By Terry Dean
District 97 middle schools don't rank as high on leadership as the elementary schools, according to data in a climate survey taken by faculty in all 10 schools.
The results are part of a survey taken last spring by many school districts in the state. Developed by University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, the survey measures teachers' and students' responses in five core areas of a school's learning environment. The "5Essentials" include a school's effective leadership, how involved families are, and how supportive the learning environment is. The 5Essentials survey also looks at how collaborative teachers are and how ambitious the instruction is.
Participation in the survey is voluntary. Oak Park's District 200 and River Forest's District 90 did not participate. Students and faculty take the survey, but D97's student response rates at most of the schools were so low that no results are available.
Faculty rated the middle schools at or below average in all five areas. According to the U. of C. Consortium, schools that rated strong in three of the five Essentials were 10 times more likely to "substantially improve student learning," compared to schools weak in three essential areas.
Leadership at the elementary schools was rated slightly higher by faculty there. With respect to involved families, teachers at every D97 elementary school rated that essential extremely high. Because of low response rates, there was no available data for ambitious instruction or supportive learning environment at the elementary schools. For the other three essentials, faculty and students rated their schools from average to high, with involved families ranking the highest.
Each of the five essentials asks specific questions per area.
When asked if their principal is "an active and skilled instructional leader who sets high standards for teaching and student learning," teachers at both middle schools responded with average-to-low rankings. The same was true for the question of "program coherence" under the "effective leaders" essential. The middle-school teachers were asked if their schools' programs "are coordinated and consistent with its goals for student learning." Responses there were among the lowest of any question asked under that essential.
D97's survey responses were discussed at the Nov. 4 school board meeting.
Supt. Al Roberts said the district plans to delve deeper into the results. He also acknowledged the low rankings given at the schools but cautioned against reading too much into the raw data.
"It's a perception survey, a survey that's a piece of literature. There should be evidence that the perception is correct or that the perception is off," Roberts told the board. "If the perception is correct and there's something we need to improve, then we need to improve it. If the perception is not correct in terms of the evidence we have, then we have a communication plan we need to share with folks."
Roberts gave an example to underscore that point.
"At a lot of schools, parents worry nowadays about safety. So let's say there was a school that had a safety issue and all the evidence shows it's a safe school, but the perception would be different. We need to be able to share that information with parents so they're more at ease," he said.
Following that point, board member Peter Traczyk suggested that the district would be better served by talking with parents directly about the survey results.
"Yes, you see something that's flagged and you're thinking, 'Where there's smoke, there's fire,' and I'm going to dig deeper. And I think you're right in wanting to drill down into the question, and then you start seeing it's a little more gray than the report. But if we're going to just dump this stuff out in a [web] link at the school level, are we going to have a high-level summary that says, 'Of these things, here's the reality, here's the perception'?" Traczyk asked. "Because I think just dropping the raw data out there may not help our parents understand their school better."
Traczyk also noted that the demands of implementing Common Core and other initiatives may be stresses on the faculty that are reflected in the responses. Roberts said the survey data will be posted on the district's website with a statement that administration is looking deeper into the data.
"We will be transparent. People will see the data — we're not hiding anything from them — with the promise of coming back and updating that website later on, after the administration has done the drilling down and identified those areas that maybe we really need some work on," Roberts said, adding that there may be other areas after the drilling down that might be more of a communication problem.
Other board members, including Jim O'Connor, who encouraged the district to participate in the survey, also felt a larger discussion about the data was needed for the community. O'Connor urged the district to take the survey every year. Roberts said the district would look to do it every other year.
Answer Book 2017
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