NT chief wants state to reconsider survey
Central School eighth-graders enter the school at the start of their day. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:13AM
New Trier High School’s superintendent said she’ll ask the Illinois State Board of Education to reconsider how a new school survey set to roll out across the state Feb. 1 is used.
District 203’s Linda Yonke’s biggest problem with the 5Essentials Survey: Statistics gleaned from teachers’ and parents’ answers to questions about principals’ performance will be made public by the ISBE.
“I’m concerned that publishing that result is just not an ethical thing to do,” Yonke said Jan. 24. “It’s like publishing a teacher’s evaluation.
“In the meantime, I think it’s incumbent on us to express our concerns to the state.”
Nick Montgomery, head of UChicago Impact, the University of Chicago division that created the survey, downplayed the principal portion Friday.
“It’s not a principal evaluation,” he said. “The vast majority of the survey is about what’s happening in the school broadly.”
ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus said the state was merely trying to provide “another source of information ... a more robust picture of our schools.”
The survey is similar to Impact surveys used in several other areas of the country, including, for about 20 years, the Chicago Public Schools.
Until 2009, the CPS survey’s results were given to principals only. Now, the results are public, aside from parents’ responses, which are expected to be included in the non-CPS results on illinois.5-essentials.org. Parents of children grades 6-12 can start answering questions about their schools starting Feb. 1, on the same site.
The survey measures five “essentials”: Effective Leaders, Collaborative Teachers, Ambitious Instruction, Supportive Environment and Involved Families. Statistics show, Montgomery says, that if a school scores adequately in three of five, it will be successful.
Parents will be queried, Does your child’s teacher respect you and have the best interests of your child in mind?
The students, grades 6-12, get to talk back, too, on school computers: Does the teacher help me catch up if I’m behind? Explain something differently if I don’t understand?
Teachers’ questions include: Do the parents show up for conferences? Volunteer? Do the students participate? Show each other respect? And is the principal effective? Put the needs of children ahead of personal and political interests?
Ernesto Matias, principal of Chicago’s Wells Community Academy High School, said the survey works. But a visible depiction of the five essentials for his West Side school, colored in the shades of a traffic light, show that only “Effective Leadership” as green. The others are all the color of caution, though the numbers behind the colors are improving.
“It’s all on yellow, and that means we have work to do,” he said. “When we plan out our year, we keep that in mind. For example, we’ve planned a teacher retreat, based on the teacher-to-teacher results that aren’t as high as we would want them.”
He noted that “parent trust grew about 17 percent last year,” pushed by a book club and a weekly, in-school parent club. Some criticisms of the survey are hard to accept, “and others, we take to heart. Criticism is always hard to take.”
At Ferdinand Peck Elementary School on Chicago’s Southwest Side, only “Supportive Environment” is yellow. Respondents “say we are doing good, but not good enough,” Principal Okab Hassan said. “I’d like to see all the areas green.”
He said that with half his school Hispanic, he considers it his responsibility to offer in-school educational programs to help parents help their children progress. When it comes to the survey, despite it being offered in Spanish, “the questions are hard for the parents.”
In the suburbs, there may be some difficulties, too. Though the percentage of native Spanish speakers is lower, Korean-speakers are numerous, and that’s not among the languages being offered.
Glencoe Elementary School District 35 Superintendent Cathlene Crawford said that she encourages parents to participate, but questioned how much the survey would reveal if it isn’t separated by grade level.
New Trier “has a freshman survey that’s more specific, and gives a little more clear slice of the student population,” she said.
Montgomery said results aren’t separated by grade levels because teachers could be too easily identified.
New Trier’s Yonke said the body of research developed by Impact “is fantastic,” but many of the 5Essential questions don’t seem to apply to her district.
There are several about safety and support in the school’s neighborhoods.
“The Northfield (freshman) school doesn’t even have a neighborhood,” she said.
And questions about relationships between principals and teachers make less sense when there are 360 teachers, she said.
“A teacher who has been here two years may never have had a principal visit the classroom,” she said. It would make more sense, she said, if department heads were being measured.
She said that New Trier offers its own “climate survey” about every two years.
“This is the kind of data that everybody wants,” said the ISBE’s Fergus, referring to 5Essentials.
“People who want to come into a city will look at this data and decide as to where to move.”
The Chicago Teachers Union’s director of research said many city schools have significant teacher/principal issues, often reflected in the survey. But “I’ve seen no evidence that CPS in any way takes a second look at principals as a result of this survey,” Carol Careth said.
She said that it might bring more facts to the school closings process, but isn’t used there, either.
She said that in general, educational administrators don’t trust surveys, assessments or research of any kind.