The parent factor in student performance

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Indicators and Analysis Division, Directorate for Education

The latest PISA report Let’s Read Them a Story! The Parent Factor in Education has just been published.

When it comes to parents’ involvement in their child’s education, is there really such a thing as “quality time”?

Evidence from PISA, highlighted in this issue of  PISA in Focus, suggests there is. Parents who are concerned that they don’t have enough time–or, for that matter, expertise–to help their children succeed at school can find some comfort in knowing that it doesn’t take a PhD or unlimited hours to make a difference in their children’s school career. What it does take is genuine interest and active engagement in their children’s lives.

For example, students whose parents reported, through a PISA questionnaire, that they had read a book with their child “every day or almost every day” or “once or twice a week” during their child’s first year of primary school had markedly higher reading scores in PISA 2009, when those children were 15, than students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child “never or almost never” or only “once or twice a month”. That difference in score averaged 25 points–or well over half a year of formal schooling–across the 14 countries with comparable data.

Often, differences in performance at school are strongly associated with students’ socio-economic backgrounds. But in this case, even when students from similar backgrounds are compared, those whose parents regularly read books to them when they were in the first year of primary school score 14 points higher, on average, than students whose parents did not.

When it comes to helping older children, parents don’t need to worry about their own abilities in, say, geometry or chemistry. PISA findings show that even such non-academic parent-child activities as “discussing books, films or television programmes”, “discussing how well children are doing at school”, “eating main meals together around the table” and “spending time just talking with one’s children” are also associated with better student reading performance in school. For example, according to PISA results, students whose parents discuss political or social issues with them either weekly or daily score 28 points higher in reading, on average, than those whose parents discuss these issues less often or not at all. And when socio-economic background is taken into account, the score point advantage drops, but remains important–16 score points–and is seen in all participating countries and economies, except Hungary.

In effect, PISA results confirm what most parents know intuitively: children–of all ages–benefit from their parents’ active interest in them. And PISA also shows that it’s not the quantity of time that makes the difference, but rather the depth of parental engagement.

For more on PISA, go to the website:

Photo credit: Neeta Lind

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