On Jan. 19, the District 65 School Board approved a proposal to use the ECRA Group to develop, administer and report on teacher, parent and community surveys. The surveys will gather information that will be used to measure progress in meeting certain goals in the District’s five-year strategic plan, and may be used in making budgetary and other decisions.

ECRA works with school districts across the state to monitor student achievement, to assess the quality and effectiveness of instructional programs, and to develop customized surveys to gather information.

John Gotta, executive vice president of ECRA, said the survey will be done in three phases, all of which he said can be completed in a three-month period.

Phase I will define the objectives of the survey, said Mr. Gotta. During this phase, ECRA will conduct separate focus groups with members of the School Board, administrators, teachers and parents and gather open-ended responses “about general perceptions of the current state of reality, perceived strengths and areas for improvement in the District. …Topics include but are not limited to curriculum and instruction; human resources (teachers, administrators, etc.); facilities and services; technology; school climate; equity; resources; staff development; communication and community outreach,” says ECRA’s proposal.

Mr. Gotta said information gathered in the focus groups will help clarify the objectives of the survey, make it more collaborative, and help refine the questions that should be asked in the survey.

“In a nutshell,” Mr. Gotta said, the purpose of the focus groups “is to make sure when all the process is over, when the full report comes back, [you don’t say] ‘I wish we would have done this, I wish we had these questions …” in the survey.

In phase two, ECRA will administer the surveys that will include questions to elicit information on issues that emerge during the focus groups. The survey of administrators, teachers and staff will be conducted entirely online. The parent survey would be mailed to every parent, and parents would have the option of completing the survey in paper format or online. These surveys will include forced-choice (i.e. multiple choice) and open-ended questions, and the identity of the respondents will be kept confidential, said Mr. Gotta.

The community at large will be surveyed on a random sample basis by telephone, said Mr. Gotta. The questions may be more streamlined and relate to topics such as perceptions, attitudes and experiences of community members.

In the third phase, Mr. Gotta said ECRA will present the Board with a comprehensive report. He said the report will present “clearly articulated findings” and “a deep synthesis of what the data represents.”

He said ECRA has done work for many school districts and can put the data in context and offer a perspective that will assist the Board in understanding the data generated through the surveys. “If you don’t have that perspective and that context, you really don’t know how to integrate the data,” he said.

Board member Andy Pigozzi noted that the surveys are intended to provide a baseline and then assess year-by-year progress toward meeting an ultimate goal. He said he was “concerned about the sustainability to do this on an annual basis.” He said the Board needed to look at ways to reduce expenses, and asked, “Is this something we want to commit to?”

“A little amount of money spent on information is a wise thing to do,” Mr. Gotta said. “The power of information is especially important in these times when you [the Board] start talking about what is the appropriate action the Board needs to take to ensure fiscal responsibility, to ensure high quality programs, to ensure sustained excellence.

“Surveys foster the ability to make very informed decisions and stay connected to all the constituencies and stakeholder groups,” he added.

The Board discussed the possibility of conducting only parts of the survey in subsequent years, such as doing the community survey every few years to reduce the ongoing cost.

The initial proposal did not include parent focus groups, but at the request of Board members, the survey process will include focus groups of a diverse mix of parents. The Board unanimously approved the proposal with that adjustment, at a cost of about $51,000 for the initial year.

Surveys to Measure Progress Of Strategic Plan Goals

The District’s five-year strategic plan adopted by the Board in March 2009 calls for surveys of parents and teachers to measure the success of nine goals contained in the plan. The plan contemplates that parents will be surveyed to assess the degree of age-appropriate disability awareness, to assess whether parents feel the schools are welcoming and supportive, to determine whether parents feel effectively engaged in the schools, to determine if parents feel the District has equitably and in a timely fashion resolved their concerns, and to determine the level of parent satisfaction.

The strategic plan also calls for teacher surveys to assess teachers’ use of technology to enhance instruction in the classroom, to assess the degree of staff satisfaction with the District’s professional development programs and activities, and to determine the level of staff satisfaction generally.