What do students think about their teachers? Do teachers think their classes are interrupted too often? Do high school students believe their peers belong to street gangs or drink a lot of alcohol?
It’s all in the Pattonville School District’s Climate Survey given to students, support and certified staff and parents in fall 2010. The district released survey results recently.
The Pattonville District takes the survey as part of its Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) requirements every three years. But the district also administers its own surveys in intervening years, so the surveys are taken every two to three years. The last one was done in 2007.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Tim Pecoraro said survey data can be broken down to the building level to examine each school’s strengths and areas for improvement.
The district has several strengths, according to the survey. In general, students said that parents and teachers believe they can learn and that Pattonville has good teachers.
Staff members believe they can make a difference in student performance and, for the most part, get the necessary support to do so. Parents report that they know how well their children do in school.
A building-level committee looks at reasons the surveys turned out the way they did and then may recommend appropriate action. Parents, students and community members make up 50 percent of the building level committee.
“We want to get down to the root causes,” Pecoraro said. “We don’t want to overreact to a number or implement change without understanding why the data came out the way it did.”
Taking a career path
A building committee targeted career education at the high school level, where less than half the students said a guidance counselor helped them plan for career goals. Just 32.54 percent of the students said career and technical education plays an important role in the district.
To address that issue, will start a Career Pathways Program next school year. Every two weeks, students will meet with a teacher who will coach them through choosing an interest and taking classes that advance them toward a career goal.
“That might change over the course of four years,” said Sara Keene, the Pattonville High principal. “We’re not changing the student. We take a look at what you are and match you with the things you’re interested in.”
Keene said the district will train teachers over the summer in the program. Each teacher will have 13 students. One goal is to build student-teacher and student-student relationships, Keene said.
“Students will be assigned the same teacher,” Keene said. “So, a freshman will be with the same teacher for four years.”
The teachers will look at results of an interest and skills tests the students take.
In the 2010 survey, less than half of the Pattonville High School students said there is a feeling of belonging at the school, teachers care about them, classes cover material important to them, and the courses they took last year prepared them for courses this year.
Keene said the Career Pathways program would address several of those perceptions.
“The beauty of this program is that you get an extra sense of connection through the process,” she said.
But some basic things remain constant in the Pattonville District and throughout the state, he said. Sometimes the root cause is the age or perspective of those answering the questions.
“Elementary students are usually pretty pleased with their experience. They think positively of their teachers and get plenty of family support,” Pecoraro said. “When you get to middle school, it’s not quite at the same level. There are fewer areas of strengths.”
That trend continues in high school, where students might disagree with how discipline is handled or might not feel teachers have their best interest at heart, he said.
Questions that score a 90 percent or above and are positive statements generally are considered strengths. Positive statements that score 50 percent or below—with at least 25 percent denoted as “disagree” and “strongly disagree” would be areas that need improvement. On certified staff surveys, they could choose “neutral.”
They also look closely at things that dropped from a previous survey, Pecoraro said.
Sometimes, numbers on a page are numbers on a page, Pecoraro said. For example, some areas for improvement--according to student responses--include having students break up into small groups, summarizing new material or presenting information to the class.
Even staff answers may skew reality a bit. For example, just more than 34 percent of the certified staff said they have taken violence prevention training.
“We have had violence prevention training, but it may not have been identified as violence prevention training,” Pecoraro said. “In the future, we’ll make sure it’s identified that way.”
Some negative questions presented may fall just under the 50 percent rule. For a negative question, that is not considered a weakness. But some might raise some eyebrows, too.
For example, 42.15 percent of the high school students said that some of their peers belong to street gangs, 47.08 percent said most teenagers in the community drink a lot, and 45.76 percent said drug use is common among teens in the community.
Pecoraro said the district's survey results for those questions are similar or more favorable than statewide replies and those in neighboring districts, such as the .
More than half said the opposite, and some teens may tend to exaggerate such things. More than 53 percent said they feel safe at school, and more than 85 percent of district parents said their child is safe in Pattonville schools.
Just about 26 percent of support staff said some students belong to street gangs--much lower than student estimates. Support and certified staff also rated safety much higher than students.
Following are a few strengths and improvement areas identified in the survey. For complete survey results, see the PDF file accompanying this article.
Elementary students: Strengths
* My teachers think I can learn 94.62%
* My family believes I can do well in school 97.44%
* If I’m having trouble learning something,
my teacher helps me understand 90.4%
* My teachers expect good work from me 95.09%
* My teachers are good teachers 95.36%
* Teachers treat me with respect 92.17%
Middle School Students: Strength
* My family believes I can do well in school 91.07%
* Most kids around here drink a lot of alcohol 11.4%
* Drug use in common among kids in this community 16.9%
* There are students from my school that belong to street gangs 18.4%
* I know how well my child is doing in class 91.13%
* I expect my child to do well in school 97.98%
Support Staff: Strengths
- Our teachers are good teachers 92.31%
- I believe I can positively impact student
Certified Staff Strengths
- I have the skills necessary to meet the
needs of all learners in my classroom 90.79%
- I believe I can positively impact student
- If students in this school have a problem,
teachers will listen and help 95.1%
- I alter instructional strategies when students
are having difficulty learning the material. 93.27
- I incorporate contextual/real life learning
in the classroom 92.33%
- I feel safe at this school 90.29%
- Clear rules that promote good behavior
are enforced in my class 96.69%
Middle School Student: Areas for Improvement
- My teachers place students in small groups 23.83%
- I am asked to summarize new material 30.09%
- During classes we stay focused on learning
and don’t waste time 44.2%
- I like reading 46.34%
- Students at my school are friendly 36.33%
High School Student: Areas for Improvement
- Career technical information is an essential
part of the district’s program of studies 32.54%
- Teachers in my school really care about me 45.77%
- I am given opportunities to present what I
have learned to other students 28.09%
- I like reading 41.53%
- Discipline is handled fairly in my school 39.18%
Certified Staff: Areas for Improvement
- There is adequate professional development
for teachers working with special education
students in our school 43.37%
- Instructional time available to teachers is
protected from interruptions 42.16%
- The amount of essential content that has been
identified can be addressed in the instructional
time available to teachers. 49.83%