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Failing Grades for Most School Surveys: Identifying Weaknesses

Your school district is no stranger to surveys. From climate to parent engagement, a well-thought-out survey has long been among one of the best ways to understand what your community thinks about your ability to manage its schools.

Surveys have been around for years. But here’s the kicker (and why you need to read this): They’ve never been more important than they are right now.

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced No Child Left Behind as the federal government’s playbook on K12 education, the shift did more than shake up school testing and accountability—it changed the very definition of school and student performance.

While students will continue to take standardized tests, ESSA expands the definition of success to other factors such as school climate and student and parent engagement. The upshot: Your schools are as accountable for the experiences they offer as the results they produce.

As educators evaluate the best measure of these so-called “non-academic indicators,” there’s no shortage of survey solutions to consider deploying in your schools. But not all school surveys are created equal.

How do you tell a quality survey from one that’s, uh, not?

Set the right expectations
School research expert Dr. Stephan Knobloch offers this advice: “Every school survey should amount to a conversation with your community.” Where most school surveys focus on gathering data, Knobloch says many of them fail to ask the right questions. Absent adequate up-front research and planning, the results don’t matter.

Here’s four more pitfalls to avoid when designing your next school survey:

  • Don’t collect information you don’t need.
    A survey only has value assuming you can use the information you collect to inform future decisions. Say your district is considering investing in a new cloud-based learning resource, for example. But you learn through a survey that teachers do not have sufficient online access to roll the technology out with confidence. Would you still buy the technology? When designing survey questions, begin with the end in mind.
  • Ensure your survey is valid and reliable.
    Make sure your survey contains questions pertinent to the topic you’re exploring. Be sure to test those questions to ensure understanding. A survey is found to be reliable if it yields similar results when administered to similar groups of people.
  • Don’t overlook participation barriers.
    Your next survey is only as good as the number of community members who participate in it. If your school has a lot of parents who are bi-lingual, the survey should be offered in multiple languages and designed to accommodate appropriate reading levels.
  • Always close content gaps.
    Every school survey needs to provide a clear and accurate picture of the topic or issue it is testing for. Consider student engagement: An engagement survey should include academic, and social and emotional engagement questions. Omitting one of these dimensions results in an incomplete and ultimately ineffective survey.

Re-thinking school surveys
As the school year comes to a close, now is as good a time as any to assess the way you engage your community.

Do you set clear expectations? Do you think of surveys as a form of communication? If not, it might be time to re-think your approach.

Want to learn more about why most school surveys get a failing grade? Watch our free webinar, “Why Most School Surveys Suck—And Yours Don’t Have To.”