Many parents said a school's online portal helps them stay on top of their child's academic progress.

A new report has identified key trends and issues when it comes to how teachers, parents, and students communicate, and it indicates that the growing prevalence of mobile devices could help improve communication among these stakeholder groups.

Connecting in the 21st Century,” a report from Project Tomorrow and Blackboard Inc., based on data from Project Tomorrow’s 2010 Speak Up survey, reveals new information about the way parents, students, and teachers communicate with one another. It identifies as a key trend the “growing need for more effective, timely, and targeted communication between the school and home.”

The report examines Speak Up 2010 data from nearly 380,000 K-12 students, parents, and educators to reveal parents’ expectations for school-to-home communications, and to learn how districts are striving to meet those expectations.

Some schools and districts are turning to new technology to engage parents not only in school safety and emergency messaging, but also in their children’s performance and achievement.

Do administrators recognize the value of effective communication with parents as a key factor for improving student outcomes?

Many administrators said they are hoping to use online and social media tools to better engage with parents in an effort to enhance student achievement.

Twenty-three percent of administrators said that “engaging parents as co-teachers” was one of their top three choices when it came to identifying solutions that would have the greatest potential to increase students’ college attendance and career readiness.

How are schools and districts tapping into emerging technologies to connect with parents?

Many schools are taking advantage of parents’ growing familiarity with and use of technology, including mobile devices. These schools are modifying their communication approaches to build stronger school-to-home connections, the report suggests.

The top five ways that parents currently receive communications from their child’s school are personal eMails (64 percent), face-to-face meetings (53 percent), printed newsletters and fliers (52 percent), a school portal (51 percent), and automated phone messages (46 percent).

A closer examination of the data reveals that urban parents said they receive more communications through automated phone messages than rural parents reported (52 percent versus 44 percent). Grade levels varied as well: Two-thirds of elementary school parents said face-to-face meetings were their most common form of communication with their child’s school, whereas only 45 percent of middle school parents and 39 percent of high school parents said the same. Fifty-six percent of parents with children in grades 6-12 said their child’s school portal their preferred method for receiving information about their child’s school activities and academic performance.

Research also shows that school portals have become more and more popular. In fact, since 2007, the number of parents using school portals for information about their children has jumped 58 percent.

Do parents have different expectations today regarding information they receive from their child’s school?

Many of the school technology coordinators who participated in the survey said they are able to give parents a more complete picture of each student’s education, including attendance, homework assignments, grades, and general information about school events.

Parents said their ultimate school portal would include:

  • Information updated on a daily basis about their child’s homework assignments, projects, and upcoming tests (62 percent);
  • Information updated on a daily basis about their child’s grades and progress in school (53 percent);
  • Ability to send out a special alert to me when my child is missing assignments, has low grades, or is failing a class (51 percent);
  • Tools to help facilitate greater collaboration and communication between the parent, child, and teacher (32 percent);
  • Tools to help the parent assess the child’s achievement levels (27 percent).

How are teachers leveraging technology tools to instruct and provide feedback to students?

Ninety-six percent of teachers said they use eMail, instant messaging, or text messages to communicate with their colleagues and students’ parents. But some teachers (about 33 percent) said they are using these same technologies to communicate with students as well. Thirty-eight percent said they use technology to give students academic feedback.

While many note that young teachers are often most comfortable integrating technology into the classroom as a result of their own familiarity with technology, teachers with fewer than three years of classroom experience are actually the least likely group of teachers (fewer than 9 percent) to use these technology tools to interact with students. More than 37 percent of teachers with 16 or more years of experience use these communication tools to give students feedback.

Seventy-four percent of high school students and 65 percent of middle school students use eMail, instant messaging, or text messaging on a regular basis for peer-to-peer communication, but fewer than half of students in grades 9-12, and only 25 percent of middle school students, say they use the same methods to communicate with their teachers.

Girls are more likely than boys to report eMailing or text messaging a teacher (59 percent versus 41 percent).

As mobile devices grow in popularity and accessibility, teacher communications can improve, the report suggests.

Fifty-three percent of parents say that mobile devices in school could improve teacher-student-parent communication, and 64 percent of teachers agreed. More than half (52 percent) of high school students said they would use a smart phone to talk with a teacher if it was allowed at school.

“With 58 percent of parents and 44 percent of teachers having a smart phone or similar device, the opportunity to leverage these devices to improve school to home communications appears to be near a tipping point,” according to the report.

Do parents’ perceptions on the efficacy of school-to-home communications have any relationship with their attitudes regarding their child’s school?

“The results point directly to the critical need for good school-to-home communications,” according to the report.

Parents who rated their child’s school or district communication as ineffective were five times more likely to report that they did not feel connected to the school or district and that teachers do not work with parents regarding their child’s academics than parents who gave more positive ratings to their school’s communications.

One-third of parents who said they were displeased with school communications also said their child’s teacher quality is a major concern, while only 12 percent of parents who said they were pleased with their school’s communication reported the same concern.

Speak Up 2011 data should be available in the coming months.