By April Hawkins, marketing manager, and Maya Sussman, senior director of product; edited by Maren Madalyn
Spanish speaker surveys for families are a game-changer for 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.
Education leaders know the importance of equitable family partnerships in education. Students thrive when there’s a strong connection between the home and the school environments. And nothing illustrated how vital this collaboration is for learning than the challenging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To this day, schools and families continue to combat its consequences, including learning loss and ongoing effects on children’s mental and physical well-being. Now more than ever, schools must rebuild their connections with families and ensure that their communities’ voices are included in the learning journey. That way, all students have the best chance of thriving.
Feedback from families helps schools ensure that education programming actually meets the needs of parents, caretakers, guardians, and students. When schools adapt their resources and strategies for student learning based on family input, it begins a positive feedback loop that ultimately benefits the entire school community.
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. Creating equitable family engagement for these and other multilingual families was essential for our students’ success.
So we used a powerful tool to establish feedback loops with our Spanish-speaking parents and other bilingual families: surveys.
The Power of Surveys for Bilingual Children and Families
Survey administration is an evidence-based practice for families to share their feedback and engage with their schools in a safe space. A well-crafted survey can help educators determine parental perceptions and attitudes toward school and their child’s learning journey. Education leaders can also use surveys to identify which resources families need most to support their students to continue learning at home as well as at school.
Surveys are also effective methods to engage bilingual families in 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 their child’s education.
In my school district, Spanish-speaking families in particular benefited from bilingual surveys. They served as a way to participate and engage with our schools, regardless of a parent’s English proficiency level. In turn, by creating Spanish parent surveys, our team gained greater access to parent perceptions and input.
Before we venture further, let’s take a step back and clarify a few terms related to multilingual education and family engagement.
The phrase ‘Spanish speaker’ 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 speaker’ 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.
Challenges with Spanish speaker surveys for families
Despite the growing number of such families, research shows that language barriers and cultural differences may prevent native Spanish speakers and other bilingual families from engaging in their child’s classwork and other school-related activities. This is especially concerning for Spanish-speaking students, even when they are receiving a bilingual education. Schools need to establish language practices that are culturally and linguistically accessible to help families navigate these challenges and build trust with their schools. 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.
For example, by offering Spanish speaker surveys for families with questions translated for equivalent meaning, 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 that their voices matter and that you are truly listening to them — regardless of their English proficiency level.
A Positive Feedback Loop with Spanish-Speaking Families
It is clear that bilingual surveys are key when it comes to engaging with Spanish-speaking communities. But translating survey questions into additional 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 from the ParentPowered team 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
Without a doubt, communicating with families in a language that they are comfortable navigating matters. Our most recent Ready4K survey results point to this important factor. 99% of Spanish-speaking families shared 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 languages:
“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 according to their language preferences. 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 in which they prefer to receive written communication.
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. 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 — whether it’s their primary language or not.
2. Determine your survey translation strategy
Conducting a survey in multiple languages is complicated, but necessary to ensure all multilingual families have the opportunity to give you their input. How you translate your survey instrument, both with respect to language and cultural identity, 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.
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 the 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 dual language learners and their families, make sure you prioritize translating for equivalent meaning over word-for-word matching. Offering your survey in multiple languages signals to those families that you want all parent perceptions — and that a parent’s English language usage has nothing to do with the value of their input. Read our recent post to learn more about culturally responsive family engagement best practices.
3. Include everyone’s voice
A big challenge with validating 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 to have both a representative and adequate sample size.
Remember, too, that a lack of participation in a survey often isn’t a reflection of disinterest. It may not even reflect other barriers like English linguistic skills. For families, they might face challenges such as a lack of access to the survey or even a lack of resources like time. Parents may even hold a belief that their input won’t make a difference in their children’s education.
Here are a few ways you can craft accessible bilingual surveys, boost response rates, and capture a representative sample size of family feedback from 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. Watch our recent webinar 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 with families, the goal of all strategies for equitable family engagement. It also gives you space to share how communication with your organization flows in both directions.
- Reach out to community groups for assistance. Community organizations that interact with your multilingual families already have the trust of your community. They can be great advocates for your family surveys and help improve response rates. Partner with these groups to spread the word about your feedback surveys and how families can complete them.
- Use demographic questions when possible. These questions help you evaluate your responses to ensure you have an accurate representation of feedback from your communities. That way, you can track the success of your outreach efforts and make any necessary changes to increase or diversify your sample size accordingly.
In reality, 100% representation on any single survey is nearly impossible. Your best strategy is to have a plan for inclusion and to be vigilant in monitoring representation across all of 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 these surveys to all 54 public school campuses. My staff worked overtime on creative ways to help parents complete and return the survey. After all that hard work, more time was needed to review and aggregate survey responses before we could take any action on our 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 latest 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 first day, they received replies from over 20% of their Spanish-speaking families! And a pattern emerged quickly: many parents wanted to receive information about local free and low-cost family events and activities.
Another partner used a Ready4K survey to collect parental perceptions on how to spend their district’s 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 dual language learners and families. These surveys were easy to set up and only took administrators minutes to send out, as compared to the weeks that a new survey platform or printed paper copies might require. Families of children in these organizations 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 to make these survey results actionable.
5. Show families the impact of their input
Taking any 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 about your intent for using the data but also about how parental perceptions informed decision-making 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
Spanish speaker surveys for families are a powerful way for organizations to engage these and other multilingual families in their 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 families that speak Spanish, here are two resources you may find useful as you consider how to connect with them:
- Ponerse en contacto
- Bienvenidos a la escuela en los Estados Unidos
- Desarrollando una estrecha comunicanción son su adolescente
Want to learn more about Spanish speaker priorities? Read on below to see the latest results from our Ready4K quarterly family surveys!
Ready4K Results: Spanish Speaker Surveys for Families
As part of our continuous improvement process at ParentPowered, we survey Ready4K families every quarter across the U.S. This means that every quarter, our team learns something new about how to better support our Spanish-speaking families.
Here are three major patterns we found in feedback from the latest Spanish parent surveys — use these insights as inspiration for your own multilingual efforts with Spanish-speaking communities!
1. Text messages are ideal for sharing parenting information
When we asked how Ready4K compares to other parenting and school information they receive, Spanish speakers 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.
“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)
“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)Ready4K Parent
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 speaker 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