LIVINGSTON, NJ - The initial results of a data-rich climate and culture survey measuring attitudes and perceptions K-12 grade students, their parents and educators have about eight key areas of Livingston Public School (LPS) life are in and being analyzed. 

Superintendent Cristina Steffner gave a presentation that reviewed high level findings from the survey at this week’s Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meeting.

The Climate & Culture Survey was spearheaded by an 18-member Health & Wellness Committee, comprised of a cross-section of school administrators, principals, counseling professionals, nurses, teachers and parents. The Committee was tasked with vetting the best survey tool to use and will be responsible for dissecting the data and recommending ways in which it can be meaningfully used.

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Selected for its ability to accommodate feedback from the three stakeholder groups, New Jersey’s Department of Education Climate Survey was the winning survey tool.  Though students were not included in the committee, Steffner reported that it would be beneficial to recruit their participation, going forward.

Fielded in February, the first-time survey provides the basis for a long-term, longitudinal study that will help the LPS monitor changing attitudes and perceptions regarding physical environment, teaching and learning, morale, student relationships, parental support, safety, emotional environment and homework and stress as improvements are made in response to the feedback these surveys ultimately reveal.  The LPS has the ability to look at the data by grade level, school building, or comparatively between multiple respondent groups.  

A consistent number of student responses from each grade level and school gave a representative sample with which to work (over 3,100 in total).  Of the 1,000 parents who filled out the survey, those of kindergarten students were most engaged (at nearly 12-percent) while eighth grade parents were least likely to answer (at nearly 4.5-percent).  Additionally, a little more than 550 staff members provided their impressions through the survey.
Some Notable Results

In analyzing the data, Steffner said that one of the things committee members focused on was not coming to the analysis process with preconceived notions of what the data might show, but rather letting the information speak for itself.

“One of the things that the committee found was that, from elementary through high school, one of the biggest stressors for our students was getting good grades -- even for the little ones,” said Steffner.

In a similar vein, parents’ and students’ perceptions of the amount of homework assigned were in alignment, though teachers viewed this issue quite differently. Parents and students also challenged the value of summer work.  These were mentioned as areas that the LPS would look into to see if they can bring the groups in closer alignment, in the future.  As evidenced by the results of this question, students further reported that they feel tremendously supported by parents.

When it came to school safety, all groups noted they found school safety drills helpful and wanted to see more of them conducted.  In terms of the responses to this section, Steffner cautioned that the survey was administered almost immediately after the Parkland, FL incident which may have impacted the nature of those responses.  

Future Improvements from Lessons Learned

Steffner pointed out several areas that will be tweaked in future iterations of the survey.  

One such area requiring attention is in the differing Likert scale structures used in the elementary versus the secondary school surveys. While the elementary school survey asked respondents to use a three-point scale (where answers could be yes, sometimes and no), the secondary school survey offered a five-point scale (with answers ranging from strongly agree and strongly disagree to agree and disagree or neutral).  Additionally, the clarity of some questions will be improved.  Finally, the initial survey will be used to perfect the format for utilizing and presenting the data.

“One of the things the committee is going to look at more closely for the secondary school survey is that a lot of the numbers are right in the neutral category,” said Steffner.  “So we’re looking at whether people answered neutral so they didn’t have to take a position or was that just where the score fell out and it doesn’t really mean neutral.”  The solution posed by the Committee, according to Steffner, would be to eliminate the neutral response going forward to help push respondents to answer on one end of the scale or the other to get a better sense of where respondents stand on each issue.

Another flaw of the initial survey came to light in the way that certain questions were phrased.  Since some statements were phrased in a positive way and others in a negative one (though the response scale remained static regardless of the phrasing), the resulting scores for individual questions couldn’t be easily compared without revisiting the language associated with those questions.  For example, a high score on a statement like “My teachers make learning interesting” would be desirable but a low score on the statement “I am bored in school” would also be desirable.  

“We purchased a system that several individuals are being trained on,” Steffner said.  “It’s a great tool for the ability to disaggregate data in a quick and efficient manner.”

Next Steps

Committee members are charged with reviewing the data through the lens of data points that particularly capture their attention, the story that the data both tells and fails to tell, findings that should be called out and celebrated, challenges presented, and key conclusions and recommendations that can be made.  They will then create at least two action plans that will continue to be worked on in the upcoming year.

The survey will next be administered in October 2018.  

“We’ll look for trends within buildings and throughout the district and look to establish longitudinal data which can be compared with this just-released data,” concluded Steffner.  “But this is one snapshot in time and you need to use it in conjunction with other data such as student performance, student attendance, graduation and drop out rates, to get the full picture.”