Schools and teachers to be graded on what kids say

The tables are turning and students will begin passing out the grades in every Idaho school this year.

That’s because student feedback will become an important part of the state’s new school accountability system.

  • How often do your teachers seem excited to be teaching your class?
  • How often do you worry about violence at your school?

As part of the effort to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, state officials chose to create a student engagement survey to help measure school quality and climate.

Debbie Critchfield

All public school students attending third through 12th grade will take short, online surveys this spring using the same technology they use to take online tests, State Board of Education Vice President Debbie Critchfield.

And what students say will actually matter.

After the surveys are complete, state officials will publicly share the summarized and aggregated data —without identifying students — broken down to the district and school level.

Local school will have access to more detailed reports with all students’ responses.

“As policymakers and legislators (the survey data) will help inform decisions on general education topics,” Critchfield said. “But the real value will be in the (students’) local building, where the data can impact student achievement. There, (the data) are more than just number, they will be able to make adjustments.”

State officials are developing a similar parent survey that they plan to roll out the following year, in 2018-19.

The student survey questions will cover several different themes:

  • School safety.
  • Student-teacher relationships.
  • School climate, meaning a student’s perception of the overall social and learning climate of the school.

Additionally, students in grades 9-12 will receive another set of questions on the topic of “grit,” or the ability to persevere through setbacks to achieve important long-range goals.

Questions will also be geared toward a students’ grade level.

“You’re not going to ask a 12th-grader the same questions as a third-grader,” Critchfield said.

Karlynn Laraway, the State Department of Education’s director of assessment and accountability, said launching the survey this year would cost the state less than $20,000. She said the state has permission to use the already-developed Panorama Student Survey and administer it to students using the American Institutes for Research technology platform that Idaho students already use to take assessment tests each spring.

That saved the state money not having to develop its own survey questions or develop a new mechanism to send the survey out, Laraway said.

Students in grades three through six will answer 12 questions, while older students will receive 15 questions.

Some of the questions an elementary school student will receive include:

  • How often do your teachers seem excited to be teaching your class?
  • How often do you worry about violence at your school?

Students may answer “almost never,” “once in a while,” “sometimes,” “frequently,” or “almost always.”

Some questions students in grades six through 12 include:

  • How often do you stay focused on the same goal for several months at a time?
  • How often do you worry about violence at your school?

Critchfield and Laraway said they wanted to publish and disclose the survey well before it reaches students to add a degree of transparency to the project.

“This isn’t secret; we don’t want anybody’s first exposure to this to be when their child takes the survey,” Critchfield said. “There are no right or wrong answers, and it is not there to trick anybody.”

Anybody with questions or concerns about the student engagement survey may email Allison Westfall with the State Department of Education or Blake Youde with the State Board of Education.

Members of the State Board of Education chose to include student and parent surveys in the state’s ESSA plan, while officials from several other states chose other metrics, such as chronic absenteeism or teacher attendance.

Click here to read the questions that will be included in the Idaho Student Engagement Survey.

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