An Analysis of the Implementation and Perceived Effectiveness of the SchoolMAX Family Portal

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Warren Wesley Watts, Doctor of Education, 2015

Directed By: Margaret J. McLaughlin, Ph.D. Department of Counseling, Higher Education and Special Education

School districts have spent millions of dollars implementing student information systems that offer family portals with web-based access to parents and students. One of the main purposes of these systems is to improve school-to-home communication. Research has shown that when school-to-home communication is implemented effectively, parent involvement improves and student achievement increases (Epstein, 2001).

The purpose of the study was to (a) understand why parents used or refrained from using the family portal and (b) determine what barriers to use might exist. To this end, this descriptive study identified the information parent users accessed in the SchoolMAX family portal, determined how frequently parents accessed the portal, and ascertained whether parents perceived an increase in communication with their children about academic matters after they began accessing the portal. Finally, the study sought to identify whether barriers existed that prevented parents from using the family portal.  

The inquiry employed three data sources to answer the aforementioned queries. These sources included (a) a survey sent electronically to 19,108 parents who registered online for the SchoolMAX family portal; (b) SchoolMAX portal usage data from the student information system for system usage between January 1, 2015 and June 30, 2015; and (c) a paper survey sent to 691 parents of students that had never used the SchoolMAX family portal in one elementary school, one middle school and one high school that were representative of other schools in the district. 

Survey results indicated that parents at all grade levels used the family portal. Usage data also confirmed that approximately 19% of the students had parents who monitored their progress through the family portal. Usage data also showed that parents were monitoring approximately 25% of students in secondary schools (6th – 12th grade) and 16% of students in elementary schools. Of the wide menu of resources available through the SchoolMAX family portal, parents used three areas most frequently: attendance, daily grades, and report cards.

Approximately 70% of parents responded that their communication had improved with their children about academic matters since they started using the SchoolMAX family portal, and 90% of parents responded that the SchoolMAX family portal was an effective or somewhat effective tool. Parents also expressed interest in the addition of additional information to the SchoolMAX family portal. Specifically, the top three additions parents wanted to see included homework assignments, high stakes test scores, and graduation requirements. Parents also reported that 92% of them spoke to their children at least 2 to 3 times per week about academics.

Due to the low response rate of the parent non-user survey, potential barriers to using the SchoolMAX family portal could not be addressed in this study. However, this issue may be a useful research topic in a future study. 

Keywords: school to home communication, student information systems, family portal, parent portal