Talking to Parents About Data – Continuing the Conversation

On Monday, October 25, 2015, Schoolzilla’s VP of Impact, Dr. Leo Bialis White, hosted a webinar, Talking to Parents About Data, featuring Arleta Lopez, Assistant Principal at Clemente Charter School in Maywood, CA, and Dr. Sarah Wheeler, school psychologist in Piedmont Unified School District.  You can download an audio recording of the webinar, or check out selected bits of the conversation below:

Leo Bialis-White: To start with the basics, why is it important to share data with parents?

Sarah Wheeler: One of the things I try to remind myself is that parents know a lot less about what goes on during the school day than we think.  There’s so many things, often really positive things that we do and that their students accomplish that they just don’t know about. Data can be a good way to make sure that they’re staying informed.  And then the other piece too is that parents only have their children, so that’s their view.  It can help– especially when you present it in the right way– to show parents how their child is doing in comparison to big samples of children or to other children in the school.  

Because often, parents really have a hard time– they know where their child is, but they don’t know what that means developmentally, or if that’s what the expectation is, so they need to see that in comparison to other children.

Leo: Which data is most important?  Which data do parents really need to have and why is that?

Arleta Lopez: I think the data that parents really need to have is the data that shows them where their child needs improvement or support.  That’s the number one question, how is my child doing? Where can I help him or her?  Parents get happy obviously, to see where their child doing well, whether they have strengths in reading, writing, math or whatever it may be.  But the number one question that I get is where does my child need help.

Sarah: I would add too, just progress data, data over time, is really huge for parents to see, whether it’s showing successful progress or a child that’s not making progress.  Whether it’s academics, if it’s coming up to school on time, whatever it is.  Showing them that data over time and then connecting that to interventions or changes in what’s happened is really helpful. It’s helpful to show a parent, you know, your child was absent five times last month but only one time this month, and so the changes that you’ve been doing to get them up early, that’s making a difference. That really connects things to what they do and their impact.

Leo: Sarah, I’ve heard you say a couple of things around giving people context, how they’re doing in comparison to other students, how they’re doing relative to the past.  It feels like giving the numbers some meaning is really important?

Sarah: When you’re doing something like presenting to the parents of a student with special needs, there are dozens of data points.  So I think about what is the story that I want to tell parents with that data, and then select key data points that help illustrate that story.  I want them to walk away from this meeting understanding that the reading interventions we’ve done with their student have really made a difference and now we want to do the same thing with math, so how do I show them the data on their child that supports that story?  Cause otherwise, it’s just numbers…

I like to call out that it can be uncomfortable to talk about a child in terms of numbers, that some of it is confusing for me, that some of the things that I show them are things that help me understand the data, and that’s why I use them, like charts and visuals.  I try to normalize that it can feel kind of strange to hear your kid talked about like this. We’re always looking at the whole picture of a child, and here is some information that is not the whole story, but adds a little piece. So again, helping them contextualize that the data isn’t everything, but it’s an important piece, and we’ll talk about what else we know about the child that helps us understand the data in a bigger context.

To listen to the rest of Monday’s conversation, download the recording here.

Talking to Parents About Data

By this point in the school year, schools have lots of data that can support student learning, from formative assessments to newly released PARCC and SBAC results to grades, attendance and behavior data.  Fall parent-teacher conferences present an opportunity to share and discuss these data with the people who know students best–their parents.  Unfortunately, parents and teachers alike at times find these meetings frustrating, shallow, and overly focused on what’s not going well.  

From my time working as a school psychologist and from interviewing educators in the Schoolzilla community, we’ve compiled the following tips to help make your conversations with parents about data achieve their transformative potential, fostering stronger relationships with parents and jumpstarting progress for their students.

Here are 5 pointers to consider:

  1. Make sure the conversation flows two ways. While parents might not be collecting data about their child in the same ways schools do, they have critically important knowledge about who their child is and has been and how he or she experiences and interacts with the world outside of school.  While this information may never appear in a student profile report, it will be critical in supporting your students to reach their potential. Provide a venue for parents to share it!
  2. Start with strengths. Whenever meeting with parents about their child, it’s likely you’ll have information to share about both strengths and challenges. Starting with strengths helps parents to understand that you see what’s great about their child and that you have high expectations for his or her success.  You can use data to show progress and growth against learning objectives, even when those objectives haven’t yet been met. Often, the most effective interventions come from leveraging strengths to bolster areas of improvement.
  3. Profiles of students are always better than a single data point.  There are many types of data that support student learning and success– it’s about so much more than test scores!  Wherever possible, using a student profile that includes multiple types of data, including for example, data about attendance, behavior, grades, participation and more, will allow parents to get a more comprehensive sense of how their child is experiencing school.
  4. Explain what tests are meant to capture. When discussing test scores, provide the context of what that specific test is designed to measure.  For example, when presenting the results of formative assessments, describe how the test results are used to check students’ understanding and plan further instruction, and shouldn’t be interpreted as a measure of innate ability or as the final word on a student’s mastery of a given subject.
  5. Foster basic assessment literacy.  Assessment score reports can be very difficult to interpret if you’re not used to looking at them.  Make sure that parents understand what is meant by percentiles and how to interpret raw vs. scaled scores if that’s relevant to the results you’re showing them.  Even more important, put the scores in context for their student specifically– what growth is in evidence? What do the results show about what the student should focus on going forward?

To further explore this topic, Schoolzilla hosted a webinar on this topic with some folks who are approaching it in in new ways. 


  • Norma Moreno, Principal, Clemente Charter School, Ingenium Schools
  • Dr. Sarah Wheeler, School Psychologist, Piedmont Unified School District

Listen to the recording of the webinar here.

Dr. Leo Bialis-White is Schoolzilla’s Vice President of Impact.  He has a PhD in School Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley.

Schoolzilla welcomes St. Louis Public Schools!

SLPS black and whiteIn September 2015, Schoolzilla was honored to welcome St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) into our customer community.  We’ll be working with SLPS to implement a “one-stop-shop” KPI dashboard aligned to the district’s Transformation Plan.

By combining data from dozens of disparate sources into a live, flexible dashboard, Schoolzilla will enable SLPS to monitor its most critical inputs and outputs, celebrate and expand on successes, and quickly identify and address challenges on the road to ensuring a world-class education for all of its 25,000 students.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams, SLPS is undergoing a period of historic change.

The district’s comprehensive Transformation Plan— which includes a move to a portfolio management model, as well as S.M.A.R.T goals for everything from day-to-day operations to student reading growth to staff support and retention– creates a direct alignment between district level work and individual student outcomes, focusing efforts across the district on the most strategic levers for improvement.

In order to align, monitor, and support administrators’ and educators’ work to put the Transformation Plan into action, SLPS knew they needed an easy-to-use, centralized dashboard.

SLPS mockup

They call this dashboard the “Excellent Schools Transformation Tool”, or ESTT:

“The ESTT is designed to give us live data throughout the school year to monitor progress and course correct with more conviction and specificity. This tool will be used to analyze the effectiveness of our district offices and ultimately the performance of our schools—holding us all equally responsible for providing a world-class school choice for our students.”

After a competitive RFP process, St. Louis Public Schools selected Schoolzilla, PBC as the partner to develop and maintain the ESTT. We couldn’t be more excited, or honored, to serve SLPS, their staff, students, and community.

Deputy Superintendent of Academics David Hardy said of the partnership: “We are absolutely thrilled to have Schoolzilla as a partner in our district’s transformation.  Their commitment to making sure we have the information necessary to make sustainable change for our kids is not only powerful but inspiring.  Not every partner operates the way Schoolzilla does and I wish more would!”

To test drive dashboards inspired by our partnership with St. Louis Public Schools, sign up for access to our dashboard library, and check out the “District Profile” reports.