In this research project, the school counselor and the student teacher investigated the relationship between African American parent volunteer involvement and student reading scores. The parents involved were chosen based on their child’s Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) score, which were low in all cases. The parents received a newsletter each month that contained information on ways to help their child at home and school and how they could volunteer at school. Before the study began, the parents were not required to volunteer. The study hypothesis was that parent involvement would help the children academically. During the study, the parents were required to volunteer at least three times during a given time period. Volunteerism was tracked using the electronic sign-in system in the school office. By that the end of the school term, the student’s reading SRI scores showed improvement in all cases.
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In Spring 2010, I completed my student teaching at an elementary school in North Texas. The school is a Title I school and received a Title I Distinguished Progress School Award this year. This elementary school was one of five schools in Denton County that received this distinction. The award is given to schools that maintain or improve their Texas Education Agency (TEA) accountability rating. In 2007, based on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) scores, the school was rated as an Academically Acceptable Campus. Currently, the school is rated as an Exemplary Campus, the top rating that can be given by the Texas Education Agency. The school receives federal funds as part of the No Child Left Behind Act to supplement existing local education funds. Sixty-two percent of the students in the school are economically-disadvantaged.
The TAKS test standardized assessment scores for subpopulations of students based on demographic characteristics. African American students are one of the subpopulation categories. According to past data, African American students tend to score lower on the TAKS test than other students. This project was designed to try to increase the low scores among the African American students.
Action Research Plan
The problem of the low African American TAKS scores led to the research question: If parental involvement increases, will student achievement also increase? An Action Research project was then planned. Our hypothesis is that student achievement is directly correlated to parental involvement. African American students in third, fourth, and fifth grades that were at risk for failing the TAKS test were chosen to participate in the research. At-risk students were chosen based on the Denton District-wide criteria for at-risk students. The students had either failed the TAKS test the previous year or had unsatisfactory reading level scores at the beginning of the current school year. To measure a student’s reading level, the school used the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI). The students take the assessment on the computer to determine their Lexile reading level score. A Lexile score is the student’s reading level standardized for grade level. A student can score from a Beginning Reader (BR) level to 1050-1300 score, which is grade twelve. After the nine students were chosen, parental consent was obtained for both children and parents to participate in the research. The parents were asked to volunteer at the school at least three times within five months. Parental involvement was defined as volunteering at school as an office aid, a cafeteria monitor, or in their child’s classroom. The parents could attend school events such as Fiesta Math Night, Family Science Night, Literacy Night, Coffee Breaks, their child’s Parent Party, or Parent-Teacher Conference. There were many different options for parents to volunteer, including helping during “special days at school” (e.g., picture day, school fund raisers, school carnival), joining PTA, eating lunch with their child, or chaperoning a field trip. Some parents who participated in this plan worked during the day, so they had the option of volunteering after school hours. We had to fit the needs of the parents as best as we could in order for our research to be successful. At the beginning of each month, the school counselor created a Counseling Program Newsletter and sent it home with the students. The newsletter included information about a staff member at the school, a message from the counselor, a monthly homework assignment that the parent and child could complete together, and volunteer opportunities in the school. The parents were frequently contacted by telephone to discuss their involvement. When contacted, they were asked if they had volunteered or if they needed suggestions to complete their hours.
To track the parent’s involvement, we used the school sign-in system, where all visitors have to sign in when they enter the school, and sign-in sheets from school events. During the research, using these two sources was a successful way to track the parental involvement. The students chosen to participate took a Scholastic Reading Inventory test at the beginning of the school year, and then also every six weeks. Each Scholastic Reading Inventory report included the students’ beginning Scholastic Reading Inventory Lexile levels and also their scores from each time that they completed the assessment, including at the beginning of the school year.
At the end of the fifth six-week period, the students completed their last Scholastic Reading Inventory Assessment. The assessment was taken two and a half months after the research began. Student A was a third grader who had a beginning Lexile score of a 63, which is a beginning reader score. In the third grade, students should have a score that ranges from five hundred to eight hundred. When the research began in December, Student A’s Lexile range score was a zero, which again is a beginning reader score. The last time that Student A completed a Scholastic Inventory Assessment, A’s score was at 742, which was grade level for this student. Since the research began, A’s Lexile range score increased 742 points. Based on the third grade’s last Scholastic Reading Inventory Assessment, Student A was 60 points higher than the mean for Student A’s third grade classroom, which was a score of 682.
Student B was also in the third grade and should have had a Lexile range score between 500 and 800. At the beginning of the year, Student B scored a 90 which was a beginning reader score. When the research began in December, Student B scored a 233. At the end of the fifth six-week period, Student B had a Lexile range of 293. Student B had an increase of 60 points since the research began. The mean for the Student B’s third grade classroom was 500. Student B scored 293 and was below grade mean. However, the student still showed an increase in score.
Student C was in the fifth grade and should have had a Lexile range score between 700 and 1,000. At the beginning of the year, Student C scored a 393. When the research began in December, Student C had a score of 327. At the end of the fifth six weeks, Student C had a Lexile range of 502. Student C had an increase of 175 points since the research began. The fifth grade classroom’s mean was 799. Student C was 297 points below the fifth grade mean.
Student D was a fifth grader. At the beginning of the year, Student D’s Lexile score was 224. Student D should have had a score on the fifth grade reading level which is between 700 and 1,000. When the research began in December, Student D’s Lexile range score was below the average level of fifth graders at 213. The last time that Student D completed a Scholastic Inventory Assessment, Student D’s score was at 266. Since the research began, Student D’s Lexile range score increased 53 points, but was 533 points below the average of 799 for Student D’s fifth grade classroom.
Student E was in the fifth grade and should have had a Lexile range score between 700 and 1000. At the beginning of the year, Student E had a score of 652. When the research began in December, Student E had a score of 586. At the end of the fifth six weeks, Student E had a Lexile range of 654. Student E had an increase of 68 points since the research began. The fifth grade’s mean was 799, with E having a score 145 points below the class mean.
Student F was in the third grade. At the beginning of the year, student F had a Lexile range score of 271. In December, when the research began, Student F had a score of 327. At the end of the fifth six weeks, Student E had a Lexile range score of 384. Student F’s score increased 57 points since the research began.
Student G was a fourth grade student that had a Lexile range score of 559 at the beginning of the year. In December, Student G had a score of 525. At the end of the last six weeks, Student G scored a 611. Student G increased the score by 86 points since the research began. Student G should have a score between 600 and 900.
Student H was a fourth grade student with a beginning Lexile range score of zero, or below beginning reader level. In December, the Lexile range score was still a zero. At the end of the last six weeks, student H scored a 374. Student H’s score increased by 374 points.
Student I is a student in the fourth grade. Fourth grade students should have a Lexile range score of 600 and 900. At the beginning of the year, Student I scored a 559 on the Scholastic Reading Inventory assessment. In December, Student I scored a 545. At the end of the last six weeks, Student I scored a 560. Student I’s score increased by 15 points since the research began.
As a result of the Action Research project, we found that student achievement is directly influenced by parental involvement. Each student who participated in the research increased their Scholastic Reading Inventory score by at least 15 points. We found that when parents were more aware of their child’s academic performance, they were more likely to become involved. Set times of three hours were given to the parents so that they did not volunteer one time and call it “involved.” In our findings, we did not compare scores and the number of times the parents volunteered. For example, if Student A’s parent volunteered more, was their increase higher than a student whose parent only volunteered the required three times? When presenting parents with volunteer opportunities and ideas, parents were more likely to volunteer for an activity from which their child would benefit. For example, a parent would rather attend their child’s parent party, rather than volunteer as a lunch room monitor. I also found that it is important to give the parents a variety of volunteer opportunities. Parents’ work schedules, personalities, and preferences had to be taken into consideration when giving parents choices about the different ways they could volunteer. Additionally, I found that, as a result of the research, it was easier for parents to volunteer if they could bring their children along as well. During our Coffee Breaks and Parent Parties, child care was provided for the students and their siblings. Other school events such as Literacy Night or Family Fun Science night were events that students and their siblings could attend. When food was provided, it made it easier on the parents to attend, because they knew that their children would be fed.
As a result of the Action Research Project, the school would like to continue the research next year. The data from the research showed that parental involvement by the African American parents increased their child’s reading scores. Since the research was successful, a further study could take place next year. As a result of the research, the campus is aware of the importance of encouraging parents to be involved in their child’s academic performance. Also, as a result of the research, the parents that participated in the Action Research Project became more aware of their child’s academics. Most of the parents were eager to volunteer and really wanted to be involved. Parents were encouraged by the support of those that were involved in the research. Meeting the parents’ needs was an important factor in order for the research to be successful. Parents realized that at school, staff was there to help and support parental involvement.
After completing the Action Research Project, I learned the importance of parental involvement in schools. I was given the opportunity to experience first-hand how parental involvement or lack of parental involvement can have an effect on a child’s academic performance. The Action Research Project also allowed me to work in a partnership with parents, students, and staff within the school. I learned that the presentation of information about parental involvement is important because it can influence whether or not parents are interested in volunteering. I believe that being consistent with the parents and communicating with them frequently showed commitment from me and those involved in research. The most important thing that I learned was that communication was the key to successful results.
There are a few recommendations for a further study with the current research. Next year, I think the results would be improved if the research were started earlier in the school year. When the research began in December, the students were in their fourth six-week period of the school year. There are six six-week periods throughout the school year. Although there was reading score data from the beginning of the school year, the parents were not involved prior to December. I believe that if the parents become involved earlier in the school year, the students Scholastic Reading Inventory Lexile range score would show a greater increase.
Another refinement for the study would be to compare involvement in mothers and fathers. Would it make a difference if fathers volunteered versus mothers? In our research, no fathers volunteered, but there was still an increase in the scores. Another factor to take into consideration would be the types of volunteer opportunities that are suggested to the parents. If the volunteer opportunities are of interest to the parents, then they are more likely to become involved. The times that parents can volunteer and the scheduling of events could also affect parental involvement. As a result of the success of the research, I would encourage the school to continue this research. The research can include not only African American families, but other minorities as well. Eventually, the research can include the whole school population and can create a campus that is driven by parental involvement.