Parent Involvement and Student Achievement at the Middle Level

Does parent involvement increase student achievement at the middle level?

Although extensive research linking parent involvement to a variety of positive student outcomes has been conducted at virtually all grade levels, educators’ understanding of this link has been significantly shaped by the predominance of studies at the elementary level. The focus of this research summary is to provide insights grounded in middle level studies that have application locally.

A General Perspective of the Research

Parent involvement, as used throughout this summary, refers to either (a) voluntary involvement in the school or (b) planned, goal-oriented programs of school, family, and community partnerships that are organized and implemented to engage all parents in their children’s education. The term “parent involvement” will be used to reference studies that are primarily related to voluntary involvement. The term “parent involvement program” will be used to describe purposeful programs of school, family, and community partnerships.

K-12 studies linking parent involvement with a variety of student cognitive and affective outcomes are quite extensive (Cotton & Wikelund, 1989; Desimone, 1999). Parent involvement has been linked with student outcomes including increased achievement test results, a decrease in dropout rate, improved attendance, improved student behavior, higher grades, higher grade point average, greater commitment to schoolwork, and improved attitude toward school.

Recent research reviewing historical trends in parent involvement and student achievement point out the inconsistency of those findings by documenting apparent improvements in achievement while other studies do not support a relationship (Keith, 1993; McNeal, 1999). Previous studies have shown that parent involvement patterns vary according to parents’ social, racial/ethnic, and economic characteristics (Catsambas & Garland, 1997; Hoover-Dempsy, Bassler, & Brissie, 1987; Muller & Kerbow, 1993); but the findings have been mixed (Desimone, 1999, p. 13). More recent parent involvement studies have pointed out important concerns with research methodology and interpretation of results (Baker & Soden, 1998; Thorkildsen & Stein, 1998). Less is understood about the effects of parent involvement on student learning at the middle level (Balli & Demo, 1998; Brough, 1997; Keith, 1993; Rutherford, 1995; Trivette & Anderson, 1995) because elementary studies have dominated the research.

Summary of Middle Level Research Findings

What we have learned from our review is that making a broad generalization that parent involvement results in increased student achievement clearly understates the complexity of the issue. A review of the literature shows that student achievement outcomes differ based on: (a) the particular component of parent involvement and whether this data was parent- or student-reported; (b) the achievement measure(s) used (e.g. achievement test scores, grades, G.P.A.); (c) the cultural or racial/ethnic groups involved; (d) the subject matter (e.g. mathematics, reading, science) being tested; (e) income levels of the parents; and (f) gender of the parents.

For a better understanding of research, we have adapted Epstein’s typology of parent involvement as a framework to organize the findings on this complex issue of parent involvement and student achievement (Epstein, 1995). Epstein’s typology and terminology are predominant throughout the middle level research. Epstein’s typology includes 6 categorizations: (1) Parenting; (2) Communicating; (3) Volunteering; (4) Learning at Home; (5) Decision Making; and (6) Collaborating with Community. The sixth type is not discussed in this summary because it is more directly associated with community involvement.

Type 1: Parenting practices at home

While TV viewing (e.g. rules) has no direct effect on student achievement, it is impacted indirectly and positively through some complex mechanism of parenting practices (Keith, 1993). Although studies have questioned whether parenting practices are within the appropriate sphere of influence of the schools, existing successful programs that promote effective parenting practices that address this issue may be considered.

Findings seem to suggest that there is a relationship between student-reported rules and increases in reading achievement (Desimone, 1999). Parent-reported rules predicted a decrease in student achievement among nonminority students, which some researchers believe reflects parent attempts to help the child when the child is having difficulty. If this is the case, perhaps more proactive parent involvement would avoid a decrease in achievement scores. However, this approach may be tempered by the differences in parental ability (e.g. parent education level) and available resources, such as time (Muller, 1995), to help their children. This would account for the differences in achievement results when parent education is considered. In order to address this, perhaps identifying alternative middle level educational support systems perceived as positive by adolescents might be considered. Parent involvement programs that use parent and student self-reports as a way to determine the level of parent involvement and its effects should be aware that student reports (i.e. student perceptions) are better predictors of student outcomes than parent reports (Desimone, 1999).

In a study of a parent involvement program, Epstein, Simon, and Salinas (1997) reported that families of middle grades students could be involved in learning activities at home. Their study of the TIPS-Language Arts program documented that with interactive homework designed by teachers and conducted by students, most families in inner-city middle schools were informed about and involved in their children’s education on a regular schedule. The program included parents who would not otherwise have become involved.

Type 2: Communicating between school and home

Research suggests that the association between school-home communication and student achievement was relatively small (Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996) and outcomes varied to some degree by race and whether the desired outcomes were standardized scores or student grades. Grades are slightly more impacted than achievement test scores (Desimone, 1999), which may be the result of parent(s) communicating with the school and/or teacher at the time grades were impacted. McNeal (1999) indicates that because school-home communication and levels of parent involvement vary by race and income level, this suggests that some groups may feel more comfortable communicating with the school than others. This implies that parent involvement programs should develop positive communication strategies unique to the context of their own community. Parent involvement programs that review and adapt effective strategies used by schools with similar family and community background characteristics might be beneficial.

Type 3: Volunteering or being an audience at school

The association between volunteering and fundraising and student achievement appears to vary by race and family income. Volunteering was almost twice as predictive of grades as achievement test scores (Desimone, 1999). While the reasons are not clear, the findings suggest that there is a small overall relationship between this component of parent involvement and student scores (Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996). However, volunteering or fundraising on the part of white and middle-income parents was associated with increases in mathematics and reading scores but was not significant for African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and low-income students (Desimone, 1999).

Type 4: Learning activities to involve parents with students at home

Desimone (1998), referring to studies by Muller, and Schneider & Coleman, concluded that school-level involvement had less effect on achievement than parent-child involvement. The findings show that parent-child discussion is significantly related to increased achievement for whites and African-Americans; however, the link was not significant for Hispanics or Asians (McNeal, 1999). Sui-Chu & Willms (1996) found that home discussion of school activities was one of the stronger predictors of student achievement (Balli & Demo, 1998). Although the dynamics of parent-child discussion about school are not clearly understood, studies suggest parent-child discussion, focusing on middle level age students, is another area where parent involvement programs might make a difference.

The employment status of mothers affects child supervision after school, the nature of parent-child activities during this time, and the degree to which the parent is able to become involved in after-school activities such as P.T.O. Better availability of supervised after-school activities for adolescents, flexible work schedules that permit parents to participate in school functions, and school policies that accommodate working parents are three areas for possible improvement (Muller, 1995).

Parent(s) helping students with homework or checking homework had a negative relationship with achievement (Wang & Wildman, 1994). Some researchers believe this is an intervention strategy or a negative outcome of parental monitoring of an adolescent seeking his or her own independence. The findings suggest that perhaps a more proactive parent stance might prevent problems before they occur. Providing alternative school-based strategies for assisting adolescents with their homework in ways they find acceptable might be considered. The negative relationship may simply be due to parents who are trying to help a student who needs help.

Based upon initial findings from parent involvement programs, students’ academic work and attitudes improve when students conduct interactive homework with family members (Epstein, Simon, & Salinas, 1997; Sanders, in press).

Type 5: Decision making, governance, and advocacy roles

Parent involvement research studies distinguish between P.T.O. attendance and P.T.O. involvement, which suggests some degree of responsibility and participation in decision making. P.T.O. attendance or parent volunteering was associated with very small effects on reading and mathematics achievement (Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996). P.T.O. involvement findings vary to some degree by subject matter tested, income level, and race. Although the effect of parent P.T.O. attendance and involvement is not clearly understood, it has been suggested that P.T.O. involvement may mitigate some of the negative effects related to racial/ethnic barriers and differences by providing opportunities for governance and advocacy roles (Desimone, 1999). Parent involvement programs that encourage and support involvement of low-income parents in parent/school organizations may provide better insight about the value of such involvement.


Although the dynamics of parent involvement and student achievement at the middle level are not clearly understood, current efforts of purposeful parent involvement programs such as those of the National Network of Partnership Schools provide promising strategies for making a difference. These recently evolving programs have the potential to make a difference and are expected to provide substantive data over the new few years to effectively document their worth. The leadership of every middle level school, regardless of school enrollment size or community socio-economic composition, has an obligation to engage in discussions about purposeful parent involvement programs. There is no evident research documenting a negative effect as a result of the implementation of a well-designed parent involvement program and there is an initial body of literature and research supporting the value of such programs. A general Web search or a direct link to the National Network of Partnership Schools Web site at is an excellent starting point.

Suggested Resources

The writers of this document suggest two resources for educators considering parent involvement programs. The National Network of Partnership Schools Web site mentioned in the summary paragraph is an excellent source of specific information about parent involvement programs. An additional source would be Judith Brough’s chapter on “Home-School Partnerships” in National Middle School Association’s book entitled What Current Research Says to the Middle Level Practitioner (1997, Judith Irvin, editor), available through NMSA by phone order or online order at

  • Baker, J. L., & Soden, L. M. (1998). The challenges of parent involvement research. (Report No. EDO-UD-98-4). New York, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 419 030).
  • Balli, S. J., Demo, D. H., & Wedman, J. F. (1998). Family involvement with children’s homework: An intervention in the middle grades. Family Relations, 47(2), 149-157.
  • Brough, J. A. (1997). Home-school partnerships: A critical link. In What Current Research Says to the Middle Level Practitioner (pp. 265-274) (Judith Irvin, Ed.). Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
  • Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. (1989). Turning points: Preparing American youth for the 21st century. Washington, DC: Author.
  • Cohen, D. L. (1994). Parent involvement drops off after early grades. Education Week, 14(1), 6.
  • Cotton, K, & Wikelund, K. R. (1989). Parent involvement in education. School Improvement Research Series [Online]. Available:
  • Desimone, L. (1999). Linking parent involvement with student achievement: Do race and income matter? The Journal of Educational Research, 93(1), 11-30.
  • Eccles, J. S., & Harold, R. D. (1993). Parent-school involvement during the early adolescent years. Teachers College Record, 94(3), 568-587.
  • Epstein, J. L. (1995). School/family/community partnerships: caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(9), 701-712.
  • Epstein, J. L., Simon, B. S., & Salinas, K. C. (1997). Involving parents in homework in the middle grades. Research Bulletin, No. 18. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa/Center for Evaluation, Development, and Research.
  • Keith, T. Z., Keith, P. B., Troutman, G. C., Bickley, P. G., Trivette, P. S., & Singh, K. (1993). Does parental involvement affect eighth-grade student achievement? Structural analysis of national data. School Psychology Review, 22(3), 474-496.
  • McNeal, R. B. (1999). Parental involvement as social capital: Differential effectiveness on science achievement, truancy, and dropping out. Social Forces, 78(1), 117-144.
  • Muller, C. (1995). Maternal employment, parent involvement, and mathematics achievement among adolescents. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 57(1), 95-100.
  • National Middle School Association. (1995). This we believe: Developmentally responsive middle level schools (pp. 5-8). Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
  • National Network of Partnership Schools [Online]. Available:
  • Rutherford, B., & Billig, S. H. (1995). Eight lessons of parent, family, and community involvement in the middle grades. Phi Delta Kappan, 77(1), 64-68.
  • Sanders, M. G. (in press). Schools, families, and communities partnering for middle level students’ success. National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Alliance of Middle Level Schools Monograph Series. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.
  • Sanders, M. G., & Simon, B. (1999). Progress and challenges: Comparing elementary, middle and high school in the National Network of Partnership Schools. Paper presented at the American Education Research Association Annual Conference in Montreal.
  • Sui-Chu, E. S., & Willms, J. D. (1996). Effects of parental involvement on eighth-grade achievement. Sociology of Education, 69, 126-141.
  • Thorkildsen, R., & Stein, M. R. (1998). Is parent involvement related to student achievement? Exploring the evidence. Research Bulletins Online [Online], 22. Available:
  • Trivette, P., Anderson, E., Singh, K., Bickley, P., Keith, T. Z., & Keith, P. B. (1995). The effects of four components of parental involvement on eighth grade student achievement: Structural analysis of NELS-88 data. School Psychology Review, 24(2), 299-317.
  • Wang, J., & Wildman, L. (1994). The effects of family commitment in education on student achievement in seventh grade mathematics. Education, 115(2), 317-319, 271.
Research Summary Coordination/Preparation

This Research Summary was developed by the staff of the Middle Level Leadership Center (MLLC). The mission of the Center is to provide research and service to middle level education. To accomplish that mission, Center staff members work with national organizations, such as National Middle School Association, to disseminate research information about middle level education. MLLC is a program in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri-Columbia.


The authors of this research summary are Dr. Ronald Kettler, Research Assistant at the Middle Level Leadership Center, and Dr. Jerry Valentine, Center Director. Stephen Lucas and Mark Miles, graduate assistants in the Center, provided additional assistance in the development of this monograph.

Manuscript Review Process

Manuscripts prepared for this Research Summary Series are reviewed by scholars with expertise in the summary topic. This review/referee process provides the opportunity for authrs to receive feedback for manuscript refinement, and provides the editor with information necessary to determine the professional quality of the manuscript and the appropriateness of the manuscript for publication. The editor wishes to thank Dr. Joyce Epstein for serving as an external reviewer of this research summary.


Manuscripts prepared for this Research Summary Series are reviewed by scholars with expertise in the summary topic. This review/referee process provides the opportunity for authrs to receive feedback for manuscript refinement, and provides the editor with information necessary to determine the professional quality of the manuscript and the appropriateness of the manuscript for publication. The editor wishes to thank Dr. Joyce Epstein for serving as an external reviewer of this research summary.

Research Summary Development and Submissions

The Research Committee of the National Middle School Association, working in conjunction with NMSA staff, determines the topics for the NMSA Research Summary Series. Inquiries about future topics and interest in manuscript preparation should be made by email to the series Editor, Professor Jerry Valentine at We are always interested in any findings from valid research that might enrich existing summaries. Individuals with information should contact Dr. Valentine at the above email address.


Published in 2000 by the National Middle School Association.