As research continues to demonstrate the importance of a positive school climate, states, districts, and schools have actively engaged in efforts to build capacities for improving school climate (National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, 2011). Increased awareness of the relationship between a positive school climate and student success has led to new school climate survey tools. Currently, many districts are leading efforts to integrate these tools in their own school climate improvement initiatives. One district involved in such efforts has shared with NCSSLE its experiences and lessons learned from its first school climate survey administration in Spring 2016 and its plans going forward for Spring 2017.
Planning for School Climate Survey Administration
In 2016, a school district located in the Northeastern United States sought to investigate how their secondary school communities perceived school climate. As a district that continually scores high on national and state academic assessments, the staff were particularly interested in investigating how perceptions of school climate might be related to those successes. In searching for survey instruments, the district discovered the U.S. Department of Education had released the ED School Climate Surveys (EDSCLS), an adaptable school climate survey with an associated web-based platform. The EDSCLS especially stood out for a number of reasons:
- The EDSCLS aligns well with the district’s goals of establishing a collaborative school culture that fosters safe, welcoming, and well-maintained learning environments.
- The EDSCLS includes survey instruments for a variety of stakeholders (students, parents, non-instructional staff, and instructional staff).
- The EDSCLS surveys are designed around a comprehensive school climate framework known as the Safe and Supportive Schools Model.
- The EDSCLS is free to use and provides survey administrators with immediate results.
Currently, the district is leveraging funding received from a 1-year state grant program to establish sustainable systems for implementing school climate improvement initiatives. With these funds, the superintendent was able to convene a “data team” that includes a representative from each of the five secondary schools in the district. This data team leads the effort in administering the survey and ensuring that the school community is participating and actively using the data to develop school improvement plans. Under the leadership of the superintendent, this team meets on a monthly basis to examine data collected using the EDSCLS and collaboratively brainstorm ideas for the next data collections and action planning. During these meetings, the data team uses the NCSSLE created School Climate Improvement Resource Package to guide their processes.
Lessons Learned from First School Climate Survey Administration
The survey was administered, with limited details, at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Therefore, the response rates were low. For example, both instructional and noninstructional staff response rates were less than 50%. Differences in response rates were also noted in the student and parent surveys response rates. In particular, their high school students’ response rates were lower than for their middle school students. This response rate pattern was also apparent among high school and middle school parents. It is common to have lower response rates for high schools compared to middle schools. However, the team feels that once they begin to share the data from the EDSCLS with schools and implement a series of planned communication strategies to raise awareness of the survey, the response rates will increase.
Action Steps Moving Forward
Based on lessons learned, the district’s data team will have an expanded role moving forward. In particular, the district data team planned the following for the second administration in spring 2017:
- Sending out the survey earlier in the school year;
- Allowing time during the school day for survey participation;
- Involving athletic coaches in the dissemination of promotional materials and outreach;
- Having student groups at the high school lead talks with the school community and families about the importance of the survey; and
- Creating and distributing “My Voice Counts” stickers to all students who have completed the survey as a way of sparking conversations in the home and among peers.
The district plans to share the results from the second administration with the school community at the district level. The data team members will also conduct focus group interviews to examine the differences between middle and high school students revealed by the first administration of the EDSCLS.
The data team is optimistic that the second administration will further engage the school community and provide valuable information to support school climate improvement efforts. Now that the district recently completed the second administration of the survey, they look forward to sharing the information and making recommendations for change. District administrators report that school climate data is just as important as academic data to measure the excellence of the organization. They realize that a safe and supportive school environment is essential for young people to learn and grow and they are committed to taking proactive steps to achieve this with the EDSCLS.
Stay tuned for more stories on lessons learned and experiences using the EDSCLS. Contact the firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share your story.