Making Sense of School Climate - Part 5: Measuring, Collecting and Reporting Data

January 20 2015

Authors

  • William Grace Frost, Strategic Relations Director
    William Grace Frost
    Strategic Relations Director
  • Rick Phillips, Founder, Community Matters
    Rick Phillips
    Founder, Community Matters

In this 5-part series we have provided a clear and compelling climate roadmap for schools to successfully implement school climate transformation. Part 4 focused on how to effectively organize, implement and coordinate school climate initiatives.  Here in the 5th and final part of our series, we’ll explore the importance of measurement, the collection of data and the reporting of progress.

There’s no way around it… whether you’re conversant and comfortable with the “ins and outs” of data collection and measurement - or not - at the end of the day, data drives decisions. It’s no secret that many educational decisions are based on data, metrics and measurement. That’s why it’s important to understand what the data is illustrating about climate and then to select measures that are easy to collect and simple to explain.

There are many benefits to having comprehensive school climate data on hand, including, but not limited to:

  • Brings clarity regarding what initiatives/programs are working and which aren’t;
  • Helps you understand areas where there are gaps and opportunities for improvement / course correction;
  • Provides a strong case for acquiring or resubmitting applications for grants and for reporting results to funders;
  • Assists your efforts for deeper buy-in from the Board, administration, staff, students and parents;
  • Provides a helpful foundation and springboard for future vision development and strategic planning.

The aspects of school climate and discipline that you will likely want to assess on a regular basis to help highlight your climate’s strengths and weaknesses are:

  • The number and types of behavior incidents resulting in office referrals;
  • Suspensions and expulsions with associated demographic information ( (including percentages based on race/ethnicity distribution, special needs, etc.);
  • Student attendance;
  • Staff, student and parent perceptions of safety and overall climate;
  • Student’s sense of connectedness and belonging;
  • The effectiveness of specific programs that were put in place to help strengthen and improve climate.

Over the past 15 years of serving districts around the country and in being successfully funded by foundations, corporations, service organizations and individuals, we have determined a handful of data collection methodologies that provide the kind of information from which administrators can better assess their efforts, identify areas of greatest need and adapt planning that leads to greater success. 

Some of the most reliable and time-tested tools we have used include:

  1. Baseline and year-end discipline data – Collecting data on the number of suspensions, fights, bullying incidents, attendance, etc. for the year before your climate improvement efforts are begun is key to establishing the degree of the program’s success at the end of the year; this type of data is probably the most effective barometer of your climate;
  2. Year-end surveys of students, parents, staff and administrators that assess the emotional, physical and behavioral aspects of school climate; these kinds of surveys can be easily created and managed using an on-line tool data collection service such as Survey Monkey;
  3. The California Healthy Kids Survey (http://chks.wested.org/about) - The CHKS is the largest statewide survey of resiliency, protective factors and risk behaviors in the nation. Across California, the CHKS has led to a better understanding of the relationship between students' health behaviors and academic performance, and is frequently cited by state policymakers and the media as a critical component of school improvement efforts to help guide the development of more effective health, prevention and youth development programs. It provides a means to confidentially obtain data on student knowledge, attitudes and perceptions about the topics it covers.
  4. Student interventions – If you have a student bystander empowerment program in place such as Community Matters’ Safe School Ambassadors® Program, you can regularly collect student’s self-observations regarding how often they intervene, category of the incidents, where the incidents happened, time of day, type of intervention and relative degree of success in de-fusing, de-escalating or stopping the incident;
  5. Anecdotal observations – Although we can’t technically call people’s observations “data”, they are nevertheless helpful in establishing a sense of the school climate; at Community Matters we request letters and testimonials from school principals, program advisors and other key staff who are in positions to notice behavior improvements in the various campus environments, trouble spots and times of day.

Once you have collected and interpreted your data, it’s important to share your findings with key decision-makers, and the school-community as well. Sharing the information provides a sense of transparency, builds trust, and allows for greater buy-in, all of which can lead to creating safer and higher performing schools.

We hope that this 5-part series has provided you with a greater understanding of the importance of school climate, its connection to educational outcomes, and perhaps most importantly, how to reduce the sense of overwhelm that many educators experience. From there we are on our way to ensuring that more students attend schools where they feel safe, welcome and included.



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