If research studies represent the jigsaw pieces to complex puzzles, meta-analyses assemble them into cohesive pictures that help resolve important questions.
CYFS Postdoctoral Fellow Elizabeth Moorman Kim and CYFS Director Susan Sheridan are currently gathering those pieces to clarify the impacts of two intervention-based approaches for engaging parents in their children’s education.
Moorman Kim and Sheridan recently earned a U.S. Department of Education grant that will allow them to collect, analyze and draw conclusions from several decades’ worth of investigations into how parents influence K-12 student outcomes. Though many studies have suggested that parental participation can improve academic achievement, inconsistencies and oversights in definitions, methodologies and results have left lingering questions and a lack of consensus.
The researchers will address a number of these issues with an eye toward offering the most comprehensive and specific conclusions to date. Unlike its predecessors, the meta-analysis will distinguish between parent-involvement and family-school partnership models of intervention. While the former encourage activities such as helping with homework and reading to children, the latter focus on fostering two-way communication and joint decision-making between parents and teachers.
“In the literature, we use a lot of words interchangeably, but they don’t necessarily mean the same thing,” Moorman Kim said. “I think there’s been a growing focus on how we get parents and schools to establish relationships with one another, beyond just getting them involved with activities at the school. We’re trying to tease apart these different concepts that are often lumped together under one umbrella. We’re trying to say, ‘How are the effects of these approaches distinct?'”
The meta-analysis will also become the first to examine which specific components of each approach most benefit students.
“It can help inform how parent involvement and family-school partnerships are related to children’s optimal functioning,” Moorman Kim said. “And it will highlight not only what efforts work, but when they work best.”
With this in mind, the meta-analysis will encapsulate how differences in students, families and schools alter the effectiveness of parent-involvement and family-school partnership efforts. It will specifically examine the influences of students’ age and grade; families’ socioeconomic status and primary language; and schools’ geographic context and socioeconomic composition.
The meta-analysis will also break new ground by summarizing impacts not only on academic achievement, but also student behavior and social-emotional development.
“One reason we’re really interested in looking at these kinds of outcomes is that they help us develop models for understanding the process of parents’ involvement,” Moorman Kim said. “It could be that when we help parents get more involved or forge partnerships, this improves children’s behavior and social functioning, which, in turn, helps them achieve better in the classroom.”
The researchers will account for the quality of studies included in the meta-analysis by considering their methodological and statistical rigor. Among other factors, the team will view study results in the light of their research designs, assignment of participants, reliability of assessment, and fidelity of implementation.
“This may highlight that we need to develop more precise measures around some of the constructs that we’re looking at,” Moorman Kim said.
Moorman Kim noted that findings from the meta-analysis should generate recommendations for policymakers and practitioners – specifically teachers, principals and superintendents – seeking the best ways to engage parents and, by extension, improve student development. At the same time, she anticipates learning just as much about the issues that researchers may have overlooked.
“In addition to summarizing what we know from the literature, meta-analysis also helps us to highlight what we don’t know,” Moorman Kim said. “It could help foster more research when we see that there are not very many – or even no – studies addressing what could be really important factors.”
This research project, titled “A Meta-Analysis of Parent Involvement Interventions and Family-School Partnerships’ Effects on Student Outcomes,” was funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Tasha Beretvas, associate professor and chair of the quantitative methods program at the University of Texas at Austin, is serving as a co-principal investigator. Deborah Bandalos, professor at James Madison University, and Nancy Hill, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, are serving as consultants on the project.