Washington, D.C. — A new, free platform of web-based surveys designed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) for the U.S. Department of Education will allow the nation’s schools to perform sophisticated analyses of school climate, enabling them to assess conditions for learning that range from safety to the quality of the instructional environment.
The ED School Climate Surveys include separate versions for middle and high school students, teachers and school staff, and parents and guardians. The surveys provide actionable, real-time data that can be easily understood without a researcher’s help.
States, districts and schools can add items and use the surveys over time to identify trends and assess results of school climate efforts. A Quick Guide on Making School Climate Improvements accompanies the platform, which launched on March 31.
“Two big reasons schools typically cite for not doing school climate surveys is that they lack the funds to administer them or the expertise to analyze them,” said David Osher, AIR vice president and institute fellow. “This project eliminates those arguments. The survey is free, and the results are presented in a user-friendly language any layperson can understand.”
School climate encompasses a wide range of elements that support engagement, learning and emotional safety. It pertains not only to physical safety—such as vandalism or fighting—but also to such factors as respect, trust and caring relationships in the school community, engagement, and cultural competency.
One of the surveys asks students to respond, using a scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” to a host of statements that includes the following:
- “My teachers care about me.”
- “I feel safe at this school.”
- “My teachers praise me when I work hard in school.”
- “Students at this school stop and think before doing anything when they get angry.”
The new resources build on two White House initiatives, President Obama’s Now is the Time plan and My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, which recommend that the Department of Education work on the school climate issue. As part of Now is the Time, the department announced that helping schools create safer and more nurturing school climates is a high priority. The department funded its National Center for Education Statistics to develop the surveys to create a school climate measurement platform in coordination with the Office of Safe and Healthy Students.
The new platform processes survey data and can provide states, districts and schools with reports that can be stored locally on their own data systems. In 2017, the department plans to survey a nationally representative sample of schools to create benchmark scores for school climate. Once these benchmark scores have been added to the platform, local and national scores can be compared. The federal government will not collect or store school-generated survey data for any other purposes.
Research has shown that positive school climate is linked to improving attendance, test scores and graduation rates. One 2008 study of school climate over seven years found that schools that measured strong in such areas as school safety, teacher quality and parent and community ties were 10 times as likely to show substantial gains in reading and math than schools with few of these attributes.
“For years, we’ve used academic achievement tests to identify problems and assess school performance,” said Sandy Williamson, AIR vice president and director of the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. “The school climate surveys provide equally important data that indicate whether members of the school community feel emotionally and physically safe, engaged in learning and connected to each other and the school.”
AIR has developed school climate surveys for schools, districts, states and international organizations and has worked with practitioners to use climate data and researched-based evidence to target improvements. For more information, go to AIR's School Climate and Safety topic page.
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.