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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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FINE Newsletter, Volume V, Issue 1
Issue Topic: New Directions for the New Year

Tips & Tools From Harvard Family Research Project

Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) doctoral student Beth Schueler introduces a new parent survey designed by HGSE researchers. Schueler is a member of the survey project team, which is led by Principal Investigator Hunter Gehlbach and Co-Principal Investigators Karen Mapp and Richard Weissbourd.

Increasingly, schools are interested in developing parents’ capacity to productively engage with schools and support their children academically. This new direction in family–school relationships builds upon the work of Vanderbilt University researchers Kathleen Hoover-Dempsey and Howard Sandler and their colleagues, whose research established a multidimensional understanding of why parents become involved with schools and how their involvement influences student outcomes. As schools increasingly focus on building parent capacity to support their children’s learning and on promoting positive home–school relationships, schools and districts need new measures to ascertain which types of approaches work best.

Recognizing the need for such measures, our Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) research team recently developed a set of survey “scales”—groups of related questions that are analyzed as a whole to improve measurement precision—to assess family–school relationships in schools serving Pre-K to 12th grade students. The scales, designed to elicit input from parents, can help schools evaluate interventions that they are implementing to try to improve family–school relationships, see how family–school relationships develop as students advance from one grade to the next, or simply collect baseline information on their strengths and areas that need improvement in their family–school relationships. The tool is unique in that it is a rigorously developed, web-based set of survey scales that schools and districts can access online and administer to parents with school children of all ages.


Schools and districts can use this tool for a variety of purposes. For example, a school or district implementing a new family engagement program may want to use the scales in the survey to determine whether family–school engagement and parent self-efficacy increase as a result of their intervention. Another district may be interested in understanding whether families encounter specific barriers to becoming involved as their children transition from elementary to middle school. Or a school might use the scales to learn how well families are able to provide learning support to students at home.

To measure the important aspects of family–school relationships, the survey currently includes the following scales, which can help schools and districts answer the accompanying questions:

  • Parental support— How much help are students getting at home?
  • Child behaviors—What habits have students developed that shape their success?
  • Parent engagement — How engaged are parents in their child’s schooling, and what potential barriers exist?
  • Parent self-efficacy—How confident are parents in supporting their child’s schooling?
  • School climate —How do parents view their school regarding academic and social standards?
  • Parent roles and responsibilities—How do parents view their roles as well as teachers’ roles in different aspects of their child’s schooling?
  • School program fit—How well do a school’s academic program, social climate, and organizational structure match a student’s needs?

Addressing these key topics can help schools and districts answer a number of crucial questions: Which aspects of family–school relationships are most in need of improvement in our district? Do different groups of parents relate to the school differently? Do parents feel more or less engaged with our school over time as their children progress through the grade levels? Which aspects of our intervention are most/least effective?

The web-based company, SurveyMonkey, hosts the survey. An important benefit of our collaboration with SurveyMonkey is that they will eventually develop benchmarking data so that schools can compare the family–school relationships at their school to the relationships at similar schools outside of their district. For example, a school could use these benchmarks to determine how parent perceptions of their school climate compare to parent perceptions at similar schools. Additionally, we have developed a Spanish language version of the scales, which will allow schools to expand the reach of their information-gathering efforts.  


To develop the scales, our team relied on an especially rigorous process. First, we reviewed research literature related to the focus of each scale. We then conducted interviews and focus groups with diverse groups of parents to fill in potential gaps in the literature and to understand the language that parents use to describe these ideas (e.g., academics often use the word “efficacy,” but most parents talk about “confidence”).

Our team then combined the information from the literature review and interviews/focus groups to come up with a master list of the aspects of these relationships that were most important to assess. From this list, we developed preliminary survey questions, each of which was reviewed by multiple experts and revised based on their feedback. Additionally, our team conducted a “cognitive pre-testing procedure,” wherein respondents had to think out loud while responding to each question to ensure that they understood each item as we intended.

Finally, we surveyed a large national sample of parents from SurveyMonkey’s unique panel of participants, which allowed us to establish substantial evidence of the scales’ validity. The end result is a valuable tool that will allow schools serving all grade levels to gain a better understanding of parents’ perceptions of family–school relations.


Districts, schools, researchers, and others interested in family–school partnerships can view the scales by visiting the following website:

If your school would like to participate in the pilot program for deploying the parent survey, please contact Mark Muse (, who can assist with any questions about getting started with SurveyMonkey or sending out the survey. Otherwise, to use the survey template, sign up for a SurveyMonkey account, click on "Create Survey," select "Use an expert survey template," and choose "Harvard Graduate School of Education Pre K-12 Parent Survey."

Our research team welcomes feedback about the scales and would be particularly interested to hear about your experiences using them. Please direct any comments or questions to Beth Schueler at:

Research Team:
Dr. Hunter Gehlbach, Principal Investigator
Dr. Karen Mapp, Co-Principal Investigator
Dr. Richard Weissbourd, Co-Principal Investigator
Research Assistants: Lauren Capotosto, Sofia Bahena, James Noonan, Soojin Oh, Beth Schueler


This resource is part of the February 2013 FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family involvement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access the archive of past issues, please visit

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project