Education Week - March 27, 2013 - (Page 12)
MARCH 27, 2013
States’ Score Cards Pinpoint
Problems of School Climate
By Nirvi Shah
Accountability isn’t just for academics anymore.
In 11 states, a new score card for
high schools has been designed to
measure school climate in an attempt to put safety and discipline,
student engagement, and students’
connection to school on the same
footing as their performance in
mathematics and reading. The new
report cards or indices—which must
be posted online in an easy-to-find
place—are based on a combination
of student, staff-member, and parent
perceptions of school climate and
hard data on discipline, attendance,
graduation, and dropout rates.
States are enacting the new measures with support from roughly
$37 million in Safe and Supportive
School—or s3—grants won three
years ago from the U.S. Department
“This project has brought climate
to the forefront,” said Kim Schanock,
a social worker at West High School
in Green Bay, Wis. She oversees the
s3 grant project for all four of the
Green Bay district’s high schools.
While schools there and across the
country may already have been addressing climate-related issues to an
extent, academic initiatives driven
by student-achievement data have
always taken precedence in the past.
Especially as states tackle the
implementation of the Common
Core State Standards, the balance
between addressing the conditions
necessary for students to learn and
what students are actually learning
has become more difficult to strike.
The S3 grants aim to eliminate the
need to prioritize one or the other.
Winning states chose high
schools—about 400 in all—at which
to administer anonymous climate
surveys that ask about a collection
of issues, such as whether students
feel there is an adult they connect
with on campus, if students have
experienced or witnessed bullying,
and if they have used drugs or alcohol recently. The states are now
using the bulk of the grant money to
implement specific evidence-based
interventions to address the problems revealed by the surveys and
the data on student discipline and
graduation rates collected from the
schools. Schools will give the surveys
at least until the grant ends next
school year. Some will be able to
query their students annually now
that the survey instruments have
been developed, and in many states,
the surveys are now available for
any school to use, albeit without the
money to respond to the findings.
Anonymous school climate surveys are not new, nor is the separate tracking of school discipline
statistics, though for years, the two
sets of information were collected
and circulated in independent orbits. Typically in the past, those
data were used to inform officials
about what needed to stop occurring at their schools or were col-
lected but not acted on.
The Safe and Supportive School
grant work is intended to help
schools continue to dissuade students from making poor choices and
behaving improperly, and also to
promote measures that are working,
said David Osher. He is the principal investigator at the National
Center on Safe Supportive Learning
Environments, which is overseeing
the grant program, and a vice president of the American Institutes for
Research, in Washington, where he
is an expert on school climate.
“It’s that subtle but not unimportant difference between not staying
home [from school] because you’re
scared but wanting to be there because it’s an exciting, supportive
place,” Mr. Osher said. “It’s really
understanding that what you want
to do is create emotionally safe and
supportive conditions in school so
people work together better and
learn better together.”
In recent testimony before a U.S.
House of Representatives committee
about school safety, Mr. Osher noted
that in the 3½ months since the
massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., he
has been collaborating with other
branches of the federal Education
Department that address school
safety and emergency response.
“That work doesn’t begin and end
with preventing a horrible thing
from happening,” he said. When
students feel comfortable talking
to adults at their schools, they are
more likely to share information
about planned events of violence,
episodes of bullying, and other issues that can affect school safety.
“This [grant program] was the
first attempt at this benchmark—
really measuring in some tangible
way—school climate, and then
blending that with incident data
like attendance, referrals, suspensions, then saying, ‘Here are areas
that need to be addressed,’ ” said
Sandy Keenan Williamson, the director of the National Center on
Safe Supportive Learning Environments.
The competitive s3 grants replaced larger, formula-based
chunks of money that every state
received in the past for enhancing
school safety and drug prevention.
Another indication of how much
the federal government values
school climate endeavors: In the
plan to improve school and community safety that President Barack
Obama unveiled after the Newtown shootings, he recommended a
$50 million initiative to help 8,000
schools train teachers and other
staff members to implement evidence-based strategies to improve
school climate, among other proposals. The president said his administration also will devise a school
climate survey designed to provide
reliable data to help schools implement policies to improve climate.
A few of the 11 state s3 grantees
have a long history of using a tool
to measure student and staff perceptions of school climate, including
California and Kansas. For other
grant-winning states, such as West
Virginia, the survey process was
At some participating schools,
administrators suspected one thing
was a problem yet found students
saw something else to be an issue.
“There were a lot of surprises,”
said Andrea Alexander, the specialist for school climate initiatives in
Maryland who oversees that state’s
s3 program. “People are learning
things from this data.”
A number of schools have found
that problems are best addressed
by instituting a formal anti-bullying program or training teachers
in restorative practices to work on
changing students’ behavior. Many
schools are adopting Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or pbis, which addresses both
student behavior and students’
engagement in school, or pieces of
For example, in Maryland, Ms. Alexander said, some schools are taking cues from pbis by asking teachers or other staff members to check
in with particular students every
morning to see how they are doing
and do so again before school lets
out. In other cases, teachers have
been asked to mentor students who
seem disengaged or disconnected.
The grant provides money for a stipend for those teachers.
At schools in Arizona with large
numbers of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, administrators have changed their procedures
to cut down on disciplinary actions
that eject students from school.
“Suspensions were being handed
out very loosely,” said Jean Ajamie,
the director of school safety and
prevention for the Arizona education department, “as though that’s
going to change behavior and help
that student.” At these schools, the
intervention—an overhaul of school
disciplinary procedures—“is a reduction in the problem behavior of
Out-of-school suspension rates are
dropping in some schools already,
she said, a first step toward improving student engagement and, in the
long run, academic performance.
At other schools, formal intervention efforts are being coupled
with very small changes that administrators believe could have a
profound effect on students’ school
experience—or that students have
asked for specifically.
Students at one Louisiana high
school, for example, reported that
they simply wanted their teachers
to occasionally offer them a smile,
so now, teachers make a point to
do that. At another, teachers occasionally send postcards to parents
about positive school moments, connecting with those who are used to
hearing nothing from the school
or only hearing something when
there’s a problem.
Eleven states were awarded federal Safe and Supportive School
grants in 2010. They must spend 80 percent of their grant
money on interventions at low-performing high schools to
address concerns raised by school climate surveys and studentsuspension and -behavior data.
Note: Dollar amounts are rounded.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education
SCORING STUDENT PERCEPTIONS
The states asked students, staff members, and parents an array of
questions that were answered anonymously. The results factored
into schools’ climate scores and were the basis for interventions.
Among the questions:
Answer one of the following:
not at all true, a little true, pretty much
true, or very much true.
At my school, there is a teacher
or some other adult ...
1. Who really cares about me.
2. Who tells me when I do a good job.
3. Who notices when I’m not there.
4. Who always wants me to do my
5. Who listens to me when I have
something to say.
6. Who believes that I will be a
Answer strongly agree, agree,
disagree, or strongly disagree to the
1. Students in my school treat each
other with respect.
2. Students have friends at school they
can turn to if they have questions
3. Students have friends at school they
Teachers in some of the Green
Bay schools, Ms. Schanock said, are
being trained in a classroom-management model, and school aides
who monitor the hallways and
cafeterias, escort students around
campus, and stand watch in study
halls are being trained in calming a situation in which a student
may begin behaving improperly.
The training was a direct result of
a close examination of schools’ outof-school suspension data.
“Our most frontline staff often
have the least training,” Ms. Schanock said.
As a result of the grant program,
some schools have also invested in
additional supports for students
moving from middle to high school,
a time when many can become lost
in the shuffle and begin skipping
school, falling behind, and ultimately, dropping out.
Others have created youth-leadership teams to attract students
who aren’t naturally inclined to be
involved in school activities.
“We wanted students [who were]
experiencing specific barriers to
their education,” said Cyndy Erickson, a consultant to the Iowa edu-
can trust and talk to if they have
4. Students generally work well with
each other even if they’re not in the
same group of friends.
5. Students have friends at school to
eat lunch with.
6. Students try to make new students
feel welcome in the school.
Answer strongly agree, agree,
disagree, or strongly disagree to the
1. I feel safe…
__At this school.
__Going to and from this school.
2. How do you usually get to and
__Ride the bus
__Ride in a car driven by a parent
SOURCES: California, Iowa, and
Maryland Education Departments
cation department who oversees
state’s grant. These teams may
include teenage parents, students
with disabilities, and students who
had dropped out of school.
While every Iowa school involved
in the program faces different issues, student engagement—or a
lack of it—showed up as a factor
nearly everywhere. The student
teams can advise administrators
about student needs, Ms. Erickson
said, and simultaneously, they can
build relationships with adults
at their schools, another critical
area of need illuminated by the
climate surveys. And as in other
states, schools are asking teachers
to make an effort to get to know
students better, greeting them in
the morning and wading into the
hallways during class changes.
“It’s not necessarily a special
program,” she said. “It’s just those
Coverage of school climate and student
behavior and engagement is supported
in part by grants from the Atlantic
Philanthropies, the NoVo Foundation,
the Raikes Foundation, and the
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 27, 2013
Education Week - March 27, 2013
N.Y.C. System School-Match Gaps Tracked
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Educators Questioning Timing of
Resident Teachers Are Getting More ‘Practice’
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Race to Top Districts ‘Personalize’ Plans
News in Brief
Study Finds Gaps in ‘College Ready’ Math Offerings
Early-Algebra Push Found to Yield No NAEP Boost
Math Teachers Break Down Standards For At-Risk Students
More Teachers Group Students by Ability
San Diego Superintendent Pick Has Deep Parental Ties
Partnership Combines Science Instruction and English Learning
States’ Score Cards Pinpoint Problems Of School Climate
Experts: Later School Start Helps Sleep-Deprived Teens
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New NAEP Demands Application of Knowledge
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'Parent Trigger’ Laws Catching Fresh Wave
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Political Storm Rages as Acting N.M. Chief Presses on With Job
Congress Eyes Pre-K
REGIS ANNE SHIELDS & KAREN HAWLEY MILES: Want Effective Teachers? Think About Your Value Proposition
ALISON CROWLEY: Getting Rid of the GPS: Teaching the Common Standards in Math
STEPHEN R. HERR: Celebrating Without Accomplishing
AMANDA GARDNER: The Many Keys To Radical Classroom Change
Education Week - March 27, 2013