turns it into a game, and they all want to play a game.”
Their 30-minute in-depth conference at Loma Linda Elementary School was held about two months into the school year as part of the Academic Parent Teacher Teams program that replaces rushed, snapshot-in-time conferences with a year-long parent-teacher partnership to improve student achievement.
“It’s great because it gives me a vision of where he’s at compared to others in class and where we need to practice more at home,” Gausin said after the conference. “We know what’s going on in school, get more involved, and have tools to help our kids.”
Years of research indicate family engagement is one of the strongest predictors of students’ academic success, said Maria Paredes, who developed APTT five years ago when she was community education director at Creighton Elementary School District.
As Paredes reviewed attendance records for a year’s worth of school events in the Phoenix district, she found 90 percent of parents went to teacher-led events, while 5 percent attended other events.
“That was my ‘aha’ moment,” Paredes said. “That was the beginning of a focus on grade-level learning, and professionalizing parent-teacher partnerships that replace the traditional conference.”
Today, Paredes is senior program associate of family engagement in education at WestEd, a nonprofit research and development organization that helps teachers, families, schools and districts improve education.
Paredes efforts to spread the successful concept throughout Arizona and other states has led to schools in 13 states using APTT and 43 schools attending training in Tucson, Flagstaff and Phoenix as part of a year-long initiative.
“APTT helps you gain parents as partners instead of spectators. It shows them how to really help,” said Joe Herrmann, principal of Laura Nobles Banks Elementary School in Tucson Unified School District. “Parents have students six times the amount of time teachers do each week. If we don’t tap into that, we’re missing a link to increase student achievement and meaningful family engagement.”
How APTT works
Academic Parent Teacher Teams replace twice-a-year, individual 15-minute parent-teacher conferences with three 75- to 90-minute classroom team meetings with all parents and a 30-minute individual conference in the fall.
At classroom meetings, teachers and parents examine individual and class test results, discuss what students must master by year’s end, set individual goals for students to achieve in 60 days, practice how to review at home, examine academic growth over time, and talk about what works, Herrmann said.
“In traditional parent-teacher conferences, the two most important people in a child’s life meet maybe an hour a year,” said Lorisa Pombo, principal of Ira A. Murphy Elementary School in the Peoria Unified School District. “With Academic Parent Teacher Teams, they meet four and a half hours a year, and it’s rich conversation.”
Eighty percent of Murphy Elementary parents attend their APTT meetings. Fourth- and fifth-grade teachers at Murphy Elementary used APTT last year, and after their students’ success, third- through eighth- grade teachers began this year, Pombo said.
Teachers will do more work initially preparing for APTT than traditional conferences, but after they see their students’ growth, they realize it is worth the effort, Chiago said.
Pombo said there is a lot to prepare, “but you get more from the work you’re doing. It’s working smarter not harder.”
The Banks Elementary leadership team, made up of teachers, a principal and a technology specialist, trained in APTT last summer then introduced all teachers to it at their before-school meeting, Herrmann said. Teachers were trained in APTT for a full day, then used another professional development day to prepare for parent meetings in September.
“Our leadership team believed in APTT so strongly they put together the basics for teachers, and only left personalized parts of those presentations for teachers to construct,” Herrmann said.
That freed teachers from creating data charts so they could instead prepare strategies parents could use at home to help meet their child’s learning goal, said Emily Walls, teacher coach at Banks Elementary.
APTT has helped classroom parents get to know each other, and increased father involvement and student attendance, according to anecdotal information, parent surveys and use analysis, Paredes noted.
Data from the Creighton district shows students in APTT classrooms scored 10 to 19 percent higher on standardized math and reading assessments in 2011-12 than students in district classrooms not using the model.
“APTT has made a huge difference,” said Marisel Schweitzer, community education department director for Creighton district. “What we’re trying to do is help the parents have strategies at home to help their children. We have seen a lot of increase in the students’ achievement through the years.”
Schweitzer’s department provides initial teacher training, interpreters for meetings and conferences, and parent liaisons at each school who recruit other parents to make the materials teachers give parents to use at home with their children.
“Right now we’re trying to design APTT for Pre-K, because our kids don’t have the same environment at home that some other kids in higher socioeconomic levels have,” Schweitzer said.
In 2012-13, an average of 92 percent of Creighton district parents attended APTT meetings in the fall and 88 percent attended the individual conference later in the year.
“In third grade, we are making specific APTTs for the students we think might be affected by Move on When Reading,” Schweitzer said. “We’re designing more frequent APTTs for those students’ families.”
Parents spent between 10 to 29 minutes about three times a week practicing strategies learned during APTT with their children in 2012-13.
“We’re giving parents an opportunity to do something good for their kids, and what they’re doing is making a difference,” Schweitzer said. “For them to feel like that is really empowering.”
Parents step up
Parents have said they find the Academic Parent Teacher APTT meetings helpful, Herrmann, Pombo, and Chiago said.
“On our surveys, parents’ comments have all been positive, saying they feel like part of a team, they understand data better, and what to do at home,” Pombo said. “Parents feel empowered working with their child.”
In exit surveys, Banks Elementary parents said they liked the in-depth meeting, understood grade-level expectations, knew where their child needs help, found goal setting useful, and enjoyed practicing ways to review, Walls said.
“All parents have big dreams for their kids, but they may not necessarily know how to go from Point A to Point B or how to prepare their kids for college and careers,” Paredes said. “Teachers can provide parents with the information, skills and confidence they need to do that.”