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Guest Post: Parents, Why Are We Doing This?

By Tracy Dell’Angella

We’ve known this for a while, but here’s another survey to add fuel to the fire: Parents tend to inflate their kids’ academic progress and deflate their kids’ emotional resilience.

In a nutshell, they don’t worry enough about the fact that schools are increasingly unable to prepare students with the skills they need to succeed in college and the workplace–and they worry too much about whether their children are popular and protected from disappointment and failure. As a parent, I totally understand the desire to want your child to be safe and happy, but the disconnect here totally confounds me because the two concepts are inextricably connected.

For the second year in a row, a report from Learning Heroes indicate that 9 in10 parents think their children are performing at or above grade level in math and reading — while at the same time, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, shows this confidence isn’t justified. In fact, that only 1 in 3 U.S. eighth-graders are proficient in math and reading.

“The poll… highlights a disparity between how parents define their children’s happiness today and in the future. Satisfied with their children’s academic track, many parents don’t associate education with emotional well-being until they peer over the horizon and consider what will make their children happy adults. … These views matter because parents place primary responsibility for their child’s academic and developmental success on themselves and their families, not on schools and teachers. The incomplete view they have of their child’s academic progress can ultimately undermine their advocacy on behalf of their child.”

Why are parents overconfident about academics? Because they believe report cards—not standardized tests–give them a much more accurate picture of achievement. Both are important, but parents need to remember that report cards are ultimately subjective, wildly variable, and heavily influenced by teacher perceptions (both good and bad). Yes, tests are imperfect as well–they capture a score on a specific day, not progress over an entire year–but they are objective and measurable against other students and other schools and other states.

Parents trust teachers to tell them the truth, so teachers cannot sugarcoat reality—or tell parents that lackluster results on standardized tests don’t matter, because they do. They reveal an objective truth that report cards simply cannot capture.

Here’s what I found most intriguing about the Learning Heroes report: The authors sought to get past the survey findings to reveal more about “why this perception gap exists, the high aspirations you hold for your children, your deep dedication, where your confidence wanes, and the areas where you could use some support and help.”

“Providing these tools to better enable parents to gain an accurate picture of their children’s grade-level achievement with the information currently available is a step in the right direction. But we believe the findings in this report clearly tell us that, ultimately, what and how schools communicate to parents about their children’s progress must be improved to be more responsive to parents’ needs, interests, and concerns. To understand where the deficits are and how the education community can address this communications gap, a conversation needs to happen at the community and national levels to elevate awareness around this important issue, generate demand for improvement, and inspire a more holistic view of our children’s educational success.”

Sound advice for parents and educators alike. Check out the full report here.

Tracy Dell’Angella spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. 

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