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.