Spanish-speaker surveys are a game-changer for family engagement in schools and communities where multilingual families speak Spanish. This article shares the outcomes of an anonymous survey exploring parent and family involvement in education, with insights from families who speak Spanish at home. The ability to respond to family engagement surveys in their preferred language gives parents and caregivers a concrete way to have a voice in their child’s education.
By April Hawkins, marketing manager, and Maya Sussman, senior director of product
School leaders know the importance of family partnership in education. Students thrive when there’s a strong connection between the home and the school. As we dive into the third school year affected by the pandemic, schools and families continue to combat its consequences, including learning loss and ongoing effects on children’s mental and physical wellbeing. Now more than ever, it is important for schools to rebuild their connections with families to better serve their students.
Feedback from families helps schools ensure that education programming actually meets the needs of parents, caretakers, guardians, and students. When schools then adapt their resources based on family input, it begins a positive feedback loop that ultimately benefits student learning.
Even before the pandemic, when I worked as an administrator at a chronically underperforming school district, family input was crucial to help staff understand if our initiatives were working. But creating that two-way communication wasn’t always easy. We served a diverse community that included immigrant parents, many of whom spoke Spanish as their native language.
Designed for families new to school in
the United States.
Available in Spanish, English,
and two Afghan languages
So we used a powerful tool to establish feedback loops with our multilingual families: surveys.
The Power of Surveys
Survey administration is an evidence-based practice for families to provide feedback and engage with schools in a safe space. A well-crafted survey can help you determine families’ attitudes and perceptions of schools. You can also use surveys to identify the resources families need most to support students’ learning at home and at school.
Watch Family Feedback from Afar to learn more about how surveys impact family engagement.
Surveys are also effective methods to engage multilingual families with your organization. When translated into multiple languages, surveys provide both English speakers and non-English speakers a powerful way to have an equal voice in education. In my school district, Spanish-speaking families in particular benefited from translated surveys as a way to participate and engage with our schools.
The phrase ‘Spanish-speaking’ is sometimes used interchangeably with terms like ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’, but these terms are far more complex with important nuances in both usage and cultural significance. In this article, we use the term ‘Spanish-speaking’ to simply indicate individuals that speak Spanish either as their native or primary language. This distinction is important because in the United States, the number of Spanish-speakers across these groups is expected to grow significantly. In a 2019 study, the Texas Demographic Center examined their state migration patterns from U.S. Census data between 2010-2015. Their forecast predicted that by 2050, Texas alone may have over 20 million Spanish-speaking families. To build strong bonds between home and school for Spanish-speaking families, organizations need to engage in culturally responsive family engagement.
Research shows that language barriers and cultural differences may prevent native Spanish speakers from engaging with their child’s classwork and even school-related activities.
Despite the growing number of such families, research shows that language barriers and cultural differences may prevent native Spanish speakers from engaging with their child’s classwork and even school-related activities. This is especially concerning for Spanish-speaking students, even when they are receiving a bilingual education. Schools need to establish practices that are culturally and linguistically accessible to help families navigate these challenges and build trust. Investing in efforts to connect schools and Spanish-speaking families can only benefit students.
High quality, thoughtful translation is a cornerstone of culturally responsive family engagement. Schools develop deeper trust with their multilingual families when they go beyond simply translating materials word-for-word. By offering family surveys in Spanish and translating questions for equivalent meaning, Spanish-speaking respondents can give your organization a fresh perspective on their needs and interests in their child’s learning. In turn, this provides you with an opportunity to show families whose primary language is Spanish that their voices matter and that you are truly listening to them.
Spanish Speaker Surveys Show Families’ Priorities
As part of our continuous improvement process at ParentPowered, we survey Ready4K families every quarter in multiple languages across the U.S.. This means every quarter we’re learning something new about how to better support our Spanish-speaking families.
We examined the results of our latest surveys and gained three insights that help us understand what matters most to Spanish-speaking families about student learning:
1. Text messages are ideal for sharing parenting information
When we asked how Ready4K compares to other parenting and school information they receive, Spanish-speaking parents and caregivers shared their strong preference for receiving this kind of information via text message. Their comments point out that text messages provide quick and easy access to this information.
“Me gusta porque es sencilla no ocupo correo electrónico 📧 o ir a la internet y la información es clara y sencilla. Gracias” (I like it because it’s simple, I don’t need email and I don’t have to go to the internet and the information is clear and simple. Thank you)
“Este método es ya bien a la mano✋🏾y no hay que buscar en papel o website y ya busca las estrategias con un dedo ☝🏽en el momento que necesites información.” (This method is right on hand and you don't have to search on paper or websites, you can look for strategies with just a finger whenever you need information.) “Otras te tienes que recordar y buscar la información” (For other [parenting advice] you have to remember and look for the information)
2. Parents and caregivers are hungry for new strategies to foster communication with their children
99% of Spanish-speaking families reported that Ready4K texts helped them improve how they communicate with their children (n=1558). Their comments highlighted specific communication strategies that have worked well for them, as well as lessons they’ve learned about the importance of strong parent-child communication.
“He aprendido a tener una mejor comunicación con mi hijo y compartir con él muchas cosas que lo han ayudado a crecer cada día. Como por ejemplo a ser bilingüe y crear un lazo fuerte entre nosotros.” (I have learned to have better communication with my son and have shared with him many things that have helped him grow every day. Like for example being bilingual and creating a strong bond between us.)
“Más que comunicarme con mi hijos me he aprendido a comunicar primero conmigo misma para así entenderlos a ellos” (More than communicating with my children, I have learned to communicate first with myself in order to better understand them)
“Que a veces puede tomar tan solo 3 min el poder establecer una comunicación de calidad” ([I’ve learned] that sometimes it can take as little as 3 minutes to be able to establish quality communication [with my child])
3. Family engagement benefits parents and caregivers too, not just kids
We know all parents want their children to succeed, and this desire motivates families to engage with their children’s learning at home and at school. But family engagement doesn’t just benefit kids – it’s clear from Spanish-speakers’ survey responses that spending time supporting their children’s learning and growth makes parents and caregivers feel confident and fulfilled.
“Para mí estos mensajes fueron excelentes tanto para mi como para mi hija y al mismo tiempo compartir sentimientos entre padres e hijas una experiencia bonita (These messages were excellent both for me and for my daughter. Sharing feelings between parents and children was a beautiful experience) “Me siento tranquila y confiada poder saber de mi hija muchas gracias x los mjs” (I feel calm and confident to be able to know about my daughter, thank you very much for the messages)
“Me siento más confiada en que estoy haciendo las cosas correctas para el bienestar de mi hijo. (I feel more confident that I am doing the right things for the well-being of my son…)”Ready4K Parent
A Positive Feedback Loop with Spanish-Speaking Families
It is clear that surveys are key when it comes to engaging communities with Spanish-speaking populations. But translating survey questions into languages beyond English is only one factor necessary to building this two-way communication channel with multilingual families. Whether you serve native speakers of Spanish or other languages, these tips can help you elevate your survey strategies and show families you care about their input.
1. Ask families which language they prefer for written communication
In our most recent survey, 99% of Spanish-speaking families said Ready4K texts were easy to read and understand (n=1704). When we followed up to learn more about what makes Ready4K so easy to understand, many families commented on the impact of receiving content in their preferred language:
“Me llegan en mi idioma y los entiendo al 100%, gracias” (I receive [Ready4K texts] in my language and I 100% understand them)]
“Son muy buenos ..nos hace de mucha ayuda por qué es en español” (They are very good ... it helps us a lot because it is in Spanish)
But it’s harder than it might seem to communicate with each family in their preferred language. Some of our partners don’t track families’ preferred languages. And those who do often gather this data by asking families what languages they speak at home, which may be different from the languages they prefer to receive written communication in.
When our partners enroll families in Ready4K, they can indicate each family’s preferred language, but we also give families an easy way to change the language of their Ready4K text messages. We’ve had hundreds of families take advantage of this option since we launched the feature earlier this year. And their choices might surprise you – for every batch of families who are enrolled in our English program and request to switch to Spanish messages, there is an equal number whose schools enrolled them in Spanish programs but who prefer to receive their Ready4K texts in English.
So if you want to hear from families through surveys or other methods, make sure you’re giving them the option to hear from you in their language of choice.
2. Determine your survey translation strategy
Conducting a survey in multiple languages is complicated, but necessary to ensure all of your multilingual families have the opportunity to give you their input. How you translate your survey instrument impacts how well you can engage with those survey respondents whose primary language is not English.
Typically, it is difficult to translate a survey question exactly to capture meaning and nuance. As a result, survey administrators will use one of two approaches when it comes to translation. The first method advocates for translating the words of the question as faithfully and literally as possible. This approach focuses on all survey respondents hearing the same question, regardless of language.
Prioritize equivalent meaning over word-for-word translation.
On the other hand, the second approach strives for equivalence in the meaning of the survey question – and requires taking cultural differences into account. The goal here is to translate the survey so that all respondents understand questions in the same way. The Pew Research Center uses this method to translate survey questions in most of their international studies.
If you serve communities that speak multiple languages, make sure you translate your survey questions into those languages and prioritize equivalent meaning over word-for-word translation. Offering your survey in multiple languages signals to those families that you want their feedback as well, regardless of their English proficiency.
At ParentPowered, we take cultural and linguistic differences into account when translating all of our materials for multilingual families, including surveys. You can learn more in our recent blog post, Culturally Responsive Family Engagement.
3. Include everyone’s voice
A big problem in the validity of survey data is having a representative sample – meaning the feedback collected is not reflective of your entire population. Survey participation greatly affects how representative your survey results are, so it is important to make every effort to include all voices represented in your community.
Remember, too, that a lack of participation in a survey often isn’t a reflection of disinterest. For families, there can be a lack of time, barriers like language or literacy, or a belief that their input won’t make a difference.
Here are a few ways you can make your surveys accessible, boost response rates, and ensure family feedback is representative of your communities.
- Level your text, both in the survey and in the request for feedback. In fact, leveling all of your parent messages will help you build that positive feedback loop. Take a look at our recent webinar Messages that Motivate for techniques to strengthen your communication with families.
- Enlist your staff. Make sure your English Language Learner and exceptional children specialists are sharing the request for input in their conversations with families. Of course, they should NEVER imply that services are in any way linked to participating in surveys. But these interactions are great opportunities to build trust around family feedback surveys and share how communication with your organization flows in both directions.
- Reach out to community groups for assistance. Organizations that interact with your multilingual families and have the trust of your families can be great advocates for your surveys and help improve response rates. Partner with these groups to spread the word about your surveys and how families can complete them.
- Use demographic questions when possible. These questions can help you evaluate your responses for accurate representation of your communities. That way, you can track the success of your outreach efforts and make any necessary changes.
In reality, full representation on any single survey is nearly impossible. Your best survey strategy is to have a plan for inclusion and to be vigilant in monitoring representation in your survey efforts.
4. Use in-text surveys for faster responses from all families
The last time I was in charge of a major survey administration in my district, it was the California School Parent Survey (CSPS) – a paper survey translated into over ten different languages. I lugged huge boxes of surveys to all 54 school sites, and my staff worked overtime in creative ways to help parents complete and return the survey. After all that hard work, even more time was needed to review and aggregate survey responses before we could take any action on family feedback.
Engaging families through paper, email, or even platform-based surveys is common practice, but these survey methods are cumbersome and slow. In-text surveys, on the other hand, offer a fast and easy way for families to share their feedback with schools. As ParentPowered learned from our quarterly family survey, text messages also prove to be an effective means of reaching multilingual communities.
Our partners use in-text surveys through the Ready4K Dashboard to learn more about the needs and interests of their Spanish-speaking families. For example, one of our partners recently asked families which support services were most important to them. By the end of the day they’d received replies from 20% of their Spanish-speaking families, indicating that they were most interested in receiving information about local free and low-cost family events and activities.
By the end of the day they’d received replies from 20% of their Spanish-speaking families
Another partner used a Ready4K survey to get families’ input on how to spend their remaining Title I funds. They learned that Spanish-speaking families were more excited about receiving school supplies for their children than attending a free book fair.
In-text surveys enabled these organizations to quickly gather family feedback, and to use that input to inform decisions about how to best support their families. These surveys were easy to set up and only took administrators minutes to send out, as compared to the weeks it might have taken to implement a new survey platform or distribute printed copies to each site.
Parents, caretakers, and guardians were also able to respond in seconds – no need to return a form, access the internet, or show up to an in-person meeting. Families appreciate how easy and quick in-text surveys can be. Organizations benefit from the fast turnaround time, which is essential for these survey results to be actionable.
5. Show families the impact of their input
Taking a survey, even a short one in your native language, is a chore. Your most engaged families may grow weary of giving their feedback, a phenomenon commonly called survey fatigue. One way that you can combat survey fatigue is by ensuring that you are transparent with your families – not only in your intent to use the data, but how the data has informed decision-making in your organization. Highlighting how family feedback has guided your actions shows families that you have listened to them and builds their trust in your organization.
For example, when you announce a program change, be sure to reference your family survey data. Just hearing “we’ve decided to add 2 new lunch distribution centers based on feedback from the last family survey” will help families feel like they are an important part of the process, regardless of what languages they may speak.
Again, it’s about creating a positive feedback loop of communication. You ask parents and caretakers for input, you use their input, and families see how their input makes a difference. Then families are more likely to provide input the next time you ask for it.
Reaching families in their preferred language matters
Surveys are a powerful way for organizations to engage Spanish-speaking populations and other multilingual families in students’ learning. Culturally responsive engagement can be pivotal in a student’s life and crucial for schools to reach families facing language barriers and cultural differences.
If you work with Spanish-speaking families, here are two resources you may find useful as you consider how to connect with them: