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This Isn't Your Mom's Parent-Teacher Conference

Parent-Teacher-meeting-blog.jpgSchools across the country are ditching the traditional parent-teacher conference for academic workshops, where it's the parents who are learning the skills their children need to master.

The new conference style, called Academic Parent Teacher Teams, or APTT, is the brainchild of former teacher Maria Paredes, who began testing it out in classrooms in Phoenix, Ariz. in 2009. About 600 schools in 22 states have embraced the new model, according to Paredes, who now works for the nonprofit research and consulting group WestEd. (The model was being used by 250 schools in 16 states when this Education Week article was published in September of 2015.)

The revamped version of the parent-teacher conference swaps private meetings for three 75-minute group meetings and one 35-minute individual meeting over the course of a school year. Teachers inform parents about the skills students need in order to master their particular grade, like subtraction or reading comprehension, and parents learn how their child is doing on those skills compared with other students.

The data is supposed to provide parents with a benchmark they should help their children to reach by the end of the school year. But Paredes advises teachers to make it clear to parents that children naturally fall into different proficiency levels. What's important, she said in an interview, is that parents are helping their kids master the skills they need."When families come back to the next meeting, we want them to be amazed with the growth their child has been able to make with their support, by showing them the graph with a pre and a post-assessment score," she said.

Academic Parent Teacher Team meetings generally follow a basic framework. Teachers model some learning games and activities that parents can do with their children at home. Cathy Kane at Starlight Cove Elementary in Palm Beach County, Fla. teaches parents in this video how to play a card game that reinforces the meanings of Greek and Latin roots. She's betting this will improve student test scores.

Parents should also come away from the conference with a goal for their child to meet by the next conference. At the APTT meeting at Stanton Elementary School in the District of Columbia, teachers set a 60-day goal for fourth graders to read 105 words correctly from a grade-level book in one minute. They helped parents devise a realistic reading plan based on their child's reading fluency. You can watch a video with highlights from the meeting here.

In subsequent meetings, teachers generally give a rundown of student progress, and parents share strategies they used to support their child's learning at home. A WestEd study found that students whose parents attended this type of instructional meeting made stronger gains in word-fluency skills than students whose parents did not attend. 

A recent Washington Post article focused on the use of Academic Parent Teacher Teams at Harriet Tubman Elementary in DC where most of the 542 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and where more than 60 percent of parents are not native English speakers. (This Education Week blog post by Sarah Tully explains how the APTT model, by relating student progress using graphs and data, can be particularly helpful to parents who are still learning English.)

The Post did find that standardized test scores have not increased substantially at Tubman over the four years the APTT model has been in effect. In fact, fewer than 20 percent of students met math or reading standards on last year's PARCC tests. But Principal Amanda Delebar says students are making progress in these areas, and what's more, parents are showing up for the conferences. Participation exceeds 90 percent.

Parents left the last meeting of the school year equipped with a writing journal and flashcards with "sight" words to keep their kids on track over the summer.

Tubman kindergarten teacher Sarah Zick stressed the importance of bringing classroom habits into the home. "[Students] really fly when they are getting it from both placeswhen they are reading every day at school and they are reading at home, and it clicks and comes together," she told the Post.

Photo: Meredith Clark, upper right, a 1st grade teacher in Newnan, Ga., discusses her students' academic skill levels during a parent-teacher meeting in 2015 at Ruth Hill Elementary School, one of the schools that is revamping the traditional back-to-school night.Ruth Hill Elementary-File


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