Two of the three Oak Park and River Forest school districts’ superintendents say they do not plan to administer a survey in 2014 that incorporates students’ and teachers’ opinions of their school environment into the Illinois School Report Card.
District 97 Superintendent Dr. Al Roberts, however, says it’s up in the air.
Developed by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR), the 5Essentials survey offers an assessment of a school’s organizational culture, “generating data that allows schools to develop improvement plans and target resources to areas known to be related in increases in student learning and outcomes,” according to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
CCSR has administered a version of the survey in the Chicago Public Schools for the past 20 years. The survey was first offered in suburban districts in 2013, after several pieces of legislation required ISBE to implement a statewide learning conditions and climate survey. The survey is included on the Illinois Interactive Report Card for schools.
Teachers and students between sixth grade and 12th grade take the survey, answering questions about topics such as school safety, leadership and classroom environments. Parents can also take the survey, but results are not factored into the report cards.
Schools that received the required number of responses in 2013 are not required to administer the survey in 2014.
Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Superintendent Dr. Steven Isoye said while any kind of feedback is important, he will not administer the survey in 2014. He said he shared the results of the 2013 survey with faculty and identified potential areas of change. He did not speak about specific changes or improvements.
Isoye added a student panel was planned for January 2014 to discuss the survey, its results and students’ perspectives. He said the panel had to be canceled due to cold weather.
River Forest District 90 Superintendent Edward Condon said while many of the 5Essentials questions were “certainly relevant and helpful,” District 90 is looking into alternative survey options that are more closely targeted to District 90.
“We feel as though we’d prefer to use one in its place that can provide information that is more targeted to our specific needs,” Condon said.
Roberts, who said District 97 still hasn’t made a decision about whether to administer the survey in 2014, said when it stands the test of time, the survey will be “very useful.”
He said his main concerns with the survey are results are compared to Chicago schools, the anonymity of the respondents and the questions themselves.
“I’d like to know when we look at the survey that each of our subgroups is at least proportionately represented. When it’s anonymous, you don’t know who’s responding (in terms of demographics),” said Roberts.
Representatives from the University of Chicago on Jan. 29 gave a presentation 5Essentials in Oak Park, addressing some of the questions that arose from statewide administration of the survey in 2013.
Rachel Levenstein, senior manager for survey research at CCSR, said moving forward, CCSR will look at how to score the surveys in a way that makes sense statewide and not just using Chicago as a benchmark. She added that CCSR is learning that the questions aren’t necessarily relevant in all contexts.
But overall, the 2014 survey won’t look much different from the 2013 survey.
There needs to be a common core of questions from year to year to keep a thread—or trend, going, said Sue Sporte, director of research operations at CCSR.
“Yes, changes can happen, but no, (we) can’t make a complete change and have comparability across time,” Sporte said. “We don’t want to schools to be facing a moving target… We want them to be able to have goals and meet them and not be surrounded by questions that are changing from year to year.”
To address the concern of anonymity, CCSR will run a pilot of a “rostered” survey in 2014, with the goal of having a list of students and teachers who responded in the official 2015 surveys, Levenstein said.
The 2013 surveys weren’t completely anonymous, however. With school-wide reports, Chicago school principals and superintendents could identify the gender and grade level of students who responded. Levenstein said that information should be available in the 2013-14 results outside of Chicago.
Sporte said CCSR has also considered including the achievement level of students, but has had an issue with getting the data in quickly enough because test scores aren’t current at the time of the survey.
Roberts said he felt better after the CCSR presentation in Oak Park, but still questions whether the survey will be beneficial to schools.
“You can’t afford to lead a school district based on opinion surveys. You need to take those surveys and study them to determine if they’re real,” Roberts said.
Sporte and Levenstein said they’ve received varied responses from district to district and group to group.
Teachers, said Levenstein, seem to be supportive of the survey. “(They’re) really excited to see what students are saying—and also to have a voice in what’s going on in the school and to (find out) where strengths and room for improvement are,” she said.
Leaders of the Oak Park Teachers Association and the Oak Park River Forest Faculty Senate did not respond to requests for comment.
Levenstein said principals have also been supportive, to some extent, but that there have been concerns about the public nature of the data.
Mike Michowski, principal at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, said the biggest concern his staff expressed about the survey was related to the wording of some of the questions and the way they were framed. He also said he hopes CCSR involves more people in the creation of the survey in the future.
“I don’t think people felt connected to the process … When people had a chance to look at the way some of the questions were framed, everyone seemed to have an opinion about how they’d word it differently,” he said.
“For this to have any chance of being successful in the future there needs to be a broader group of folks connected to design and rollout versus something put out as a state-driven mandatory survey.”
He added that there seemed to be a lot of “backtracking” on the state’s part.
“There was so much pushback that they were rethinking how much to include in school report cards… It felt like the organization as a whole felt like maybe what they were putting out was raising more questions than answers.”
The ISBE elected not to publicly release the scored 5Essentials reports in 2013 to allow educators to familiarize themselves with the survey, to further review survey items for their applicability statewide prior to the 2014 survey, and to explore the relationship between survey results and school outcomes statewide, according to a statement from Christopher Koch, State Superintendent of Education.
The 2014 survey will be administered between March 17 and April 25. To view survey results, go to www.illinoisreportcard.com, find your school and click “School Environment.”