Ask These Questions at Parents Night

Before you walk into back-to-school night, make sure you've done your homework (thats right, its not just for the kids!). Here are the top five questions to ask at back to school night to make sure you and your child have a successful school year.

September is the time of year when schools open their doors to parents and invite them inside the classroom. Parent-Teacher Night gives you a chance to meet your child's teachers and learn more about what she'll learn in the upcoming school year.

Before you walk into back-to-school night, do your homework. Ask these five questions at back-to-school night to make the upcoming school year a success.

1. How will you assess what my child knows?

Schools vary on the types of assessments that they do, and remember, assessment doesn't just mean tests! Some teachers do formative assessments, which means teachers are constantly checking in and monitoring your child's learning (e.g. by having students answer a question on an index card as they leave each afternoon). Other teachers evaluate projects, notes, or written assignments.

Most schools use standardized tests to complement school work, but these shouldn't be considered the only way to measure your child's skills. Also think about asking your child's teacher the following questions:

  • How does the school use the information garnered from standardized testing?

  • How does the school use that information to adjust their teaching?

  • How does the school identify students who may need help?

2. What's the best way to communicate with teachers and administrators?

Teachers are busy, so it's important to learn the best way to communicate. To make sure your questions or concerns are answered, ask the teacher if she prefers to be contacted by phone or email, and if there are specific days or times that she is more likely to be available than others. Some teachers even have office hours; those might be appropriate drop-in times for them to address your inquiries.

3. How can I stay on top of my child's homework?

Some teachers monitor their students' homework planners. If your child's classroom uses homework planners, then that's certainly the best place to start. Younger students may get a homework notebook for teachers to write in. Older students may have ways of getting their assignments online through tools like moodle, blackboard, and Google drive. Make sure to ask your child's teacher which method they use, so that both you and your child will always know where to turn. As a last resort, be sure you have at least two classmates' phone numbers, so you can contact them if your child is really stumped.

4. What support is available if my child is struggling academically?

Even if your child generally gets good grades, it's important for you to know what protocols your school has in place for identifying and assisting all students. How does the school figure out which students may need help? Once the school identifies a student as struggling academically, what are the next steps? Public schools are mandated to provide "Response to Intervention" (RTI), which necessitates that all struggling students receive effective instruction before being referred for a special education evaluation. See how RTI works at your child's public school. For private schools, does the school provide in-school support or make referrals to outside providers?

5. When and how does my child get supervision?

This is important for older students as well as younger ones. For older students, you want to clarify if they are allowed off the school grounds (and how you can provide or withhold permission for this). For younger students, confirm that even during less structured times like recess and lunch, someone is there to watch over their physical and emotional well-being.

Best of luck for a successful parent night!

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