Measuring the effectiveness of parent engagement initiatives

It’s the start of a new year, and many of us are in the mindset of evaluating where we are and setting goals to work toward. As you consider your school’s parent engagement initiatives, you may also be thinking about goals. How will you know if your efforts are effective? Recently, an educator submitted a question on the FAST Blog: “Our school would like to set measurable goals for increased engagement. Are there yardsticks by which to judge the effectiveness of parent engagement programs?”

This is a great question, because while we know parent engagement is important, it can be difficult to know if our actions are making a difference. “Defining a way to measure the impact of work to build two-way partnerships with families is vitally important,” says Rebekka Olsen, FAST’s Director of Research and Evaluation. “It helps us know if what we are doing as a school or district is working and it helps inform how we might change what we are doing to have a greater impact on the outcomes that matter. Because ‘engagement’ can be defined in many different ways, there are many options for how to measure it, depending on your specific initiatives and goals.”

One option is to look at specific activities and determine if participation in them is increasing. For example, LaRocque, Kleiman, and Darling (2011) explain: “In practice, family involvement may be demonstrated via participation in a hierarchy of activities such as the following:

  • Volunteering at school
  • Helping children with their homework
  • Attending school functions
  • Visiting the child’s classroom
  • Sharing expertise or experience with the class through guest speaking, and
  • Taking on leadership roles in the school and participating in the decision making process

The benefit of measuring participation in such activities is that they are easy to quantify. Are a greater percentage of parents attending parent-teacher conferences or volunteering in classrooms? However, the effects of parent engagement are often intangible. For instance, have your efforts impacted parents’ attitudes toward their child’s school and education?

To measure attitudes, consider conducting surveys or asking families to participate in focus groups or parent councils. Parent input and feedback could be centered around three indicators of parent engagement identified by The Equitable Parent-School Collaboration Research Project: parents’ confidence in their ability to support their child’s learning, their beliefs about whether the school provides a welcoming and culturally responsive learning environment, and whether parents have leadership opportunities and influence on decision-making at their school. An article published by the Harvard Family Research Project, A Catalog of Family Process Measures, also lists tools you could administer to measure parent involvement in the home and school.

While analyzing the effectiveness of your parent engagement initiatives, it’s important to remember that you may never fully know the impact of your investment. Research has shown that, long term, increased parent engagement can result in students earning better grades, scoring higher on achievement tests, attending school more regularly, and graduating at higher rates (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). The relationships you build today will continue to pay dividends throughout a child’s educational journey.

Measuring effectiveness is also an important component of the FAST Program. Through our pre- and post-program surveys, we seek to measure the effect of the program on enhanced communication and family functioning, decreased stress, increased parent involvement in school, and elevated self-efficacy.