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THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
for Student and Teacher Surveys

Collecting feedback to improve decision making for your district's students, teachers,
families, and communities.

Leaders often feel that their years of experience give them the knowledge and perspective they need in order to make informed decisions. In reality, this can lead to making decisions based on assumptions that are biased by their own experiences and not informed by the experiences of others. 

In fact, collecting feedback from key stakeholders is essential to ensuring that the decisions you make are aligned with what your parents, students, staff, and community members need and want. Moreover, when you ask your stakeholders what matters to them, you convey a message that their opinions matter. This helps to build trust in your leadership abilities and choices, and generates buy-in and support for your decisions.

So, whether you are trying to improve student outcomes, retain your staff, build community trust and engagement, or develop a strategic plan for your district, you will make better decisions if you understand the diverse experiences of your stakeholders.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Click on any chapter to scroll directly to it.

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Why Are Surveys Important?

Why use a survey to collect stakeholder feedback?

In our Equitable Inclusion Guide, we compare various strategies for collecting stakeholder feedback and note the following benefits of using a targeted survey:

  • Surveys are often a more comfortable avenue for people to share candid feedback
  • Surveys can have a lower barrier to engagement than other forms of stakeholder engagement, which enables higher participation, especially when surveys are offered both in both online and paper formats and multiple languages
  • Surveys can solicit a high volume of feedback on specific topics with categorized answers, making it easier to aggregate responses and compare responses across subgroups
  • Surveys can produce more quantitative data that can be used to identify high-level trends that may be explored more deeply through other engagement methods

We all acknowledge that our most marginalized students experience inequities within our schools. There are structures, policies, and procedures that prevent them from receiving a high-quality, exceptional education. As leaders, it is our responsibility to dismantle those barriers. But where to begin? How do you begin to take the first steps to leading with an equity focus?

Leading with Equity: How to Take the First Steps

Students seem to know effective teaching when they experience it… 
Most important are students' perception of a teacher's ability to control a classroom and to challenge students with rigorous work
–Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project

Why are student surveys in particular important?
When collected effectively, student feedback can be extremely valuable. This is especially true when it comes to identifying improvements to school culture, learning environments, and instructional practices in order to drive student performance. 

The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project – a rigorous study of 3,000 teachers – found that students consistently identified instructional and environmental strengths and weaknesses, regardless of the students’ ability level. In other words, students know effective teaching when they experience it. Students can perceive the  teacher’s ability to control a classroom as well as their ability  to challenge them with rigorous work. Moreover students can perceive their teacher’s ability to provide support for emotional security.

The MET project also identified the following benefits of collecting student feedback via surveys:

  • Teachers, school leaders, and parents typically find this kind of student feedback to be valuable
  • It is a relatively inexpensive and low-lift method for supplementing other forms of feedback, such as classroom observations;
  • The surveys can be used in all classrooms, not just in those where state assessed content is taught

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What Can We Learn From Surveys

What can surveys tell us? What do surveys miss?
Survey data provide valuable insight into the lived experiences and perspectives of all stakeholders. In fact, when using survey data to make decisions, it’s important that we distinguish between measuring reality and perceived reality, and appreciate the value of knowing both. For example, a student survey may ask students if they feel as though their teacher really cares about them. Whether or not the teacher cares about them is reality, and the extent to which the students feel that the teacher cares is their perceived reality. In this case, the perceived reality actually matters more.

We know that when students feel that their teachers care about them, they feel supported and emotionally safe, and teachers are able to build personalized relationships with their students that help them consistently respond to their social, emotional, and academic needs, improving student academic performance overall. Teachers can care deeply for their students, but if their students don’t experience or perceive that care, it doesn’t lead to these intended benefits and outcomes.

Critics of surveys will often discount or devalue the data they produce because of the potential disconnect between reality and perception. However, in some circumstances, perception may actually be what matters the most; in others, it may be more valuable to measure reality. In those cases, where perception matters less, surveys are not the best form of data collection. For example, when we need to measure a student’s reading level/ability, it matters less how strong of a reader a student believes that they are. Instead, we need to know the student’s actual reading ability relative to other students; and so a reading diagnostic tool produces more valuable data.

What kinds of topics can surveys cover?
Stakeholder surveys can ask about any topic related to their experience with your school or district. The best surveys, however, include questions that are mostly related to one similar concept. For example, you may ask teachers questions all related to their level of engagement in their work. This may include questions about their relationships with their principal and their colleagues, how much support they feel they receive, whether or not they have the tools they need to do their job, etc. It would be important, however, to keep your questions focused on that overarching topic. Mixing too many topics into one survey can confuse your participants and potentially decrease the value of the data you collect.

The two most common mistakes you can make when deciding which topics to cover are:
  • Changing Focus – You change your focus and the participant doesn’t notice, making their responses inaccurate. For example, if most of your survey asks about participants' feelings about their child’s school, and then you suddenly start asking about their satisfaction with the district as a whole, participant confusion could lead to lower quality data.
  • Unintended Priming – You ask about a controversial or hot-button issue, which impacts how your participants answer the rest of your survey questions. For example, you ask how a parent feels about a school boundary change that is going to change the school their child attends. Then you ask them how satisfied they are with district leadership. If they are upset about that boundary change, they might answer the question about leadership differently than if you hadn’t brought up the boundary change.

The table below outlines the most common types of surveys we are asked to support for our school and district clients.

Common Types of Student and Teacher Surveys

 

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What Are The Elements of a Good Survey?

What makes a good survey?
The best surveys start with a clearly defined purpose. Begin your survey project with a clear vision for how you plan to use the survey data - what questions are you trying to answer? What decisions will you hopefully be able to make? What decisions can others make? And, is perception data the right kind of information to help make those decisions?

Once your purpose is clearly defined, the next challenge is to develop the best instrument or set of questions for your survey. If you’re developing a new survey, you’ll want to work with a survey expert who knows how to develop high quality survey questions that are free from bias and can reliably get you the information you need to serve your purpose. Survey writing can seem easy; it’s tempting to write questions on your own without the guidance of an expert. However, most individuals find out too late (i.e. when they have already administered their survey and are beginning to look at the data) that they’ve overlooked mistakes in their survey writing that impact the quality of their data. Simply put - if your survey questions are bad, your data and analysis will be poor.

If possible, rather than developing a new survey, choose an existing survey instrument with established validity. Validity means that the survey instrument measures what it is supposed to measure. You can rely on the fact that the data will be accurate. Validity is established by using the instrument over and over and studying the results. You can only determine the extent to which a survey is accurate by using it, and using it a lot.

Education Elements’ “Tripod’s 7Cs” survey — named for the 7 indicators of exceptional teaching practice – has, for example, been administered since 2001 to millions of students, tens of thousands of teachers, and thousands of schools across the country. Every time the surveys are used, we learn more about how to improve the accuracy of the data they produce, and now the instruments are in their 18th generation. If you can find a survey instrument with established validity that aligns with the purpose of your project, choosing this survey over developing your own will improve the likelihood that you get valuable and accurate data.

Tripod Student Surveys 7Cs Framework

Once you’ve selected or developed the best survey instrument for your purpose, you’ll want to make sure you can analyze the data in ways that answer your research questions. If you’re trying to understand how student perceptions differ by grade bands, you will need to know if the students responding to your questions are in elementary school, middle school, or high school. (Not to mention the fact that you’ll want surveys that ask questions in an age-appropriate way for each grade band.) Some survey platforms provide powerful ways to prepopulate this information for each survey participant, which cuts down on the length of the survey and typically leads to more accurate information. And, if this isn’t an option, you’ll want to include demographic questions in your survey so that participants can self report this information.

Finally, you need a thoughtful survey administration and promotion plan. Even the best written surveys will fail if no one takes them. To make sure you get the highest response rates possible, consider the following:

  • How can I let my stakeholders know about this survey? Will I reach the most people through social media? Word of mouth? Email or newsletters?
  • What do I need to do to motivate them to take the survey? Typically, you’ll want to share a compelling reason to take the survey that matters to each specific stakeholder group, and an honest statement of the amount of time it will take to complete.
  • What survey administration will make the survey the most accessible to the people I hope to hear from? Will a completely online survey work or do you need to use paper as well? Can your survey be taken on a cell phone? Does the survey need to be translated? Is the survey accessible for younger students?

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How Do We Use Survey Data?

What do we do with survey data?
Once you have your survey data back, the next challenge is to uncover the insights that answer your research questions – insights that will be used by your team. The most efficient way to conduct this analysis is to return to the research questions you drafted during the planning stage. Disaggregate the data in ways that help you answer those questions and understand the nuances of the data. You’ll also want to keep your eyes open for surprises along the way. Don’t ignore interesting learning or findings just because it falls outside of your original purpose.

There are often two critical audiences with whom you’ll want to share the results of your findings and strategies to keep in mind of each audience. First, when sharing the results with your decision-makers, resist the urge to share all of the data. Instead, highlight the most important findings, those that most closely align with the decisions to be made, and/or the findings with the biggest implications related to those decisions. Use graphics that make those findings easy to interpret without explanation, and be sure to include any notes that should impact how those findings were interpreted. For example, if the survey was administered to all stakeholders, but one question was only given to parents, you’ll want to note that exception near your graphic so that any related finding is not misinterpreted.

All this said, knowing information and using information are two different things. You’ll want to create intentional opportunities for your decision makers to put the survey data to work - ways they can apply the information to inform their future decisions and leadership. In our Guide to Tripod’s 7Cs Framework of Effective Teaching, we provide reflection questions and sample strategies to help teachers identify how they can use the feedback they get from their students through this survey.

In addition to your decision-makers, you’ll want to share the survey findings (and how they are being used) with your stakeholders who took the survey. Doing so builds trust and demonstrates your care about their opinions, perceptions, and experiences. And by leveraging their feedback, you are more likely to co-create solutions that reflect your stakeholder needs and build support for any next steps.. It also increases the likelihood that these stakeholders will participate in future surveys.

When sharing survey data with this audience, be careful to avoid “check the box transparency”, which happens when the data are dumped somewhere that is difficult to find or impossible to understand. “I shared the data, check!” True transparency is relational, not transactional, which means the data are shared in a way that respects and recognizes the audience. It should be easy to access and understand. For more ways to rethink how you share information, check out this webinar.

The Power of Feedback Webinar | Using Surveys to Drive Student Outcomes

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How to Get Started with Surveys?

How Do Districts Get Started

To get started, first identify the purpose of your survey project and clearly articulate the questions you are hoping to answer. Look for a survey instrument that can help you answer those questions, or reach out to an expert for helping creating a new one. Connect with us if you’d like more information about our Tripod’s suite of surveys, or if you’re looking for help with your survey project.

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