Have you ever heard the saying, “Perception is reality”? That is particularly true when it comes to student perceptions of their learning environments. It is important to ask students directly what they think of their classrooms and schools because their perceptions may differ greatly from those of their teachers and parents (Nathanson et al., 2013) and the way students perceive their learning environment affects both school climate as a whole and individual learning (Koth, Bradshaw, and Leaf, 2008; Brand et al., 2003).
Students have a very unique vantage point. Few people spend more time in classrooms observing teachers than students (MET Project, 2012; Sheehy, 2012). And, as it turns out, student perceptions of their classrooms are great predictors of classroom success. According to one study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, classrooms that had students who reported that their teachers maintained order, provided focused instruction, and helped them learn from their mistakes often showed the most gains in standardized test scores (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2010). Other studies have found that positive school climate scores as reported by student surveys are associated with higher student achievement outcomes (Nathanson et al., 2013; Osher et al., 2013; Osher & Kendziora, 2010; Osher, Kendziora, & Chinen, 2008; Rockoff & Speroni, 2008).
Student surveys are an important way that teachers and administrators can learn about student perceptions. When schools assess student perceptions through surveys, they are able to make informed decisions about where they can improve and track progress over time. They can also see and address the differences in perception between students and other stakeholders. But it takes more than just administering a survey to really understand student perception.
To truly give students a voice and to better understand survey data, it is important to talk to students about the data. This can be done through activities like allowing students to talk about the findings in student focus groups or student participation in decision-making committees. Another option is to give students the opportunity to participate in school governance. No matter how it is done, the important thing is that students are treated as an integral part of the change taking place in a school.