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Student develops successful alternative to parent-teacher conference

December 02, 2010

“I have made it my professional mission to ensure that parents understand how crucial their role is in meeting the aspirations they have for their children.”

– Maria C. Paredes, ASU Teachers College, doctoral candidate, director of community education at Creighton Elementary School District in Phoenix

Maria Paredes is on a mission, and the mission is showing signs of success and growth. A doctoral student in ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Paredes has developed the Academic Parent Teacher Team (APTT) model that is being successfully practiced in the Phoenix-based Creighton Elementary School District where she has served as director of community education since 1998. The program is so innovative that it was featured at the Harvard Family Research Project’s recent National Policy Forum for Family, School & Community Engagement in Washington, D.C.

“Maria’s model of parent engagement touches the essence of what will be most effective in accelerating student academic performance,” said Charlotte Boyle, who is in her ninth year as superintendent of the Creighton district in Phoenix and presented Paredes’ model at the Harvard forum. “The Harvard Family Research Project is committed to true parent engagement, rather than participation. Maria’s model addresses the project’s concept of shared responsibility, strength-based collaboration, systemic breadth of work connected to learning, ownership and continuous and sustained improvement.”

The APTT model is an alternative to the traditional parent-teacher conference. The concept was introduced by Paredes during the 2009-2010 school year when 12 teachers in the Creighton district agreed to test the new model. In three group meetings throughout the year, teachers share with parents aggregate and individual student performance data. Each parent receives a folder with his or her child’s data and learns how to interpret individual benchmark assessment data and quarterly assessments, understand the child’s standing in relation to the entire class, and set academic goals to be attained by their child. Additionally, teachers model reading and math skills, which parents are able to practice before applying them at home. Parents also participate in one individual parent-teacher meeting to review performance data.

According to Paredes, although teachers were at first hesitant to coach parents, they now welcome their new teaching partners. The 12-classroom pilot has grown to 79 classrooms across all nine Creighton schools in 2010-2011, representing 1,732 students and families. Parent attendance averages 92 percent, significantly higher than in traditional parent-teacher conferences.

“In low-income communities, parent involvement in education is the key to student success,” said Paredes, who expects to receive her doctorate in leadership and innovation, with an emphasis on policy and administration, in May. “The APTT model of parent involvement, when implemented to its fullest by parents and teachers, ensures that parents have all the relevant information, coaching and materials they need to help their children go from aspirations to attainment.

“This takes the place of traditional parent-teacher conferences,” she added. “The idea is to have a system in place that provides both families and teachers a way to work together, increase the quality of communication and collaboration, share the responsibility of student learning in the form of academic goals, and set high expectations for achievement.”

Superintendent Boyle noted that the model was well received by the National Policy Forum and that interest among the 150-plus people who attended was high.

“This model of student/parent/teacher engagement necessitates a well-designed plan where components have been addressed,” said Boyle, who has served the Creighton district for more than two decades as teacher, school principal and assistant superintendent. “It takes a dedicated, committed adult with the idea, the design, the attention to all the details, and the ability to explain and support the program. Maria Paredes is that person. She has built a community of trust in her dealings with parents for the last decade, just as she has supported families’ educational needs in our community education department.”

Paredes was born and raised in Venezuela. She moved to the United States as a 16-year-old and attended high school near Lansing, Mich. She received her bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1991 and moved to the Valley in 1993. She earned her master’s in curriculum and instruction from ASU in 2003.

“There are many rewarding aspects to the implementation of APTT,” she said. “Parents are finally receiving the relevant information they need to be academically involved with their children, and they are learning to use and request data from teachers to make decisions about their involvement with academics. Also, parents and children are spending more time together working on achieving academic goals, which leads to closer relationships and a more positive attitude about learning by the students.

“Another rewarding aspect is that teachers are positively changing their opinions about parents in minority communities; they are now realizing that parents in low-income communities want the best for their children and will do whatever it takes to help them be successful. They just lacked the pertinent information to take action.”

Paredes said the inspiration for the model came from years of interaction with teachers, parents and administrators in education. She said the model is successful, in part, because teachers are not using additional time to implement it, as the parent-teacher team model replaces the traditional parent-teacher conference. The increased quality and quantity of time spent between parents and teachers develops deeper relationships, trust and motivation, according to Paredes.

Another factor in the inspiration for the model and the early success it has shown, is the parallel between her Teachers College studies and her passion in the field of parent involvement in education.

“My doctoral studies in Teachers College have been a perfect complement to my passion in the field of parent involvement in education,” said Paredes. I have grown a great deal as a researcher, professional and, as an educational administrator, I have brought together the researcher and the practitioner. I have an aerial view of the important people that play a key role in the life and potential success of children.”

“The Ed.D. in leadership and innovation is designed to equip educators with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to resolve problems of practice and improve local situations,” said David Moore, Teachers college professor of education who specializes in adolescent literacy and coordinates educational leadership and innovation doctoral program. “Maria’s success with the APTT model is a terrific example of what this program aims to accomplish.”

For Ray Buss, a Teachers College associate professor of educational psychology who serves as Paredes’ adviser in the doctoral program and chairs her dissertation committee, said that his doctoral student reflects the college’s reputation for producing scholarly and influential practitioners.

“Maria has outstanding analytical skills,” said Buss, who teaches research and methodology courses in the master's degree and doctoral programs at ASU’s West campus. “She has taken a complex problem, taken away all the window dressing and gotten right to the heart of the matter. Her elegant plan to enlist teachers and parents to work together by sharing information, setting achievement goals for students, providing parent training on how to help their child learn skills to attain the goal, and following up on student progress has the potential to lead to substantial gains for students.

“We encourage our students to attack a problem from their workplace setting by considering the previous research in the area and then developing their own innovation or intervention to deal with the problem. Maria has certainly done this with the creation of her APTT model and its successful introduction to the school district.”