How to Survey Students

How to Survey Students: Tips for Conducting a School Survey

Student surveys are a proven way for community coalitions and schools to evaluate a variety of factors and make effective, data-based decisions. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Teaching Effectiveness project found that “student survey results are predictive of student achievement” and “that student surveys produce more consistent results than classroom observations or achievement gain measures.”[1][2] As a result, they are a highly popular method of evaluation that is being adopted nationwide.
While deciding to survey the students is an important first step, before you dive into the deep end of the surveying process, it’s important to take a step back and look at the surveying process as a whole. Understanding how to survey students and the best practices for conducting a school survey will help ensure that the school will experience the most benefits from a successful surveying process.
Before you begin, you should address the following basic questions and use these as a guide when planning out how the school will conduct its student survey:

  • 1. What are the goals of your survey?
  • 2. Who will you survey?
  • 3. How will you choose a survey?
  • 4. When should the school conduct your survey?
  • 5. What survey administration procedures should the school follow?
  • 6. How will the school analyze the survey data?
  • 7. How will the school report the results of your survey?[3]

 

Identifying Student Survey Goals

After you’ve decided that you need to conduct a survey (perhaps as a result of a grant or funding requirement), but before you actually start the process, the school must identify its surveying goals. “To create a useful dialogue, administrators need to understand the needs of their communities up front, ask the right questions, and do a better job [of] managing expectations.”[4] These goals, formed based on specific motivations and needs, will guide the surveying process from start to finish, beginning with survey selection and ending with results distribution and decision-making. When developing the school’s surveying goals, consider the following:

  • • What motivated the school to conduct a survey?
  • • What information are you looking to learn from the survey?
  • • What aspects of the school environment are you looking to evaluate?
  • • What do you want the survey to accomplish?

 

Selecting a Student Survey & Participants

Once you have established a set of preliminary goals, you can begin the process of selecting a specific survey measure. “The success of conducting a survey always involves choosing the most suitable survey method by means of balancing the pros and cons and considering other factors related to the survey methods.”[5]
Additionally, the type of survey you choose will be largely informed by the goals and the accompanying needs. For example, if your coalition is applying for a grant for substance abuse education funding for a local middle school, a bullying or general school climate survey designed for high school students would likely not be appropriate or helpful.
Aside from choosing a survey that fits the school’s needs, there are additional qualifications you should consider, as well. The student survey you choose should have scientifically proven reliability and validity, and it should have previously undergone real-world testing. Additionally, the measure should guarantee anonymity to encourage a higher degree of accurate responses.[6]
After choosing a survey, you’ll also need to consider who you are going to survey. Depending on your goals, the size of the school, and any financial considerations, you may want to choose a specific grade level, a subset of classes, or some other representative sample. If you are only surveying a selection of students, you must use a “scientific sampling procedure to ensure the results can be generalized to the entire student population.”[7]
Furthermore, you should consider issues of consent. Oftentimes with research involving humans, review and approval from an institutional review board (IRB) is required before surveying can take place. However, 48 states currently do not require schools to get special approval and allow for passive consent when surveying students. Under passive consent, parents are notified that their child will be participating in a school survey, but are also given the option to opt their student out of the process if they would prefer. Alternately, active consent, as the name suggests, requires a parent or guardian to actively opt their child in, such as by filling out a permission slip. Therefore, while it is unlikely that you will need IRB approval or active consent, knowing the laws and regulations for your state are important to ensure that you acquire proper consent before beginning the survey process.

Conducting the Survey

After you’ve selected the right type of survey for the school the administration process can begin. One of the primary questions to ask is when would be the best time to conduct the survey. Depending on the school’s goals and survey, the question of “when” can address the best time-of-day, day-of-week, and time-of-year.
For example, if an elementary school is interested in evaluating overall school climate, it likely would be better served by surveying students towards the middle or end of the year rather than the beginning, when students are still adjusting to new schedules and environments.
On the other hand, for a high school seeking to comprehensively evaluate all of its students for perceptions about bullying and mental health, conducting a survey during a free period or lunchtime would likely not be appropriate or effective.
Similarly, the actual administration procedures are critical to the success of the school’s surveys. In fact, “[t]he importance of setting standards and following prescribed survey administration procedures cannot be overestimated. Survey administration standards help protect the confidentiality of schools and anonymity of students, improve the quality of data collected, and increase school and student response rates…One way to help ensure that the survey is administered to all classes in the same way is to develop a script for survey administrators to read to students when they conduct the survey.”[8]
Other important decisions you’ll need to make pertaining to the administration process include:

  • • Who will administer the surveys? Oftentimes, if students will be taking the surveys in-classroom, it’s logical to enlist teachers to administer. However, regardless of who the school chooses, you should offer a quick training for survey administrators beforehand.
  • • Will your surveys be conducted with paper and pencil or online? There are certainly advantages and disadvantages of each method, and you’ll want to consider which option is best for the school and the students.

 

Analyzing Your Student Survey

Analyzing the results of your student survey is one of the most important parts of the entire process, but it can also be one of the most time-consuming and have the greatest potential for error. Depending on a number of factors (e.g. whether you used paper or online surveys, if you are using manual or electronic entry of results, how and where you are collecting the results, and how the results will be presented and to whom), the analysis process can vary widely. Additional factors that would impact your organization’s analysis and interpretation method include whether or not you are applying specific calculations to the data, what type of analytical and statistical level of expertise you have for additional cross-tabulations and constructs, and more.
For a more in-depth look at this process, check out this article on analyzing and interpreting student survey results.

Student Survey Results: Reporting & Decision-Making

After analyzing and interpreting the results of the school’s survey, the final step in the process involves reporting and decision-making. In short, “accurate measurement is essential, but it is insufficient to improve effectiveness… without providing support for improvement, school systems will not realize a return on their investments in student surveys.”[9] There are multiple different groups to consider when reporting your results:

  • • “Parents: Parents may be more inclined to support school health policies, programs, and activities if they are informed about the risk behaviors of students.
  • • Teachers: Teachers will benefit from having more information about the prevalence of risk behaviors among their students and may modify their curricula to address particularly widespread risk behaviors.
  • • Students: Students may want to be involved in designing and implementing relevant policies and programs to address health risk behaviors.
  • • Administrators and school board members: Administrators and school board members can use the [survey] data to guide the development of various school policies.
  • • Agencies and organizations working with youth: These agencies and organizations will be interested in using survey results to improve their own programs and activities.”[10]

Similarly, the school may want to establish a policy regarding the distribution and dissemination of survey data. “Consider carefully what data you are willing to share and how the data will be shared…Remember that you must make sure that the privacy of students and confidentiality of schools is protected at all times.”[11] Furthermore, if the survey is being paid for with federal funding, keep in mind that the results may fall under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Student Surveying Process: Simplified

Now that you have a comprehensive overview of how to survey students from start to finish, your organization is ready to begin using survey measures to help schools evaluate students and work towards achieving its goals.
However, if your coalition or the school does not have the time, resources, or expertise to effectively handle the entire process, partnering with a third party can help. An experienced surveying company can assist you in identifying your goals, selecting the right survey for the school, survey administration, collection of data, and even analysis and reporting.
Find out more about why Pride Surveys is the right choice for your student survey partnership. Got questions? Ready to get started? Give us a call at 800-279-6361 or fill out our quick online contact form!


[1]“Asking Students about Teaching: Student Perception Surveys and Their Implementation.” Policy and Practice Summary. Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Asking_Students_Summary_Doc.pdf on November 17, 2016.

[2]“Gathering Feedback for Teaching: Combining High-Quality Observations with Student Surveys and Achievement Gains.” Policy and Practice Brief. Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/MET_Gathering_Feedback_Practioner_Brief.pdf on November 17, 2016.

[3]“A Guide to Conducting Your Own Youth Risk Behavior Study.” June 2014. National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention: Division of Adolescent and School Health. CDC.gov. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/yrbs_conducting_your_own.pdf on November 17, 2016.

[4]Kominiak, Todd. “How to Make Your Next School Survey Count.” May 19, 2016. trustED. K12 Insight.com. Retrieved from https://blog.k12insight.com/2016/05/19/how-to-make-your-next-school-survey-count/ on November 18, 2016.

[5]Sincero, Sarah Mae. “Selecting the Survey Method. April 1, 2012. Explorable.com. Retrieved from https://explorable.com/selecting-the-survey-method on November 18, 2016.

[6]“Asking Students about Teaching: Student Perception Surveys and Their Implementation. Policy and Practice Brief. Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Asking_Students_Practitioner_Brief.pdf on November 17, 2016.

[7]“A Guide to Conducting Your Own Youth Risk Behavior Study.” June 2014. National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention: Division of Adolescent and School Health. CDC.gov. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/yrbs_conducting_your_own.pdf on November 17, 2016.

[8]“A Guide to Conducting Your Own Youth Risk Behavior Study.” June 2014. National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention: Division of Adolescent and School Health. CDC.gov. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/yrbs_conducting_your_own.pdf on November 17, 2016.

[9]“Asking Students about Teaching: Student Perception Surveys and Their Implementation. Policy and Practice Brief. Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Asking_Students_Practitioner_Brief.pdf on November 18, 2016.

[10]“A Guide to Conducting Your Own Youth Risk Behavior Study.” June 2014. National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention: Division of Adolescent and School Health. CDC.gov. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/yrbs_conducting_your_own.pdf on November 17, 2016.

[11]Ibid.



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