How do students feel about school? A new poll in Chicago asks them | evening summary

Middle and high school students are used to answering questions in school. But often they are not asked how they view their teachers and classrooms.

Last month, Chicago Public Schools students got their say when they answered a new 15-minute survey asking them to rate statements like: “In this class, my ideas are taken seriously.” “This teacher makes what we are learning really interesting.”

Results from the Cultivate survey will hit principals’ inboxes next month as part of a new district effort to measure student attitudes toward school, which experts say can help improve grades and performance. student welfare.

The survey stems from more than a decade of research at the University of Chicago into the ways classroom environments can shape how students feel about school and how well they do. It measures whether students believe their teachers are fostering a sense of community and belonging, delivering meaningful assignments and quality feedback, listening to student feedback, and more.

“What is clear is that teachers have a lot of power over the learning conditions in their classrooms, and those learning conditions are really powerful,” said Camille Farrington, CEO of the University of Chicago School Research Consortium, who helped to develop the survey.

The quiz for students in grades 5-12 could become a twice-a-year ritual. But at a time when the district is rethinking how to hold its campuses and educators accountable, officials stress they won’t use the survey to evaluate teachers or rate schools.

The disruption of the pandemic and the racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd have generated unprecedented attention to the mental health of students and how it affects learning, and to the idea that giving students more agency in the campus could be key to improving instruction. Districts across the country are intensifying efforts to understand student experiences and explore ways to involve students in decision-making. Chicago trails Minneapolis and some smaller districts and charter schools in adopting the Cultivate survey.

The Chicago Teachers Union expressed support for the new survey, which its leaders say can provide teachers with valuable information to improve their practice and help forge stronger ties with students. But the union says the district rushed to implement the survey last fall, and educators have yet to receive professional training on using its findings.

Chicago adopts student survey after a decade of development

In 2012, researchers at the University of Chicago began to investigate how classroom environments can enhance or undermine learning. They felt they could use their knowledge to create a tool for teachers and school leaders to get feedback from students.

They tested various versions of a questionnaire and, in 2015, found a reliable way to measure students’ perceptions of their learning conditions. But it was a long and cumbersome survey meant for researchers. The university enlisted districts and charter schools to test a shorter version, and Farrington flew across the country to review the data with educators and fine-tune the survey.

“I didn’t want to launch another school survey without being sure the data would be meaningful and useful to teachers and school leaders,” she said.

Last school year, Minneapolis Public Schools became the first large district to adopt the new survey. Last fall, the Chicago Public Schools signed a no-bid contract with the University of Chicago to also implement the Cultivate survey. It’s meant to complement 5Essentials, another survey developed by the University of Chicago that measures school climate more broadly by asking staff, parents and others how they view school safety, leadership and more.

The district will pay the university up to $286,000 in the first year to provide and help administer the survey. The contract says the university will provide professional development for school staff, calculate scores for each school, and help compare fall and spring scores. It will feed the data into “interactive reports that are shared publicly and allow schools and community members to track performance over time.” The university will also explore disaggregating the data by race, poverty, disability, and English learner status.

District officials have recently said that being more in tune with students’ experiences is key to their drive to improve learning. The district has given students a larger role on local school councils and encouraged schools to form student voice committees that provide feedback to school leaders on how to improve campus climate. More than 160 campuses, including some middle schools, now have such committees.

Last summer, the American Journal of Education published a study showing that Chicago Public School ninth-graders who felt educators and administrators listened to their ideas and concerns scored higher grades and had higher attendance.

Chicago Public Schools officials said the survey is an important tool and the district is adopting it at a critical time.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened some of our most persistent and enduring opportunity gaps,” a district spokesperson said in a statement. “To close these gaps, we must think and act differently, and that starts with listening to members of our community, especially our students.”

The district stressed that, for now, it only has a one-year agreement with the university to administer the survey twice in 2022-23. It does not yet have data on how many students in grades 5-12 who took the survey this winter.

How will the student survey data be used?

Pavlyn Jankov, a researcher for the Chicago Teachers Union, said he and other union leaders met with the University of Chicago team that developed the survey. He said he was impressed by the research and thought that he went into designing the questionnaire and the guidance schools will receive to help increase student engagement.

Teachers are eager for that kind of feedback, he said, and just asking for it will help strengthen relationships with students.

But he said the union would have preferred the district to pilot the survey in a smaller number of schools before adopting it districtwide. According to Jankov, a relatively small group of staff participated in training on survey implementation, but when the results hit schools next month, the vast majority of teachers will not have received professional development on how to use them.

In Jankov’s understanding, principals will receive the data and decide how widely to share it with school communities and how to use it.

“We have disparate leadership styles across the district,” he said. “Principals will be the gatekeepers for how this information is implemented in each school.”

Some might even take them into account when reviewing teachers’ overall performance, Jankov said.

But Farrington said the new Cultivate questionnaire was not designed to test teachers or schools. In fact, its creators intentionally made it difficult for any district to do so.

Principals will not get data at the classroom level, but results for their schools as a whole, as well as by subject and grade level. That will allow teams of educators to review the data and act collaboratively.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Public Schools is preparing a new system for evaluating its campuses after scrapping its controversial grading system amid the pandemic. Results from the 5Essentials survey were factored into those previous ratings. But the district has stressed that it will not use the Cultivate results for accountability purposes.

The University of Chicago also partnered with colleagues at Stanford University, who developed a similar survey aimed at educators who want real-time feedback from students about their own classroom practices. Farrington said Chicago Public Schools is exploring making that survey available to teachers as well.

“The idea of ​​students sitting quietly in school is no longer acceptable,” he said.

Mila Koumpilova is the lead reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago covering the Chicago Public Schools. Contact Mila at [email protected]