Family Involvement

Supporting Evidence & Research

The Family Involvement standards and indicators are based on sound evidence and research that supports their utility in the field. The information below identifies and presents research, federal government documents, commissioned reports, and other sources that serve as the foundation upon which these standards are based. This compilation should not be viewed as all-inclusive, but rather as illustrative of the range of research and expert analysis currently available. See more about the research.

Demonstrating Commitment to Family Involvement and the Family’s Role in Supporting High Achievement and Postschool Results

Standard 4.1
School staff members demonstrate a strong commitment to family involvement and understand its critical role in supporting high achievement, access to postsecondary education, employment, and other successful adult outcomes.

A number of research studies, literature reviews, and program evaluations have linked family involvement and support to positive outcomes for youth with and without disabilities (Henderson & Berla, 1994; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Hughes et al., 1997; James & Partee, 2003; Keith et al., 1998; Kohler, 1996; Sanders, Epstein, & Connors-Tadros, 1999; Shaver & Walls, 1998; Simon, 2001; Yap & Enoki, 1994). These outcomes include improved achievement test results, decreased risk of dropout, improved attendance, improved student behavior, higher grades, higher grade point average, greater commitment to schoolwork, and improved attitude toward school. Some studies have found that characteristics of family involvement are correlated with social, racial/ethnic, and economic variables (Catsambis & Garland, 1997; Harry, 2002; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Lamorey, 2002; Muller & Kerbow, 1993). Research findings indicate the appropriateness of refraining from broad generalizations with regard to family involvement and its relationship to increased student achievement, as such generalizations mask the complexity of the issue. The research literature indicates that student achievement outcomes differ depending on: (a) the particular component(s) of family involvement studied, and whether data analyzed were provided by parents or by schools; (b) achievement measure(s) used (e.g. achievement test scores, grades, GPA); (c) cultural or racial/ethnic groups involved; (d) the subject matter (e.g. mathematics, reading, science) being tested; (e) income levels of the parents; and (f) gender of the parents (Harry, 2002; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Lamorey, 2002; National Middle School Association, 2000).

Although several studies have examined the relationship between family involvement during the K-12 years and student outcomes (Cotton & Wicklund, 1989; Desimone, 1999), the majority have focused on the elementary school setting. Much less is understood about the impact of family involvement on middle and high school students (Balli, Demo, & Wedman, 1998; Brough, 1997; Keith et al., 1993; Rutherford & Billing, 1995; Trivette et al., 1995). Morningstar, Turnbull, and Turnbull (1995) found that secondary students with disabilities themselves report the need for their families to guide and support them as they plan for the future.

Components of effective family involvement identified in the literature include:

  1. Engaging and supporting families in a wide range of activities from preschool through high school (Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997; Henderson & Berla, 1994; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; James & Partee, 2003; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Sanders & Epstein, 2000),
  2. Collaborative plans based on annual feedback (Kessler-Sklar & Baker, 2000; Mapp, 1997),
  3. Regular staff development on student and family involvement (Boethel, 2003; Furney, & Salembier, 2000; Harry, 2002; Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; James & Partee, 2003; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Kohler, 1998;; Lamorey, 2002; National PTA, 1997; Rutherford & Billing, 1995), and
  4. Clear information on school or program expectations, activities, services, and options (Catsambis, 1998; Grigal & Neubert, 2004; Hoover-Dempsey, & Sandler, 1997; Leuchovius, Hasazi, & Goldberg, 2001; National PTA, 1997; Phelps & Hanley-Maxwell, 1997).

Strengthening Communication Between Youth, Families, and Schools

Standard 4.2
Communication among youth, families, and schools is flexible, reciprocal, meaningful, and individualized.

The National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement Programs (National PTA, 1997) states that “communication between home and school is regular, two-way and meaningful.” Outreach, communication, and relationships with families have been identified as key ingredients of effective programs and schools (Henderson & Mapp, 2002; James & Partee, 2003; Keith, et al., 1998; Mapp, 1997; Rutherford & Billing, 1995; Sanders, et al., 1999; Yap & Enoki, 1994) and are especially important for students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (Espinosa, 1995; Martinez & Velazquez, 2000). Effective communication strategies identified in the literature include:

  1. A variety of communication methods (James & Partee, 2003; National PTA, 1997; Sanders & Harvey, 2000),
  2. Communication based on individual student and family needs and that includes alternate formats and languages as needed (Brough & Irvin, 2001; Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Comer & Haynes, 1991; Harry, 2002; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; James & Partee, 2003; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Kohler, 2000; Lamorey, 2002; National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research, 1999),
  3. Reports of positive student behavior and achievement (Epstein et al., 1997; National PTA, 1997), and
  4. Improving the literacy skills of English Language Learners (Boethel, 2003; Espinosa, 1995; Yap & Enoki, 1994).

Family relationships and support can play a particularly influential role in the lives of youth from diverse cultural communities (Harry, 2002; Hosack & Malkmus, 1992; Irvin, Thorin, & Singer, 1993; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Lamorey, 2002; Leung, 1992). Despite recognition of the importance of student and family involvement, families are resources that have been underutilized by transition and vocational rehabilitation professionals (Czerlinsky & Chandler, 1993; DeFur & Taymans, 1995; Marrone, Helm, & Van Gelder, 1997; Salembier & Furney, 1997). Although parents and professionals are working to forge new relationships, there remains a need to build the level of trust and collaboration between them (Guy, Goldberg, McDonald, & Flom, 1997).

The importance of establishing credibility and trust with culturally and racially diverse populations cannot be overemphasized; cultural responsiveness is essential to establishing such confidence (Harry, 2002; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Lamorey, 2002; National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research, 1999). Tailoring training to the cultural traditions of families improves recruitment and outcome effectiveness (Kumpfer & Alvarado, 1995). For example, parents from culturally and racially diverse populations may prefer one-on-one meetings rather than more traditional training formats such as workshops (Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning, 1998; National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research, 1999). Additional strategies may include family-mentoring programs, needs assessment surveys, and working with culturally specific community organizations that have created relationships of trust (Harry, 2002; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Lamorey, 2002; National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, 2002). Establishing effective levels of communication between youth, families, and school professionals is critically important in relation to these research findings.

Embracing Youth and Family Involvement

Standard 4.3
School staff actively cultivate, encourage, and welcome youth and family involvement.

While the value of family involvement is well-understood, the current system does not make it easy for families to be effective partners in the transition process. Multiple service programs form a confusing, fragmented, and inconsistent system (General Accounting Office, 1995). Parent centers report that families of young adults with disabilities are deeply frustrated by the lack of coordinated, individualized services for high school students and the paucity of resources, programs, and opportunities for young adults once they graduate (PACER, 2000). Cultural differences may further complicate relationships with professionals (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1998).

Recent surveys indicate that families seek information on a variety of issues including: helping youth develop self-advocacy skills; balancing standards-based academic instruction with functional life skills training; inclusive education practices at the secondary level; postsecondary options for young adults with developmental and cognitive disabilities; pre-employment experiences and employment options that lead to competitive employment; financial planning; resources available to youth through the workforce investment, vocational rehabilitation, Medicaid, and Social Security systems; better collaboration with community resources; housing options; and interacting with the juvenile justice system (PACER, 2001).

A number of studies and program evaluations highlight the importance of actively encouraging family involvement and creating a welcoming school or program climate for families (Boethel, 2003; Brough & Irvin, 2001; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; James & Partee, 2003; Rutherford & Billing, 1995; Simon, 2001;Yap & Enoki, 1994). Strategies for cultivating family involvement include:

  1. A formal process identifying strengths and needs and connecting families and students to support and assistance (Kohler, 1993; Rutherford & Billing, 1995);
  2. Meeting schedules that accommodate scheduling, transportation, and other family needs (Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Martinez & Velazquez, 2000; National PTA, 1997);
  3. Family training on positive family-child relationships (James & Partee, 2003; National PTA, 1997; Simmons, Stevenson, & Strnad, 1993);
  4. Staff development on welcoming and working collaboratively with families and students (Boethel, 2003; Espinosa, 1995; Kessler-Sklar & Baker, 2000; Kreider, 2002; National PTA, 1997);
  5. Supports and materials that reflect community diversity (Boethel, 2003; Furney & Salembier, 2000; Harry, 2002; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Lamorey, 2002; Martinez & Velazquez, 2000); and
  6. Referrals to community resources (Henderson & Mapp, 2002).

Youth, Families, and School Staff as Partners in Policy Development and Decision Making

Standard 4.4
Youth, families, and school staff are partners in the development of policies and decisions affecting youth and families.

Family involvement as well as training in program design, planning, and implementation are significant factors leading to positive youth outcomes (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, & Hawkins, 1998; Sanders et al., 1999; Simon, 2001). Research also indicates that parent participation and leadership in transition planning are important in successful transitions for youth with disabilities (DeStefano, Heck, Hasazi, & Furney, 1999; Furney, Hasazi, & DeStefano, 1997; Hasazi, Furney, & DeStefano, 1999; Kohler, 1993; Taymans, Corbey, & Dodge, 1995). Strategies for effective partnering of families, educators, and community members include:

  1. An accessible and understandable decision-making and problem-solving process for partners (National PTA, 1997);
  2. Dissemination of information about policies, goals, and reforms to families and students (Kohler, 2000; Lopez, 2002; National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research, 1999);
  3. Policies that respect diversity (Boethel, 2003; Harry, 2002; Kalyanpur, Harry, & Skrtic, 2000; Lamorey, 2002; National PTA, 1997);
  4. Adequate training for families on policy, reform, and related issues (James & Partee, 2003; National PTA, 1997); and
  5. The inclusion of students and families on decision-making, governance, and other program and school committees (Furney & Salembier, 2000; James & Partee, 2003; National PTA, 1997; Sanders et al., 1999).

Further, meaningful family involvement and participation must expand beyond the individual student level. Student and family involvement are important in making service systems and professionals aware of their needs (Gloss, Reiss, & Hackett, 2000). Family members can be fully included in the research process (Turnbull, Friesen, & Ramirez, 1998) and at all levels of policy and service delivery planning. Involving family members in the development and evaluation of federal, state, and local policies and practices helps assure that the services and supports available to youth with disabilities are of the highest quality (Federal Interagency Coordinating Council, 2000). In addition, research indicates that family participation and leadership in transition planning practices enhances the implementation of transition policy (President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). In order for family members to expand participation beyond their own child, they must have opportunities to increase their own knowledge and develop leadership skills.


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