Affordable tool measures parents’ perceptions of their child’s school

Release Date: September 12, 2019

“But practically speaking, schools need tools that can be applied quickly, that are affordable and easy to use and that provide a comprehensive snapshot of parent engagement – we’ve done that. ”
Annahita Ball, assistant professor of social work
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A team led by a University at Buffalo social work researcher has developed a new tool for measuring parents’ perceptions of how they engage with their children’s education. The tool also offers school administrators a quick, economical and efficient alternative to the often expensive and cumbersome measures currently available.

A study explaining the development and testing of the Parent Perceptions of Overall School Experiences Scale (P-OSE), one of the few such tools validated in both English and Spanish, appears in the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment.

Previous research has demonstrated how active and rewarding family engagement can contribute to student success in the classroom, but measuring that engagement and determining what’s meaningful has historically been challenging.

“There are many measures available to school districts and researchers that assess different components of parents’ experiences. But practically speaking, schools need tools that can be applied quickly, that are affordable and easy to use and that provide a comprehensive snapshot of parent engagement – we’ve done that,” says Annahita Ball, an assistant professor in the UB School of Social Work and the paper’s lead author.

Definitions of family engagement vary, but the term has largely come to mean a two-way relationship between families and their children’s schools. Parents can help their children learn with activities both in and out of school, from volunteering at events, meeting with teachers, providing learning opportunities at home, and helping with homework. Schools can help families by providing welcoming and trusted environments for parents to share in their children’s learning. This includes activities both in and out of school.

In addition to being associated with student success, parent engagement also is related to improved school climate.

Ball’s background in family engagement extends through her entire career. An expert in school social work service and positive youth development, she says schools need, and are often required, to assess what parents want as part of their child’s education.

“Districts are required by state and federal education policy to evaluate and respond to parents’ needs and to engage those parents meaningfully in their child’s education,” she says.

But how is this accomplished?

“Until we had measures that did this, the process was anecdotal, and prone to inaccuracies,” says Ball. “Districts relied on feedback, but they based their results only on the responses from parents who provided their comments.”

The shortcomings of those subjective surveys intensified in multicultural districts, like the one in Detroit where Ball began her career.

“About 90 percent of the parents I worked with in the southwest part of the city were first-generation immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries,” says Ball, who hopes to develop and test P-OSE in additional languages. “Measuring engagement was nearly impossible when most of the district’s population was trying to navigate an unfamiliar educational system where even the most fundamental issues were out of reach because of language barriers.”

In all cases, available tools are costly, take significant amounts of time to implement, and limit their measures to specific components of the school environment. P-OSE is a brief five-item scale validated using a cross section of survey data from 2,643 parents that revealed not only the utility of this universal measure, but demonstrated how its use can provide “overall” perceptions parents have of their children’s schools.

“This tool allows districts and schools to gather information needed to assess how their population feels in a systematic and reliable manner, which is itself a form of engaging people in a relationship,” says Ball.

Any school or district interested in the test can contact Ball by email at

“Schools are accountable for showing improvement over time,” says Ball. “This can be part of their overall improvement plan for documenting whether family perceptions of the school are getting better.”

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