Tuesday, July 2, 2013

PCS Officials: Use student knowledge to improve schools

"As a nation, we've wasted what students know about their own classroom experiences instead of using that knowledge to inform school reform efforts."  NY Times

If officials at Potsdam Central really want to know what students think about the school district, they should do the obvious - survey them. Exiting seniors should be surveyed mid-way through their last year. Everyone knows that it is extremely hard to get people to respond to surveys so why not do so when students are in school and schools officials can get a very high response rate?

In the 1990's a speaker at a School Boards' convention stated that annual surveying of seniors and PARENTS should be routine and the results should be printed in the budget bulletin (sent to all residents each year). Sometimes good advice is studiously avoided.

Three years ago, the Board requested a survey of the senior class. The uselessness of the survey (with too many questions administered to too few students) was attributed, by the high school principal, to teachers who, she said, declared they were too busy to have their students take the survey. The limited results did not provide useful information to use to examine school reform.

 For the past two years, no surveying of seniors has occurred at all...wasted opportunity after wasted opportunity and completely predictable.When the Board members who insist on accountability and school improvement are systematically voted off the board, it is not surprising that turning a blind eye to what students know ensues. Any flaws identified by students would have to be made public and remedied. If the flaws are never identified then no admission need be made as to their existence.

Administration, in the past, has complained about the amount of time it takes to administer surveys to students and to analyze the results. Here is one solution to those "barriers."

The following is a simple survey that school officials should give to students each year.

According to the NYTimes, in classes where students strongly agreed with these statements (#'s 1-3), the teachers tended to have high value-added scores. The remaining statements are from City Honors School in Buffalo, NY.

                      Strongly Agree........Agree..........Disagree.......or Strongly Disagree with the following statements:
  1. Our class stays busy and doesn't waste time
  2. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.          
  3. My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in class. 
  4. I know what is expected of me in my classes.
  5. In my classes, I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work correctly.
  6. In one or more of my classes I have the opportunity to do what I do best on a regular basis.
  7. There is at least one teacher, counselor, or other adult at school who regularly encourages my achievement (development).
  8. About every week (regularly) I receive recognition or praise for doing good work from at least one of my teachers.
  9. My teachers regularly inform me about how I am doing in my classes.
  10. I believe my teachers are experts in what they teach.
  11. As a result of going to this school, I believe I am learning and growing in important ways.
  12. This school is meeting my expectations.

This survey is short, clear, direct, easy to administer, and likely to provide useful information to inform school reform efforts. Items 1-3 could be answered in each academic class students take. The remainder of the questions could be administered once - in homeroom.

The Board of Education should exercise leadership and require the annual surveying of exiting seniors. Board members should be wary of those who try to talk them out of doing so. Members may be told that surveying students "could" be seen as an evaluative tool by teachers and that teacher evaluation must be done strictly according to contract. The truth is that student surveys are not teacher evaluative tools and do not violate any contracts.

The survey results would show student opinions about their school experience and would invite administrative action to improve areas of weakness, to applaud areas of strength, and to use student knowledge to inform school reform efforts.

Twenty years ago, when I attended the above-cited School Boards' conference, I could not have imagined that two decades later, there would still be great resistance to something that makes so much sense. Who benefits from willful blindness to what students know about their classroom experiences? Not students, not parents, not good teachers, and not the public.

  "What Works in the Classroom? Ask the Students"

 City Honors School at Fosdick-Masten Park in Buffalo

Carvill 2012 blog posting

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