Mar 02 2013

Loaded question on a student survey

In New York City schools get an annual ‘progress report’ grade from A to F.  Schools with an F, D, or three consecutive Cs can be slated for closure, and many school have suffered this fate, with about twenty more fighting for their lives this year.  The progress report is based on test scores and, in part, on parent, teacher, and student surveys.

I came across this poster recently with an example of one of the questions from the student survey.

This is the problem, I think, with student surveys.  Too much depends on the wording of the questions.  In this case the question is phrased in such a way that the majority of students will answer negatively.  Then this can be used as evidence by the New York City school closers (led by TFA alum Marc Sternberg) that the school deserves to be shut down.

One issue is the word ‘adults’ which is generally said in a negative way by reformers as in “We have a system that is good for the adults, but not for the kids.”  But on a literal level ‘adults’ includes all staff like maintenance workers and the payroll secretary.  If they are included among the adults, it is unlikely that ‘most’ (over 50%, that is) will be thought, by students, to ‘care’ about them.  Those adults rarely come into contact with the kid taking the survey.  And that worker does, generally, ‘care’ about his or her job and by doing a good job it helps the school run more smoothly, so whether or not that maintenance worker or payroll secretary reaches out to many of the students taking the survey is not very relevant.

Even if the question says ‘teachers’ instead of ‘adults’ it would still be rigged.  If my school has a hundred teachers it is unlikely that ‘most’ of the teachers have ever even met a particular student, let alone ‘care’ about that student.

And even if the question was made more specific by saying “Does your teacher care about you?” I could see how students might perceive that a teacher does not care (because the teacher didn’t let the student turn in an assignment late, or something) even though this ‘tough love’ was actually part of the teacher caring, in that teacher’s way.  Now I admit, though, that the student’s perception is certainly important to that student and that if every student thinks that a teacher doesn’t care about them, well, that teacher should examine if he or she is making opportunities to demonstrate that he or she cares.

Perhaps the fairest way to ask the question is “Are there ANY adults in the building that care about you?”  At a school a student should have at least one person — it could be a teacher or a counselor or an administrator or even the payroll secretary who they have some kind of positive relationship with.  I feel like if the question were worded in this way, the results would be that most students would say ‘yes.’  But that’s not really the intent of the survey, is it?

3 Responses

  1. Meg

    I completely agree with you on the surveys. My district piloted them this year and the wording was so confusing (especially for my 11 year olds) that I don’t see how it could possibly give accurate results. For example, in the class I was in the students had no idea what to put for “in class we learn most days”. It was a strongly disagree to strongly agree scale, and many of the students thought they should disagree if they felt they learned every day – because all is not most. There were problems like this with the wording of many questions.

  2. chaz

    I would have it stated as “do my teachers care about me”?

  3. jaded serf

    The non-teaching district survey creators really need to connect with students, parents and teachers before imposing these high stakes tests for schools. These questions seem already rigged for failure. Well written student surveys have great potential to inspire feedback that teachers and schools can review and utilize as they work to build a quality program.

    If they question went:
    True or false: There are “adults” (teachers/staff/volunteers) who care about me including (list two)___________________________ Comments:_____________________.
    We need more than T, F, A, B, C, D to evaluate our classrooms.

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