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Surveys help schools gauge how well theyre doing
Officials value students, parents feedback, hope to balance workload
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Along with the usual exams, homework and standardized tests teachers and students go through on a regular basis, there now are five surveys in place in Georgia education.

“I will tell you, it takes a lot of effort and coordination,” said Kevin Bales, middle grades school improvement specialist for the Hall County School District. “Sometimes I worry that there’s not someone ... monitoring the overall aspect. There’s so much that has to get done at this point in time.”

Two of the surveys are for students, two are for school personnel and one, newly implemented this year, is for parents. Results of each serve different purposes.

Three of the surveys — the Georgia Student Health Survey, the Teacher Survey and the Parent Survey — assess school climate. The Student Health Survey, which is given only to middle school and high school students, goes a little bit deeper than the other two in asking about survey takers’ drug and alcohol usage.

Basically, results from the three surveys combine to determine whether or not the school is a positive and safe learning environment.

The combined data forms a star rating within the College and Career Ready Performance Index, the state’s accountability system for measuring school success and growth. As part of this accountability measure, the state uses the data for a five-star rating for each school.

In addition to the Georgia Student Health Survey, students also must take what’s called the Surveys of Instructional Practice. Those questions ask them to review their teachers, and will be used in teacher evaluations.

“That (survey) seems to be the more intensive one,” said Priscilla Collins, director of school improvement for Gainesville City Schools, saying it presents a “scheduling issue” for teachers trying to carve time in the day to get their classes to a computer lab.

Also complicating matters is that the teacher can’t administer the survey, as the questions are about the instructor.

“There has been a lot of effort exhausted in trying to organize and structure the different surveys that are now a part of the requirements,” Bales said. “We try to provide support and reminders regarding timelines and deadlines.”

The fifth survey, called the Climate Survey, is for school staff to evaluate the principal and assistant principal.

Ultimately, the results of those teacher and school leader evaluations will lead to merit-based pay and bonuses.

Teachers especially were nervous when first hearing student opinion would have an impact, Collins said, fearing a student having a bad day may lead to a lower score.

Those survey results are only a part of the overall evaluation, Collins explained. She said it’s more of a way for principals to spot any inconsistencies between their personal evaluation of the teacher and what the students were saying.

Another concern lies in the accessibility of all five surveys. They are all online; there are no paper versions. While the Climate Survey and the Surveys of Instructional Practice require school codes to access, the other three do not. If provided with the link, anyone can go in and take the surveys for any school.

“It’s not that we have concerns,” Bales said. “But what’s difficult is the fact that you also want to be able to have a confidence with regard to those results based upon how the data and information was gathered.”

Collins also said she wished the surveys were a little more secure. For its part, the state department of education earlier stated it does track Internet protocol addresses and spot check for any inconsistencies or abuse of the system.

Results are all anonymous. No names are provided. Codes are provided for both the Surveys of Instructional Practice and Climate Survey. Teachers and administrators can see the cumulative responses once 15 separate surveys are submitted.

While none are time-consuming on their own, the five separate surveys present problems in trying to get them all completed by a variety of deadlines, most set for spring 2014. Beyond the hassles of scheduling, though, school officials say results ultimately provide valuable information that can be used in planning a school’s future.

“We see the value in the goals,” Bales said. “We understand the process. We understand the desired outcomes and the fact that we’re trying to get feedback from our community and our stakeholders. We place tremendous value on that feedback.”