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School Quality Perspectives: Students vs. Parents, Insights from Research

The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, has ushered in new areas of focus for school leaders and superintendents.

Where standardized tests once dominated the conversation around school accountability, the new federal education law aims to expand how schools think about and measure success.

One area where ESSA presents an exciting opportunity for school leaders is measuring and improving school climate and culture.  

At K12 Insight, our research team helps thousands of school leaders across the country understand community perceptions about the quality of their schools, including the development and analysis of comprehensive school quality surveys, community focus groups, and staff workshops.

We recently released a three-year national study that asked more than a quarter-million students, parents, and school staff members to provide input on the overall quality of their schools. Specifically, the survey collected and analyzed insights into five key pillars of school climate and quality: academic support, student support, school leadership, family involvement, and safety and behavior.

Here’s just a few highlights:

We expect that school staff and leadership will generally have a stronger perception of their schools than parents and students. It’s why school quality surveys are so important–to help school district employees understand hidden pain points identified by parents and students.

But this survey also demonstrated significant gaps between how parents and students view their schools.

While just 64 percent of students rated their school as good or excellent, 83 percent of parents had positive perceptions of their schools. Surprisingly, parents had a higher opinion of their schools (one percentage point higher) than did school staff.

We also observed significant perception gaps between parents and students when it came to the issues of academic and student support.

Consider this:

  • Seventy-four percent of parents agreed or strongly agreed that teachers give timely feedback about student work. Just 61 percent of students felt the same.
  • While 74 percent of parents said teachers successfully show students how lessons relate to life outside of school, only 51 percent of students agreed with that statement.
  • Seventy-seven percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that there is a teacher, counselor, or other staff member to whom a student can go for help with a school problem, while more than 85 percent of parents felt the same.
  • When asked whether students at their school are treated fairly regardless of their race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disabilities, only 67 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed, while 86 percent of parents agreed with the same statement.

These findings illustrate clear divisions between how parents and students perceive their schools, especially as it relates to academic and student support.

Improving school climate and culture starts with understanding the perceptions of your school community.

Want to learn more about how a managed survey project can help inform your strategy for improving school climate and quality? Sign up for a free consult to see how our team can help.