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Parent Gauge™ A Tool In Support of a Movement

Parent Gauge™ Created By Practitioners for Practitioners…
Parent Gauge™ is a new tool created for Head Start practitioners working with parents and those who guide their work. We are proud to share that Parent Gauge™ is unique in that it is a tool created by practitioners for practitioners in partnership with some very  talented scientists. It was created in response to the question we asked ourselves with regularity “Do we have to accept that most measures we use in our work with families are used because they are the easiest to measure, rather than the most important thing to measure?” What would one day become Parent Gauge™ was conceived in a Board meeting of the Region V Head Start Association in late 2013. A creative group, we seized on this question and it fed our curiosity and creativity. 
We knew of a world-class resource at the University of Chicago, known as NORC, a $35 million per year research group with very high credibility among both their peers and the funding and regulatory communities. They have done important research work for the Office of Head Start among many others. They entered into preliminary discussions with us regarding the possibility of creating a scientifically valid and reliable instrument for Head Start and Early Head Start staff working with parents. The vision was to create an instrument that would provide practitioners working with parents reliable data to examine how families see themselves functioning and how Head Start staff…and the Head Start experience for that family… has impacted them. With Parent Gauge™, parents self report the outcomes of their efforts and the efforts of Head Start staff.
After months of exploration, it appeared that it was feasible to move forward with this project and work to develop the tool so much needed in our work. From the beginning, we were committed to retaining practitioner control of the project and carefully avoided requesting funding from any governmental entity or vendor. The project was launched with a $60,000 investment by the Region V Association. It was further funded with a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation procured by National Head Start Association (NHSA) and further generous funding of $330,000 from the Rainin Foundation based in Oakland California. The Region V Association developed a partnership with NHSA to advance the project and representatives of Region V and NHSA took part in weekly meetings with the NORC staff to provide support and information from the field.
The process of creating a valid and reliable instrument is arduous, including doing a review of all tools available in the field; the creation and careful involvement of an Expert Review Panel to assure the high standards of the work and contribute to its quality; field testing items to be included as questions and further field testing of the process of using such a tool. The oversight group met an average of 40+ times per year for over 3 years in order to develop a tool that would enhance the work of the talented Head Start and EHS staff working with parents across the country.
We were careful to align the instrument with Office of Head Start (OHS) expectations, assuring that it is in full alignment with the seven OHS Parent, Family and Community Engagement (PFCE) Outcomes. As OHS moved to reinvent their Monitoring of Head Start grantees process, the instrument was designed to be in alignment with these emerging new expectations.
In the Fall of 2017, our vision is becoming reality! We have asked NHSA to become the administrator of Parent Gauge™. It is being made available for use throughout the Head Start and early childhood world.
Parent Gauge™ is in Support of an Important New Movement to Enhance Parent Engagement
We see Parent Gauge™ as a valuable new tool for practitioners both within and beyond Head Start and EHS. We see Parent Gauge™ as part of the movement to renew and deepen our capabilities to deliver on the promise made to parents as they join the Head Start family. 
The importance of the movement to dramatically improve our ability to enable families and parents to succeed as their child’s first and foremost teacher is reflected in the OHS effort to develop the PFCE Outcomes framework and to require us to address this framework in our work. 
The importance of this movement is being popularized by some of the key think tanks in our country. The Ascend Program sponsored by the Aspen Institute has popularized dual generational learning. This author is quite pleased to report that each time they have talked about dual generational learning at the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, they consistently acknowledge that “Head Start has been doing dual generational learning for over 50 years!” Parent Gauge™ will help you to succeed in your expanding work with parents.
How Can Parent Gauge™ Enhance Your Work With Parents?
Many Head Start grantees have developed survey tools to gather information from parents during the year. Parent Gauge™ is the scientifically valid and reliable survey to replace your home-grown tool and meet the increased rigor expected by OHS. Since it has the research carefully done regarding each survey question, selecting Parent Gauge™ will be a highly acceptable answer to those who would monitor us. 
Each Head Start or EHS grantee is already expected to gather information regarding parents and family engagement needs at the beginning, middle and end of each program year. Parent Gauge™ was created to enable you to meet this need, and to fit into your current rhythms.  Parent Gauge™ is easy to use according to those in the 140 grantees organizations that piloted its use.
There are two scales within Parent Gauge™, one examining the parent’s identification of their current level of success across each of the seven PFCE Outcomes Framework dimensions. The second examines the impact of their Head Start or EHS agency’s efforts to assist parents in each of the Outcomes Framework areas.
The first scale, which identifies parent’s reporting of their current functioning, is great for a pre/mid/post administration. We would expect you to determine the best schedule, but we recommend a beginning of the year, winter and late spring application of the tool. You might make your own timing modifications for a full year EHS program.
The second scale, which examines how the parent experienced support from agency staff, teachers, family service workers or others, is only useful once such experience has taken place. Based upon this need for experience, it is not administered in Fall, but would be a part of the winter and spring data gathering. It is done as a combined instrument with the first scale in winter and spring.
The total time to use the survey may be 15-20 minutes per application with each family. Some parent interviews will run longer when parents get enthused about sharing more information. The use of this convenient tool should not be seen as additional time on the part of the staff member using Parent Gauge™, since it can be slipped into the interviews already required of Head Start and EHS staff as they work with parents at a minimum of the three touchpoints of pre/mid/post data gathering. As mentioned above, it can replace other interview questions that you might be currently using.
Parent Gauge™ is designed to emphasize grantee choice. You determine the scheduling of its use. You can continue to ask other questions that you feel to be important in addition to the Parent Gauge™ questions.
Folks have asked whether they can use Parent Gauge™ for a portion rather than all of their families. The answer comes back to your choices as a Head Start or EHS grantee. You might use different tools for different aspects of your work. You may decide that data gathering tools for parent engagement for center based Head Start may be different from tools used with your EHS home-based program. It is up to you to make these decisions and be able to justify why you made these choices when being monitored. Parent Choice™ is a tool designed to support you in your work. Parent Gauge™ works with Head Start and EHS in both center-based and home-based programs. It has been piloted with each of these. As is the case with a carpenter, when and where they use their chisel is up to the carpenter and must fit with the best use of a chisel. The chisel manufacturer does not direct the carpenter, but rather makes suggestions as to the best use of the chisel created for that carpenter. Our role is to present you with a top quality valid and reliable instrument. 
Parent Gauge™ is being administered by NHSA. You purchase a license to use Parent Gauge™ and you pay the costs to process your data, which you upload to NHSA. NHSA will then provide you with an electronic report that enables you to examine your data in a wide variety of ways. You will be enabled to array it as a whole agency; at the center level or at the individual Head Start classroom level or EHS case load level. This will be based upon what information you gather and upload. Pricing of Parent Gauge™ is established both to cover the current costs of processing and reporting the data that you submit, but also to continue to invest in the continuous quality improvement of Parent Gauge™. We have identified additional development of the tool and its use and are pursuing these next steps. Parent gauge™ will be a better, more helpful tool each year!
Unlike some outcomes reporting and analyzing relationships, we want to assure you that you will own your data. NHSA does not see themselves as owning and thus controlling your data.  
Part of the pilot testing of Parent Gauge™ focused upon the scientific development of the tool and its questions and part focused upon the process of using this tool. We have learned that there are skills that are valuable to the interviewer that positively impact the quality of interview results. The better the interviewing skills of the staff member, the richer the data. We intend to offer assistance to you in your work with this tool through webinars, blogs such as this and professional development opportunities at NHSA and other events.
We expect to create user groups as Parent Gauge™ rolls out across the country. The user groups will share information on the use of the tool, but also on things that they are doing to improve the numbers reported on Parent Gauge™. Support groups will also help renew the commitment and spirit of practitioners across the country!
Join us in the movement to help Head Start’s quality of services to parents and families leap to the next level!
Dr. Tim Nolan is a Head Start Executive Director about to start his 50thyear with this beloved program. He proudly serves as President of the Wisconsin Head Start Association and Chair of the Advocacy Committee of the Region V Head Start Association. He is proud to be one of the group that created the vision for Parent Gauge™, and has, with others, spent the last 3 ½ years nurturing it. He serves in numerous leadership roles with NHSA and is a prolific book author, consultant, innovation expert and thought shaper regarding Head Start and early childhood. He is available at

For more information regarding how Parent Gauge can make your work with parents even more effective, contact:

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