In 11 states, scores for school climate are becoming as important as those for math and reading, thanks to a new score card that allows administrators to learn where they need to improve school safety, student engagement, and overall learning environment.
The score cards stem from a $38 million federal Safe and Supportive Schools grant that was awarded to state education departments in 2010, to support measuring learning conditions and targeted interventions to improve school climate. The states chose 400 high schools, where students take surveys rating the school environment. Items include: “There is at least one adult in school I can go to for help” and “I feel safe at school.”
Scores are created from student, staff, and parent perceptions, as well as school incident data such as suspensions, expulsions, and truancy rates, says Bryan Williams, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students. While in the past, this data was often used to inform administrators about their schools, the Safe and Supportive Schools grant requires that 80 percent of the funding goes toward an action plan for change.
In Iowa, one of the 11 states, administrators learned from the surveys that the lowest scores in the 21 low-performing schools receiving the grant were for educator-to-student relationships, followed by student-to-student relationships. The district is now working on systematic strategies, including positive behavioral interventions involving a reward system to encourage good behavior and positive interactions, says Cyndy Erickson, project director for Iowa Safe and Supportive Schools.
Statewide, scores improved between the first survey in 2011 and the second in 2013. Leadership is key, as schools with the greatest gains in improving climate have engaged principals. “School climate is the foundation,” Erickson says. “If students don’t feel they are safe or being treated with respect, they’re going to be distracted. After we have that foundation, then it comes back to the teaching and curriculum.”