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The results of a survey that gathered parents’ views on individual schools was presented to the School Board on Nov. 19. High percentages of the parents surveyed said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their schools and the academic progress their children were making. Parents, however, expressed concerns about the challenge and rigor of the curriculum and whether teachers were addressing the diverse needs of all students in the classroom.

The survey was administered in February and March of 2012, said Paul Brinson, former chief information officer of District 65 who oversaw the survey. Approximately 1,825 families, representing 3,121 students, responded to the survey; 74% of the respondents were white, 12% African American, and 8% Hispanic. There were 22 survey questions, but in addition there were “literally thousands of comments” written in, says the report prepared by Mr. Brinson.

General Satisfaction with Their School

On an overall basis, 47% of the respondents said they were “satisfied” with their schools and 47% said they were “very satisfied” – for a 94% satisfaction rate. Higher percentages of parents were “very satisfied” with the elementary schools (52%) and magnet schools (57%), than the middle schools (30%).

Parents were generally pleased with their child’s elementary school experiences, says the report. “They see the schools as nurturing, the instructional staff as effective, and leadership as excellent.”

Responses about the middle schools were more mixed. “Respondents expressed concerns about academic expectations and preparation for high school,” says the report. “There is more concern expressed by respondents about the overall rigor of the middle school curriculum than was expressed at the elementary school.”

Mr. Brinson said that one thing that stuck out in his mind were the parents’ comments about the quality of student-teacher engagement. Parents said, “when their students and the teachers connect, then the children flourish, but if not, children may quickly lose interest and, at times, regress,” says the report. (Emphasis in report). “The quality of student-teacher engagement is seen as the most critical point made by respondents for determining their child’s success in any given year.”

Academic Rigor

In response to survey questions about academic rigor and expectations, 79% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their children were “challenged academically,” 76% that their school provides “a challenging and rigorous curriculum” and 72% that teachers “do a good job adjusting to the needs of each student.”

According to the report, a theme in the written comments, though, is that some students, particularly students at advanced levels, are not being challenged.

“There were numerous comments about enrichment and concerns expressed about the depth of the curriculum, as taught, for advanced students,” says the report. “Respondents’ comments are often split, with some viewing their children as engaged and thriving and others seeing their children as unchallenged and subsequently disengaged. Parents’ comments expressed the desire for teachers to better differentiate instruction to meet the varying needs of students in the classroom.”

“The consensus among respondents is that the curriculum is appropriate and challenging for most students through the middle ability range,” says the report, “but that more challenging and less repetitive work is needed for advanced students.”

Mr. Brinson said some specific comments include a desire to focus more “on ways of thinking and problem solving,” to consider “more differentiated and engaging tasks,” more depth in math in the k-5 grade levels, more focus on non-fictional materials in reading, more writing and focus on structural components of grammar and spelling, greater definition and consistency in the writing initiative, and more attention to science.

When presenting a summary of parents’ comments, the report did not quantify the number of comments that related to any topic. Mr. Brinson said he tried to provide a general thread of what was important.

Resources/Classroom Management

In response to the survey, 77% of the respondents said their school “provides adequate support services for my children;” 65% said “the instructional programs are managed to maximize learning time;” 93% say their child is treated with dignity and respect by other children.

In summarizing the written comments, the report says parents “like the diversity of student abilities in the District’s classrooms,” but “they are concerned about the typical teacher’s capability to address the range of students and behavior in diverse classrooms.”

Parents feel that “more classroom staff is needed to manage the students and meet the learning needs of the range of abilities in the classroom.” They “feel that class sizes of 23-25, at the elementary levels, are too large for effective instruction.”

The report adds that parents expressed a concern that “the District’s inclusion initiative places an added burden on teachers who are unequipped to manage without assistants. … On the other hand, virtually all respondents of ‘included children’ are impressed with the outcomes and appreciate how their child is accepted into the regular classroom.”

“Some respondents feel that minority students are at times treated differently and held to different standards of behavior or treatment for infractions,” adds the report.

Addressing Parents’ Concerns

Assistant superintendents Susan Schultz and Ellen Fogelberg said principals are already addressing parents’ concerns expressed in the survey.

Principals at the elementary schools focused on three questions, said Ms. Fogelberg: “question 6 around challenging, rigorous curriculum, question 10 around teachers’ adjusting their curriculum, and question 16, managing instruction to maximize learning over time.”

“Those became the issues that all of the [elementary] schools were in agreement should be worked on,” she said.

In addition, homework at the elementary schools became an issue and a small committee was formed to develop a consistent approach. The schools are also working on improving communication with parents.

Ms. Schultz, said, “The middle schools are really focused on question 5, are children academically challenged, question 6, the challenge and rigor of the curriculum, high expectations and adjusting to the needs of the students. … Action is taking place around these things already. At the school level they have all established goals.” In addition, “all of the principals have communications goals,” she said.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki said, “These numbers should really be sounding the alarm. Middle School is an area we really need to push in. “Ms. Schultz responded, “I can’t tell you how much of an alarm they have sounded.” Board member Richard Rykhus said, “I want to emphasize how exciting and positive I think it is that we have actionable information at the school level. That’s really a huge step forward.”

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “There seems to be a general perception from parents who filled out this survey that they’re looking for something in the instructional experience in all of our schools that is more challenging and rewarding for their children, and I think we have to step back and look at a couple of things. I think we have to look at what it is we have going on in the curriculum, the scope, sequence and pacing, the pockets of the curriculum and its objectives, and I think we also have to look at how effective we are in teaching.”

Jerome Summers raised an issue that 77% of the respondents were parents of white students, 12% African American, and 8% Hispanic, and that these percentages were not representative of the student body. Ms. Schultz said the principals encouraged parents to respond to the survey. Mr. Brinson said he thought more parents would complete the survey next year when they realized that their answers are acted on.

Board member Eileen Budde suggested that the District explore how this survey might be combined with the District-wide survey conducted by ECRA. The Board is expected to do so when ECRA presents its survey results at the Board’s Dec. 3 meeting.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...