Using Data to Guide Your Parent-Teacher Conferences

Focusing on data helps your parent-teacher conferences run themselves

By Rachel Wilser

Greetings, intrepid teachers! Today, I’m going to share some tips for managing an essential part of teaching: parent-teacher conferences (hereafter referred to as PTCs). It’s likely that if you hold PTCs multiple times a year you either just had your second round, or your second round is coming up in the next few weeks.

Parents are an integral part of teaching; sometimes they can be one of the hardest parts to manage, but positive relationships are essential. PTCs can be a tricky time — parents want to hear that things are going well, but that may or may not be the case. You can’t (and shouldn’t) lie to parents. And what about those middle kids — you don’t have great or terrible things to say, they don’t really add a ton, but they don’t detract either? I honestly always felt like those were the hardest PTCs.

BUT once I started using data to run my PTCs everything else became SO MUCH EASIER. In my second year of teaching, my school starting use a PTC model called Academic Parent Teacher Teams (APTT for short). It’s a pretty intense model, and honestly takes about two years to master as a teacher, and it’s only effective if your whole school does it, but one of the basic tenets is that you use data to frame your PTCs. (Read more about APTT, and a quick Google search will give you a few more articles to read.)

Another essential tenet is that you do not discuss behavior. Using data to guide my conferences and taking behavior off the table was a total game changer for me. It took the onus off me to fill the time of the conference, because discussing the data did it for me. Even after I moved to schools that didn’t use APTT, I continued to use data to guide my conferences because it was such a game changer for me.

I find the best way to use data for PTCs is to select a goal (ideally — but not essentially — with your grade level team) to track for the entire year. For example, we chose fluency to 10 and sight words as goals when I was teaching first grade. If I were an island, I wouldn’t have selected sight words as a goal, but I’m not. My teamie at the time felt strongly about sight words, and they’re easy to measure.

Once we had an end-of-year goal set, we would work backwards and set benchmarks for each round of PTCs. Our EOY math goal was 80% accuracy on a 5-minute timed test of addition and subtraction facts within 10. We had PTCs in October, March, and June. This essentially broke our math goal into 25% accuracy for the first PTC, and 50% for the second to stay on track to meet 80% at EOY. We shared each benchmark with parents, which often helps to reassure them, especially early in the year. We also share the class average on each assessment, which also helps reassure parents.

We would give the same assessments at the beginning of the year, and before all conferences. The only downside of tracking sight words is that it’s an individual assessment, so it can be time consuming, but it was less onerous than reading assessments, and the benefits of letting data guide my PTCs were totally worth the burden to me. Plus, it was part of our data cycle assessments anyway (which usually coincided with PTCs. I would print off one for each student, write their name at the top, and highlight each correct word as they read them to me. If they missed 5 in a row I would stop them for that cycle. I stored all their assessment in my data binder. (Because is there anything better than an organized binder?!)

Focusing on the data is great because it’s tangible for parents, and it gives you talking points. Your conferences will practically run themselves.

Rachel Wilser has spent the better part of a decade in classrooms around the country — in private, public, charter, elementary, and middle schools. Now, she chases twins and drinks coffee while planning her return to the classroom.