Comparing the 7 Best Survey Tools
Surveys should be a part of every school’s planning. As a former school district administrator responsible for surveys, I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. Above all else, creating a listening culture in your school or district can transform your next initiative and your overall results in supporting student success.
We know that engagement surveys and feedback can:
- assess student perceptions and engagement;
- identify support systems for individual student success;
- evaluate a school’s climate;
- provide insight into professional learning opportunities; and
- support responsive leadership with ideation and prioritization.
Before selecting a survey tool, which I’ll share insight into at the end of this post, it is important to create a survey plan. Read on for some tips I’ve gathered to get started.
Creating Your Survey Plan
While we know that feedback from students, teachers and families is essential, we must have a purpose and direction to begin. Before starting your survey project, ask two foundational questions:
- What do you want to know?
- Why do you want to know it?
In my experience working with large school districts in Texas, schools and districts often collect data, do some basic reporting, and need help to make sense of it. Before you ask the questions, consider what you want to know.
Do you want to inform a specific decision? If so, what do you need to know to make that decision? Do you need new ideas? Do you want to measure competency? What about the rate of engagement or satisfaction?
Consider using an initiative planning tool and identifying a group of people who can help you.
Team Up - Get the People Together
With that design or project team, craft your theory of action. A theory of action is a hypothesis that says we will accomplish something if we do a specific action.
Let’s consider a brief example of a school district trying to inform professional learning strategies for its teachers by using a student engagement survey.
Theory of Action: We can provide teachers with high-quality professional learning if we understand their students’ experiences.
Now that your team has the theory, you can begin planning the actions to implement your plan. One action item is likely to be selection of a survey tool or service.
Watch our short Webinar about The 7 Best Survey Tools and what to consider when choosing one here:
What to Look for in a Survey Tool
Here are questions to consider when evaluating different survey tools or service providers.
- What formats do I want to distribute my survey in? What other customizations do I need (translations, accessibility, etc.)?
- How much support do I need for survey administration in my district? Do I need a survey service or a survey platform?
- Do I need support after my survey results come in? Do I need help with strategy or interpreting the data? Do I need support with additional engagement strategies, such as focus groups, empathy interviews, or learning walks?
- Do I need communication support during or after my survey? Do I need help with my school board? Do I need marketing support to increase participation?
Comparing 7 of the Best Survey Tools for Schools
I’m sure you have networked or used some of the following tools for school surveys already. For this post, I broke down the seven most well known survey options into three categories: do-it-yourself (DIY) tools, bulletin boards, and service providers.
Google Forms and SurveyMonkey are two popular tools if you have staff to create the survey, design the questions, distribute the survey, drive responses, and build out reports and insights into the data.
While DIY Tools offer much flexibility, they do not provide direct customer service, additional planning and support, or research-based techniques. These are the best used by districts with small budgets for engagement and research, as they are low-cost or no-cost. But, users beware, while there isn’t an additional fee for Google Workspace users in Google Forms, there is a cost associated with staff time and more significant risk because you lose out on extra support and the specific skills that survey experts bring to the design and analysis of these tools.
The Bulletin Boards
Online bulletin board tools allow individuals to leave open-ended responses to questions, giving opportunities for others to see those ideas, and in some cases, rank or prioritize those ideas. These are great tools for ideation and engagement but not the best for final decisions, evaluation, or diagnosis.
The two tools in the space I see most often are Jamboard and ThoughtExchange.
Jamboard facilitates brainstorming and other planning strategies during our client workshops. It’s a great way to get easy and quick feedback, but much like DIY, there’s no support on question structure, customer services, reporting, or insights.
ThoughtExchange is a more sophisticated Bulletin Board tool that allows users to submit ideas or “thoughts” and rate other participants' thoughts. I used this tool with a district to get ideas and to give people a space to share and listen to each other and it was effective for this purpose. While engaging, ThoughtExchange is not a tool designed to measure progress and growth in a diagnostic way. It provides more support than the DIY tools but not as much as our next category of surveys.
The Survey Service Providers
The difference between DIY or Bulletin Board options and Survey Service Providers is centered around the robust set of offerings beyond a platform. These providers not only administer surveys that track things like student engagement and family perceptions, but they also offer additional services to interpret data, dive deeper through workshops and focus groups, and advise action plans based on the data.
Panorama Education provides surveys to school districts, a technology or digital platform, some researched-back survey techniques, translation surveys, communications planning as well as support, reports, and insights into your data. K12 Insight is similar in that they provide robust services around survey administration. K12 Insight will also host data workshops with school and district leaders after a survey closes.
With PLC Associates, Tripod and Education Elements, clients get access to the full complement of survey design and administrative support as other survey service providers with the additional strategic and ongoing support that we're known for. We work to:
- Unpack the school’s or district’s data.
- Identify support systems through analysis, prioritization, etc.
- Support action planning by creating and facilitating teams responsible for acting on the data.
- Facilitate conversations with your board of education or board of directors.
- Create dashboards and data reviews to support a data culture committed to continuous improvement.
Gathering feedback from students, families and teachers is an important initiative that should not be taken lightly, Perceptions uncovered in well designed surveys can inform many strategic initiatives and can form an important baseline from which to measure improvement.
If you’re interested in learning more about our suite of surveys, click here, and a team member will connect with you.