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Students whose families are more engaged early in the school year are less likely to have concentration, behavioral problems

MU study highlights an incentive for families to stay engaged with school even as children age into middle school

Aug. 27, 2019

Story Contact(s):
Cailin Riley, rileyci@umsystem.edu, 573-882-4870

COLUMBIA, Mo. – With school in full swing, many parents might be considering how to get more involved with their child’s schooling. Parent involvement and support can be beneficial for students of all ages, but new research shows that family-school involvement has specific perks for young students.

After surveying more than 3,170 students and 200 teachers, researchers at the University of Missouri found that families are less engaged with their child’s schooling in middle school than they are when their child is in elementary school. However, the researchers also found a silver lining: Both elementary school children and middle school children are less likely to have concentration problems and behavioral issues at the end of a school year if their parents made a greater effort to be engaged with their schooling earlier in the year.

“In addition to being less likely to have emotional or behavioral issues in class, we also found that students with engaged parents ended the year with better social skills and were able to focus on tasks easier,” said Tyler Smith, a senior research associate in the College of Education. “This means that when parents are more involved at school, the benefits to their child grow over time.”

The researchers said that family-school engagement often drops from elementary to middle school for several reasons, including a change in student-teacher ratio and a desire to respect their child’s growing sense of independence.

“Keeping in contact with multiple teachers can be more challenging for parents with children in middle school, but our study shows evidence that parents and teachers should continue to make an effort to connect,” said Keith Herman, a professor in the College of Education and co-author on the study. “There are many options for parents to become more involved at both levels without feeling intrusive.”

Herman suggests that parents can explore getting involved with their child’s schooling in a variety of ways. Options outside of the home include attending school functions, volunteering at events and joining parent groups. However, parents and family members can also take a more active role by helping with homework and keeping in touch with the child’s teacher(s).

Smith adds that teachers can also do their part in encouraging families to get more involved by providing opportunities for parents to connect with them.

“Teachers have a lot on their hands, obviously, but even small efforts to help build better family-teacher relationships can have big payoffs for everyone involved,” Smith said. “Teachers might consider inviting parents to special events or giving students assignments that involve their parents so that the students can help begin to build that relationship naturally.”

“Understanding family-school engagement across and within elementary and middle-school contexts,” was published in School Psychology. Other coauthors for this study include Wendy Reinke and Francis Huang, both professors in the MU College of Education. This research was supported by grants from the United States Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (grant numbers R305A100342, R305B150028 and R305A130143.)

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