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Program Uses Graphs, Data to Help ELL Families Track Student Performance

This blog was first posted on Education Week's K-12 Parents and the Public blog

By Sarah Tully

It's hard enough for fluent English-speaking parents to understand complex test scores and measures used to track students' progress. But what about parents who don't speak English well and aren't fully literate in their native languages?

A program called the Academic Parent-Teacher Teams is attempting to reach those parents and communicate students' achievements in a simpler way: graphs and data.

The team model, also known as APTT, uses various methods at about 400 schools in a range of communities, including rural, urban and low-income. (Education Week featured the APTT model in a September 2015 story about changing parent-teacher conferences.)

Maria Paredes, who developed the model for WestEd, a San Francisco-based education research nonprofit group, said she estimates between 60 percent and 70 percent of those schools have pockets of immigrant and refugee parents with limited literacy in both their first and second languages.

The number of English-language learner families in schools continues to grow: Education Week's recent special report on "Teaching America's English-Language Learners"stated that three out of four classrooms now have at least one English-language learner student. About 5 million children nationwide are learning English.

One part of APTT is showing parents how their students are performing with bar and line graphs. While this approach is done with all parents, this portion of the program is especially helpful to English-language learner parents, who may not know the academic words in any language, Paredes said.

Instead of "standards," educators show graphs with different lines for each student to show progress on "foundational skills" over time during meetings. Only parents know the lines for their own students. The presenters explain how to interpret the graphs, explaining where the students are and where they need to be at the end of the year.  

"It's a very clear visual where they are and where they are going," Paredes told Education Week. "Parents who have low literacy, with the correct modeling and instruction and mentoring, they can understand a bar graph very easily. ... They become very comfortable with it."

One school that is benefitting from this approach is Garfield Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., which was featured in an April 3 story by Jane Meredith Adams in EdSource.

Mothers from Burma, who are Karen-speaking refugees, participate in meetings to go over the charts, as well as learn literacy tips, even though they can't read well. A translator assists in the process. Even if the parents can't read books themselves, they can ask their children in their own languages what the story is about and what they learned.

"I cannot read. I cannot help them. But I can encourage them to read every day," said Paw Lay Loe, about her three children, in the EdSource story.

Paredes said by teaching the parents in a family-friendly way, the program is having success in getting more families involved.

"These families have a lot of experience, and they have a lot of street smarts, and they figure things out," Paredes said.

Read more about how schools are helping English-language learner parents inEducation Week's special report. 

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