How Text Messaging Can Improve Student Performance

A brand new research study from Columbia University finds that parents who receive text message alerts regarding their child’s missed assignments, grades, and class absences saw significant reductions in course failures and increased class attendance.

An experiment involving 22 West Virginia middle and high schools trialed a texting alert system that sent automated messages to parents whenever their child missed assignments, skipped a class, or was in jeopardy of failing a course.

Peter Bergman and Eric Chan of Columbia University report reductions in course failures of 39% and improved class attendance by 17% due to the text messaging system. Bergman and Chan said the system was most helpful for struggling students who saw their GPAs improved by one-quarter point on a four-point scale.

Parental involvement in a child’s schoolwork can be a powerful determinant of academic achievement, and lots of research demonstrates that point. Most policymakers attribute lack of involvement to things like the parent’s education history or income status. However, these researchers believe just increasing information accessibility goes a long way to improving performance. 

The study attempts to reduce information problems that make it difficult for parents to remain up to date on their child’s schoolwork. This issue especially impacts schools serving a large percentage of low-income students whose parents may not possess extensive knowledge about using technology.

Bergman and Chan also included a survey of parents asking them about their communication habits with the school, their perception of their child’s academic performance, and communication habits with their child. Based on the results, improved parent-school communications is one of the biggest conclusions drawn by the researchers.

Parents often have a biased outlook on how their child is doing in school relative to their peers, especially among the lowest performing students. The text messaging system helped eliminate bias by giving parents a clear picture of exactly how their child performs in the classroom.

The alerts are also cost effective compared to alternatives that attempt to improve student achievement. The study estimates the cost of implementing the entire system and training for use would cost $7 per student. 

Parts of the research, however, proved that a text alert system would not be a cure-all solution for parental involvement. All of the positive results provided by the study came from the high school level with no significant improvements made from middle-schoolers.

Concerns still remain about how willingly parents will adopt this method, and questions over frequency, timing, and amount of information to include in the message, but the initial evidence is positive. If the technology is accessible to parents, it’s low cost, and generally produces positive results, that certainly seems like something more school districts should consider adopting.

Parents receive alerts about their finances, breaking news, weather, and sports, so why should their child’s grades be any different?  

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