Study: Teacher/parent communication an effective tool to help students succeed

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief including this interesting bit:

A recent study from Harvard and Brown Universities shows that struggling students did better in school when their teachers communicated with their parents regularly, and suggested specific actions students could do to improve their grades.

 Researchers studied the effects of teacher/parent communication on the academic achievement of 435 struggling high school students enrolled in summer school to recover lost credits in English, history, math, or science two hours a day during a five-week program. Students were mostly Hispanic and African-American, and all were low-income. All students had to have been absent less than 30 days and to have received an “F+” in up to two courses. Students’ parents were randomly divided into three groups: the first group received a short weekly message from the teacher by phone, text, or email about what their child was doing well (positive); the second received a weekly teacher’s message about areas where their child needed improvement (improvement); and the third received no teacher message at all (control).

 At the end of the term, students whose parents had received messages from their teachers were 41% more likely to pass their classes than the control group who received no messages. Researchers noted that this was due to larger dropout rates in the control group. In addition, students whose parents received messages about areas for improvement passed their classes at a higher score than the group who received messages about what students were doing well. A participant survey at the end of the study shows that the parent-student teams in the “improvement” and “positive” groups communicated about schoolwork with the same frequency, but the conversational content differed in that the improvement-group teams discussed areas where the students needed to do better, something the positive teams were less likely to do and a factor the researchers cite as a possible reason for the improvement students’ higher scores.

 The study was performed as part of a series of low-cost school-improvement strategies.

Abstract of the study:

We study an intervention designed to increase the effectiveness of parental involvement in their children’s education. Each week we sent brief individualized messages from teachers to the parents of high school students in a credit recovery program. This light-touch communication increased the probability students earned credits by 6.5 percentage points – a 41% reduction in the proportion failing to earn credit. This improvement resulted primarily from preventing drop-outs, rather than from reducing failure or dismissal rates. The intervention shaped the content of parent-child conversations with messages emphasizing what students could improve, versus what students were doing well, producing the largest effects.

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