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How Student-Led Conferences Are Impacting Our Schools

Written by
July 14th, 2016

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Student-led conferences have classrooms seeing positive results as students take control of their learning.

Unlike parent-teacher conferences, where teachers are informing families on student performance, student-led conferences are handing that responsibility over to the student. Both educator and parent alike are touting the benefits of this new approach: greater accountability, and a more complete view of student achievement.

The narrative of a student’s performance is often dictated by either the parent or educator, which, while providing a good amount of insight, doesn’t account for the person receiving the education—the student. This could result in an evaluation that is inaccurate, or at best, incomplete.

Being able to not only involve the students but also empower them to drive conferences can result in more open dialogue, which could lead to a clearer understanding of performance and use of more authentic assessments.

What This Looks Like

For many schools featuring student-led conferences, preparation for the student begins at day one of the academic year. Teachers task the student with preparing a portfolio throughout the year which will include select assignments, exams, projects and other related work.

In the beginning, teachers might have more input on what data students should put into their portfolios. But as students grow into their role and understanding of the process, they should be able to take more ownership. “I have them complete their own ‘Plan of Action’ that states their goal, and then lays out how they want to achieve their goals,” says Mitch Mosbey, first grade teacher at Promise Road Elementary in Noblesville, Indiana. “Over time, they independently decide on a specific plan-of-attack.”

On conference day, students would present the portfolio to the parent, with full knowledge of their progress or struggles leading up to that point. They will also be able to state their goals and plans for improvement. As students do the driving, teachers will be there to support the student and provide further insight.

Tracking The Results

Do student-led conferences really work?

Student-led conferences are providing students more accessibility to their performance and a higher awareness of their standing. According to Education World, “By having students assess how they are progressing toward [required] standards, educators say, students will know how far they’ve come and how far they have to go to meet the standards.”

An added benefit is a greater view of the student’s achievement, including social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies. “Students owning their data, setting SMART goals based on their data, and being able to fluently talk to their parents about all of it build efficacy,” says Kate Goedeker, founding assistant principal at Unity Middle School in Oakland, CA. “We have also seen students become increasingly invested in their own growth through SLCs.” Responsibility builds transparency and accountability, which will translate into better achievement in and outside of the classroom.

Folded into this discussion is the use of data tools to assist students and teachers to look at progress in a more meaningful and actionable way. With the availability of education intelligence platforms (EIPs), teachers can log the data in one place and generate reports throughout the year. This will allow teachers and students to easily track attendance, grades, test scores, behavior incidents and more.

Could the conferences be a sign of more student-led initiatives? It’s certainly a start. Already, students are more vocal about their academic progress, and early reports indicate that they’re responding better in the classroom.

What’s Next?

If you’d like an example of a student-led conference template, the teachers and staff of Stoy Elementary School (Haddon Township, NJ) have provided an amazing resource. It includes pages on:

  • Goals for Reading, Writing, Math
  • Technology in the Classroom
  • Growth & Opportunities

You can access that for free here.


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

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