Increasing Parental Involvement

Posted on January 31st, 2012 by admin


Parents and teachers working together are crucial components in supporting children’s academic success. Consistency in a child-learning environment from parents and
teachers results in better attendance and homework habits (Quigley, 2000). The general literature reflects the kinds of parent involvement as including attending parent teacher conferences, telephone and written home-school communications, attending school functions, parents serving as classroom volunteers, homework assistance/tutoring, home educational enrichment, and parent involvement in decision making and other aspects of school governance (Cotton and Wikelund, 1989).


Over the past twenty some years, researchers have proven the importance of parental involvement in a child’s education. Much attention has been focused on ways of involving the parent in school activities, however, little has been written regarding how to better involve parents of students who are in special education. Research done by Gonzelez-Pienda, Gonzalez-Pumariega and Nunez, shows that academic self-concept was the variable most positively affected by parental involvement. This is relevant because in special education we often deal with students who have a low self concept and there is a direct relationship between self-concept and achievement (Gonzelez-Pienda, Gonzalez, & Nunez, 2002).

Finding new ways of involving special education parents is often difficult, but if we look to the literature, we find that almost any type of parental involvement will enhance the child’s chances of success in school. In fact, according to a study conducted  by James Griffith, parental involvement and empowerment combined accounted for the greatest amount of variance in student test performance and schools having higher levels of parental involvement and empowerment also had higher student criterion-referenced test (CRT) scores (Griffith, 1996).

“We also know that parents must be an active part of their children’s learning all the way through school.” William Jefferson Clinton, State of the Union Address, 1997

The U.S. Office of Education revisions of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.) completed in 1998, contained major changes specifically designed to increase the parent’s involvement in the educational process. The revisions required school districts to invite the parent to be involved in the diagnosis of the disability, determination of need for special education programs and services and the extent to which the child would receive these services. In addition, parents were to be invited to participate in any planning meeting held by educators regarding their child.

These changes were instituted because of the overwhelming evidence that parent involvement could improve the success of the child in school. There is a process that has been used for years in most of the center type special education programs, called the Transdisciplinary Service Delivery Model. Transdisciplinary service delivery is described as being fundamental to two beliefs: 1) children’s development must be viewed as integrated and interactive, and 2) children must be served within the context of the natural environment (regular classroom setting and home).. Transdisciplinary education focuses on identifying those instructional techniques that can be taught to others (teachers, parents, aides, other staff) and then utilizes these individuals to facilitate the instructional process. Thus, increasing dramatically the amount of input to the student.

Transdisciplinary also recognizes the parent as an important member of the team and relies heavily on a combination of consultative, monitoring and direct service delivery from the related service specialist as ways of supporting the parent (Woodruff and Sterzin, 1988). With transdisciplinary, the related service staff retains the responsibility for assessment and planning, but assumes a new role as that of teacher, consultant and monitor. In this new role, the related service staff is required to identify what they do that they can “give-up” to others. In doing so, those who assume the new responsibilities will be taught how to provide these services, supported by the related service staff. The emphasis on instruction in the natural environment (classroom and home) and on strengthening the role of the parent makes the transdisciplinary system a very I.D.E.A. friendly model.

In the Fall of 2003, I began a study project with special education staff at Gratiot Isabella Regional Educational Service District (RESD), located in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The Gratiot Isabella RESD serves several local school districts including rural, suburban and one urban district that includes a large State University. After a year of studying various models of delivery the staff and administration chose to adopt the Transdisciplinary service delivery model. The Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech,  Social Work and Teacher Consultant Staff implemented this model beginning in 2004.


This study began with an assessment of how related staff members were spending their professional time. The Task Analysis Survey was administered to four physical therapists, seven occupational therapists and thirteen speech pathologists. The resulting data showed that:

A) 30% of their time was spent on direct service delivery of one hour or more to one student.

B) 12% of the time was spent on consultative service delivery

C) 10% of the time was spent on attending Individual Education Planning (I.E.P) meetings

D) 9% of the time was spent on direct service delivery of thirty minutes or less

E) 8% of the time was spent on assessment

F) 8% of the time was spent on documentation

G) 23% of the time was spent on everything else including travel-time, staff-meetings, workshops, planning, phone conferences, Etc.

It was not surprising that a total of 39% of the time was spent on direct service, as this has traditionally been the way we have delivered related services to special education students. The problem is that direct service requires the staff person to travel to the student and usually involves a “pull-out” approach of delivery (e.g.: the student is pulled out of the classroom for service). The recent emphasis from the U.S. Office of Education toward keeping all special education students in a regular education environment diminishes the effectiveness of the pull-out model. Research studies indicate that pull-out types of delivery are no more effective than classroom-integrated therapy. (Case-Smith, Jane; Cable, Judy, 1996)


In their study of 216 school-based occupational therapists, Jane Case-Smith and Judy Cable(1996) found children are better served when provided a combination of direct, pull-out and classroom-integrated therapy and consultation with teachers. Illback and Nelson (1996) studied the integration for basic domains affecting psychologists’ practice which led to the development of a data base model of alternative school psychological services. Washington and Sachwartz (1994) describe the success of Transdisciplinary in early childhood programs.


Once a district or building has decided that they want to move to the transdisciplinary model, it is necessary to have the related service staff identify which of their duties should not be taught and transferred to others. Figures 1,2,3 show the result of a survey of 24 physical, occupational and speech therapists from Gratiot Isabella Regional Education Service District. In the second phase of the study, these related service staff were asked to document which of their current services could not be transferred to someone else; which could, and for those that could be transferred, who they could be transferred to and what training was required for this to work. As can be seen, there are many instructional tasks that could be transferred to and could easily be taught by the parent. It seems reasonable that we should be able to get the special education teachers to complete the same process of identifying those instructional activities and remediations that can be taught to the parent and finally taught by the parent to the child.



1. Dysphasia – PEG tube (Feeding) Certification; too dangerous; requires extensive training2. Cleft palate Requires extensive training; certification

3. In depth oral – motor that includes Requires extensive training analysis of motor components to be remediated.

4. Augmentative – Vocabulary Selection Certification; requires extensive  training – Set up of device initially Certification; requires extensive training

5. Artic – Ear training Certification; requires extensive  training – Initial training of child Certification; requires extensive training

6. Hearing impaired – Sign language Certification; requires extensive training

7. Speech valves Certification; too dangerous; requires extensive training

8. Diagnostic – Evaluations Certification

9. Modifying the plan goals Requires extensive training

10. Training & establishing placement and Requires extensive training production of sounds in a variety of concepts

11. Oral motor activities – not inclusive of Requires extensive training all exercises

12. Elements of disfluency treatment Too dangerous; requires extensive training; other (knowledge of counselling needed in some cases)

13. Initial training and establishing assistive Requires extensive training technology/programming

14. Voice therapy Requires extensive training

15. Assessment of all speech-language and Certification swallowing

16. Training of producing the appropriate Certification phoneme placement for tongue oral posturing

17. Development of goals – updating goals Certification

18. Any change of objectives would need to be approved


1. Aggressive range of motion Certification; too dangerous; requires extensive training

2. Joint mobilization Certification; too dangerous; requires extensive training

3. Evaluations/Assessments Certification; requires extensive training

4. Equipment acquisitions and adaptations Requires extensive training (athletics, positioning equipment, wheelchairs) training

5. Highly refined functional balance in Certification; too dangerous positions

6. Facilitation of new motor skills Certification; too dangerous (to develop appropriate Kinesiology)

7. Students who are making progress so Requires extensive training quickly that making treatment plan would be difficult

8. Postural drainage Too dangerous; requires extensive training

9. Gait training that requires facilitation Certification; requires extensive(hands on) to maximize results training

10. PNF techniques Requires extensive training

11. NDT techniques Requires extensive Training Myofacial release techniques Requires extensive training

13. Modalities Certification


1. PNF Requires extensive training

2. Splinting – PT Requires extensive training

3. SI-vestibular Too dangerous

4. Some feeding Too dangerous

5. Brachial Rlexis, PROM, Bn Hubones Too dangerous; requires extensive training

6. Testing

7. Adapt equipment (w/c) – PT

8 Oral motor swallowing

9. Instruction and teaching of pencil grasp, Certificationwriting position, use of adaptive equipment (slant board, etc.), seating and positioning

10. Oral motor/swallowing difficulties (except Certification; too dangerous; requires to speech therapy) extensive training

11. Splinting/orthodics Certification; too dangerous; requires (except P.T.’s) extensive training

12. Range of motion Certification; too dangerous; requires Exercises – Upper body – except extensive training P.T.’s

13. Instruction and teaching of integration/ Certification; requires extensive  sensory diet techniques training



In the Winter of 2005, I conducted a follow-up study which addressed special education teachers who were using the transdisciplinary approach. A total of 12 special education classrooms with six resource rooms and six self-contained classroom teachers were selected for a pilot study designed to probe several potential variables related to getting parents involved in their child’s education. The classrooms were equally representative of rural, suburban and urban school districts with six representing elementary level and six representing secondary level classrooms.

The first variable I looked at was the amount of training the teacher had received in parental involvement. Research shows that teachers who are prepared and taught how to involve parents into their classroom find they have better communication with parents (Quigley, 2000). All of the respondents had taught less than 10 years. Eighty four percent of the respondents indicated they had taken courses or workshops that dealt with involving parents in the their child’s education. None of the respondents indicated they had taken more than six total hours of courses or workshops dealing with parent involvement. When asked “What do you do when a parent won’t participate in transdisciplinary ? The majority of teachers participating in the survey (74%) indicated that they pushed the parent by sending suggested things home for them to do with the student.

Research by James Griffith (1996) indicates that parental involvement and empowerment combined accounts for the greatest amount of variance in student performance. I asked participating teachers “have you noticed any difference in standardized assessment scores with those students who are receiving transdisciplinary education?” Responses were quite varied with 33% of respondents saying “There is no change” and the remainder were equally spread between “The students are doing significantly better since receiving transdisciplinary”; “The students are doing significantly better since receiving transdisciplinary”; “The students are doing somewhat better since receiving transdisciplinary”; The students are doing worse”; and “There are mixed results”


A five year follow-up study of the original phase 1 study of related service staff in the Gratiot Isabella RESD was conducted in the Fall of 2009. The intent of the follow-up study was to measure any difference in service delivery time as compared to the measure taken in 2003 and after five years of implementing the Transdisciplinary Service Delivery Model across this RESD. Staff reported that approximately 84% of their time was spent providing Transdisciplinary Service Delivery to students, teachers and parents.

When asked “Please give your general opinion of the Transdisciplinary Service Delivery Model” staff gave the following responses:

1. “Very good opportunity for collaboration.”

2. “I believe in the Transdisciplinary model. I believe it works well if the teacherbuys into it. It is a little difficult to use regular education where there isn’t any
para-pro staff to implement plans.”

3. “Great idea when you are in a room with consistent trained staff working closely together. In the gen. ed. setting, I provide suggestions to teachers or give some
practice folders, but I don’t set up classroom lessons…not time effective to regularly meet to plan with ALL teachers.”

4. “Have a whole team at a table is one of the most effective tools we have. We can bounce ideas of each other faster and get more things done.”

5. “This model is very effective. I try to be in the classroom as much as possible at the pre-school level in order to provide input & suggest ways that students’
speech & language needs can be met during classroom routines. I provide therapy on a weekly basis to many of my older students, so consulting with the classroom teacher and staff allows them to carry out my intervention techniques throughout the rest of the week. Meeting with other therapists also allows for a more comprehensive approach to meeting the students’ goals & objectives.”

6. “It works well if you have cooperation and the appropriate atmosphere.”

7. “I think it can be a very effective model of service. Unfortunately, we have not been given time in our schedules to implement this better way of service


The last two comments (6 and 7) above, point out two of the common problems with the transdisciplinary model. Having an “appropriate atmosphere” includes such things as classroom teacher and parent willingness to assume instructional responsibility. This can often be accomplished through in-service education and incentives such as gift certificates or awards.


At the present time, although there is overwhelming evidence that parental involvement can significantly improve students success in school, the evidence that a Transdisciplinary service delivery approach will significantly impact the progress of special education students, is not substantiated. Although it seems quite likely that having the special education teachers and related service staff provide the parent with educational activities to use with the child at home will improve the child’s self-concept and skill levels, there is not sufficient research to prove this. There is a definite need for a large-scale study to measure the effectiveness of the transdisciplinary method. Future study should address the importance of teacher in-service in how to involve parents using a transdisciplinary approach, the amount of training time dedicated to the parent, parental perceptions vs. teacher perceptions and finally whether any positive or negative change occurs in the student standardized test scores.


Robert Cross holds a BA, MA and Ph.D. from Michigan State University. He has served as a Full Professor of Graduate Special Education, Director of Special Education, Chair of Educational Leadership, Chair of Graduate Studies and Professor of Education Foundations at Grand Valley State University for the past twenty-five years. His prior experience includes service as an Executive Director of Special Education for a consortium of seven large school districts in Michigan and as Assistant Professor of Psychology and Education. Dr. Cross has authored numerous articles and most recently has spent his time studying Transdisciplinary Service Delivery Systems as a means of improving services to special education students.



Cotton, Kathleen and Wikelund, Karen Reed, Parental Involvement in Education. Northwest Educational Educational Laboratory, May 1989.

Cross, Robert J., (2003); The Transdisciplinary Service Delivery Model; A Paper Presented to the Oxford Roundtable on Special Education ( Oxford, England, April, 2003).

Gonzelez-Pienda, J.A.; Gonzalez-Pumariega, S.; & Nunez, J.C. (2002). A structural equation model of parental involvement, motivational and aptitudinal characteristics and academic achievement. The Journal of Experimental Education, 70, 257-287.

Griffith, James (September/October 1996). Retention of Parental Involvement,Empowerment, and School Traits to Student Academic Performance. The Journal of Educational Research, 90, 33-42.

Quigley, Denise D. ( March 2000). Parents and Teachers Working Together to Support Third Grade Achievement: Parents as Learning Partners (PLP) Findings.Presented at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association ( New Orleans, LA, April 24-28, 2000).

Woodruff, Geneva and Sterzen, Elaine Durkot; Transagency Approach; Children Today, May 1988; 17,3.

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