8 Questions to Consider when Designing a School Survey
When working on surveys for a large school district, I heard it all.
- We don’t trust you with our survey data.
- What did you do with last year’s survey?
- This survey takes too long.
- What am I supposed to do with this survey data?
Often when these responses arise, it’s due to poor survey design, poor follow through, and a less-than-authentic approach – all of which can erode trust and lead to unsupported claims.
Avoid this, by considering the following 8 questions that will help you successfully plan and align around a plan for engagement and listening, execute the engagement and listening plan, and analyze and share the results. At Education Elements, we help districts and teams think through these questions ahead of time, and benefit from the significant investment of the communities’ time and trust.
1. What do I want to accomplish with the data I receive from my survey?
Understanding the purpose of your survey will help you to frame your questions and reach your intended objectives. Are you trying to inform a specific decision? Are you trying to learn about how your students, teachers, staff, or parents think about a specific topic? Are you trying to identify action steps?
Starting with the end in mind will help you align the rest of your work.
2. Who is the survey's intended audience?
To be effective and efficient with people’s time, and to get the response rate you need, consider who you are surveying. Do you have data already collected for the people in a student information or employee information system? Do you need a survey in multiple languages? If this is a student survey, what grade-level bands does the survey cover; and are the questions adjusted accordingly.
Understanding your audience impacts both the question design and the distribution of your survey.
3. What demographic data is important for my survey?
When it comes to analyzing your survey, you need to consider what demographic data you need from the respondent. For example, do you need to know about their income, race, school, address, etc.? Do you need to know the respondent’s name, contact information, or other personally identifiable information? Will your respondents provide accurate information if you can identify them? Or does gathering this information have the potential to reduce the number of respondents or cause unintended consequences?
When considering the question of demographic data, consider what information you already have, especially when considering sensitive data. Collecting lots of demographic information can also reduce your survey response time; take an opportunity to integrate your survey with your student, parent, or staff information system.
For some questions, you need to strongly consider your audience and community before asking. Especially if you have a survey plan to reach a large group of people, consider your loudest objectors and what they will think when reading a question. For instance, might some parents object to a set of student survey questions? If it’s potentially objectionable, you can still ask it, just take steps to mitigate concern.
4. What are the best methods for collecting this survey?
Now that you identified the purpose and audience(s) of your survey, now you need to think about how you want to collect data.
If you want the best data, you will want to connect responses to your data system so you can automatically pull and get the best demographic data as possible. So if you have a student survey, you want to connect your survey responses to the individual student so you can run reports on demographic factors, allowing you to identify gaps and address concerns with equity and fidelity.
If you are trying to reach a wide audience, you will want to make it easy to access the survey. More people will engage with a text message survey than an email. This may lead you to create a single link to your survey so you can use text messaging or your website, a QR code for “in-real-life” flyers, as well as distribution across multiple other communication channels.
5. Who should pre-read and test the survey?
Now that you are ready to write your survey questions, consider who will help you review the survey. While, as the survey creator, you may know what the survey intends to ask, the survey may not actually get those responses from the intended audience.
Make sure the people helping you read and test your survey mirror the people you are trying to survey. And test the technology. Test the survey link, try it on different phones and different browsers, and make sure you have someone test the navigation.
6. What important response thresholds do I need to hit before I close my survey?
Before you get started and launch your survey, ask yourself: what is a response rate that works for you? If you have a random and representative sampling, you may not need as many responses as you think. Alternatively, if you’re doing a student survey, you may want to hear from every voice.
You should also consider your timing: by when do you need the data? If you have a deadline to report back to your school board or if you want your principals to use the data for their campus improvement plans, backwards map your survey window, the date range when you will accept responses, to match that needed timeline.
Consider a survey closing date that is earlier than when you actually need the data. In other words, you can always extend your survey window if you need more responses, but your data deadline may be harder to adjust. Moreover, people often need the pressure of a deadline to complete the survey.
7. What is my plan for the data after the survey closes?
Surveys become more relevant when you share the results. Organizations that don’t share the survey results undermine trust, and create survey fatigue.
Share the results of your survey and the action steps you are taking with the data. If you hear something in your survey that you cannot take action on – due to a legal requirement or a financial limitation – don’t dismiss the data. Reaffirm that you heard the concern and let the community know what you can or can’t do. Then, explain yourself. People understand more than you think when you take the time to engage with them.
Leverage a rule from the book, The New School Rules, for communication: the 3x3 method. Consider how you can communicate three different ways in three different channels. For example, a report or presentation to the Board of Trustees could also be posted on your website and shared at the next parent or staff meeting. Try writing three different summaries and sending a targeted message out to the group. Consider publishing raw data (or close to raw), summarized data, and super summarized talking points so that you can hit audiences across multiple engagement levels.
This helps to build trust and helps to ensure that the results are seen.
8. Will the survey results be impactful?
Education Elements is the sole provider of the Tripod Survey suite, which contains surveys that collect feedback on a variety of different topics from students, teachers, and families. For more than a decade, Tripod has offered the 7Cs of Effective Teaching Student Perception Survey – validated through large scale, peer-reviewed research funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – as a method for connecting the teaching and learning experience to student achievement.
The 7Cs survey helps to ensure excellence by providing individual teachers with measures that assess the academic press, the personal support, and the curricular support teachers provide to their students. The 7Cs framework of Effective Teaching measures the following Constructs: Care, Confer, Captivate, Clarify, Consolidate, Challenge, and Classroom Management. Read more.
Positive results on the 7Cs surveys consistently equates to good teaching and learning. Here are examples of survey items in each of the seven constructs:
CARE: My teacher really tries to understand how students feel about things.
Students need a safe space before learning can happen. With a survey item regarding Care, you are trying to determine the students’ emotional and academically well-being in their school and classrooms.
CONFER: My teacher wants us to share our thoughts.
Student ownership and voice is critical for learning. Do your classrooms encourage and value students’ ideas and views? Understanding the state of student participation and engagement can help gauge your school quality and inform professional development for teachers.
CAPTIVATE: My teacher makes learning enjoyable.
If we want to spark and maintain student interest in their learning, you need to know if your teachers are designing stimulating lessons. We also know relevant learning leads to higher rates of retention and mastery.
CLARIFY: If you don't understand something, my teacher explains it another way.
When students know how and where to get support, they self-advocate and take greater ownership in their learning.
CONSOLIDATE: In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.
At the end of a lesson, are your teachers synthesizing key ideas and recapping the learning? With high degrees of agreement around consolidation, you know teachers are supporting students throughout their learning journey.
CHALLENGE: In this class, my teacher accepts nothing less than our full effort.
The best teachers get the most out of their students. Understanding the rigor of classroom instruction helps to connect on student outcomes and know how/where to adjust support systems for students.
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT: Student behavior in this class is under control.
We know successful schools have classrooms that foster student focus and maximize on student activities. Questions in this construct give you a perspective on how activities and behavior are managed. This sets up great opportunities for professional support to provide classroom target help.
While a survey should be a part of your listening strategy as it allows you to reach a wide and broad audience, it shouldn’t be the only action you take. Make sure to consider what comes next, like focus groups, interviews, or school/classroom observations to either validate your survey data or make your results more actionable.
With so many steps to manage, partnering with a company like Education Elements and our Tripod survey helps you focus on getting the right people surveyed, ensuring the phases of work matches your organization’s needs, and receiving the backing of an experienced research team.