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FINE Newsletter, Volume II, Issue 3
Issue Topic: Using Student Data to Engage Families

Voices From the Field

D’Lisa Crain, Grant Administrator for the Nevada State Parent Information & Resource Center and Parent Involvement Coordinator for the Washoe County School District, talks about using case studies to help immigrant families better understand data as well as training parents to use an online data tool to track student learning and attendance.

The problem

Two years ago, the Nevada State Parent Information & Resource Center (PIRC)1 began to look at the high school graduation crisis in its local school district, Washoe County. Washoe County School District (WCSD) is Nevada's second largest school district serving the Reno/Sparks and surrounding areas. The district serves approximately 63,000 students, the majority of which are White (53%) followed by Hispanic (34%), with nearly 41% of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. In 2008, the school district and the Education Alliance of Washoe County (the Nevada State PIRC’s parent organization) conducted a study and found that only 56% of first-time freshmen and transfer-in students graduate with a regular diploma within four years.2 Knowing that a large percentage of the families in Washoe County were Hispanic and many were immigrants, PIRC staff sought to better understand how families came to know what the district’s graduation requirements were and how these requirements were communicated to them. Results of the inquiry were eye-opening: Most high schools used a traditional method of presenting information that involved explaining requirements during Back to School Night to several hundred parents sitting in the school gymnasium. Some schools provided materials and interpretation in Spanish, but many did not. For many families, this wasn’t a comfortable setting to be able to ask questions or clarify their knowledge about what was being presented.

A potential solution

At the same time, the Nevada State PIRC was using the Parent–School Partnership curriculum from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and working successfully with immigrant families in small group settings (25–30 parents). With the permission of MALDEF, the Nevada State PIRC began to build materials to use beyond this program for statewide workshops on High School Graduation Requirements as well as How to Monitor Your Child’s Progress using an online parent portal.

Example Case Study: “George”

High School Junior – 3rd year – 11th grade

Proficiency Exam: George has passed his writing, science, and language arts proficiency exams.

Attendance: George has 2 absences for medical reasons, 1 absence for a family emergency, 3 absences for a family vacation and his parents contacted the school beforehand and collected make-up homework. George also has 3 unexcused absences.

Credits & Grades: George is in the first semester of his Junior year (3rd year). At the end of his Sophomore year (2nd year) he had 11 ½ credits.

Questions to discuss in your group:

  1. Is George on schedule to graduate from high school?
  2. If not, why? List out the reasons why and be specific.
  3. If you were George’s parents or family, what would you do to help George get back on track to graduate?

For more case studies, please visit:, click on “Basics of secondary education,” and look under “Graduation Requirements”.

The PIRC staff wanted families who participated in these new workshops to leave with a firm understanding of the educational system and how to help their own children. To achieve this, during workshops PIRC facilitators grouped families into teams of four or five and these teams worked together to review specially-created case studies to determine if the student presented in the case was on track to graduate and, if not, what a parent could do to help the student get back on the path to graduation (see text box at right). During the first workshop, one parent liaison employed by the school district commented, “For the first time I understand what it takes for my own child to graduate.” In addition, at these workshops parents examine grades and progress reports, learn tips to help children with homework, examine school records, and receive advice in how to communicate with teachers and educational personnel.

Tapping into an Untapped Resource to monitor student progress

Not all families, however, have time to attend the workshop series. Thus, a second strand of training was developed to help families monitor their student’s progress in a quick and ongoing way. WCSD uses Edline,3 an online parent portal that houses student data and progress. However, only 44% of the families districtwide had activated their accounts. Realizing that this was an untapped resource to help families, especially those with students at risk of not graduating, the PIRC staff began to work with school Parent Involvement Facilitators (PIF) to reach out and provide training to parents about the Edline system. The training was created to help families who had never used a computer before or didn’t have internet access at home. School computer labs were made accessible for two-hour workshops, and PIFs began inviting families to activate their accounts and learn how to make sense of their student’s data.

To further facilitate the accessibility of student data, schools installed computer kiosks at the school for parents to use. The Nevada State PIRC and WCSD also worked with community-based organizations such as the county’s libraries, Nevada Hispanic Services and the Boys and Girls Clubs to install community kiosks. Starting September 2010, every school in WCSD will have a computer kiosk for parents.

Showing parents how to access the data, however, was just one part of the equation. When looking at her son’s attendance data during one of the training sessions, one parent commented, “I don’t understand why it says he’s absent. I drop him off at school every day.” To address issues like this, PIRC Staff and PIFs connect families to school personnel and to community resources for academic support. For example, the parent was connected to a school counselor who arranged to meet the mother at the front of the school every morning so that she could transfer her son to the counselor and ensure that he made it to class. Workshop facilitators train parents about use of academic supports, such as, a 24/7 online tutorial available free to all middle school and high school students in Washoe County through a grant to the Education Alliance from the Terry Lee Wells Foundation. Parents are also connected to community-based organizations who offer afterschool tutoring, or to school counselors who can help parents and students take advantage of school-based tutoring resources.

Families leave these computer workshops empowered by knowing how to access their student’s data and where to go for help if there is a problem with attendance or grades. Many families then go on to sign up for the larger series of parent–school partnership workshops.

For more information about the PIRCs program in Washoe County, as well as access to training materials, please visit:

This resource is part of the October 2010 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 FINE Newsletter Archive, visit

2. The Education Alliance of Washoe County (2009). Washoe K-16 Data Profile. Washoe County, NV: Author. Online at:

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