BRITISH COLUMBIA – Parents, students and school staff are being asked this month to complete a survey about B.C. schools but in some schools, questions are also being asked about the survey. Is it worthwhile? Does it ask the right questions? Does anyone care about the results?
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation wants members to snub the survey, saying it’s a public relations exercise with no educational benefit. But they aren’t the only ones to put little stock in the results.
Several principals contacted recently by The Vancouver Sun were unfamiliar with last year’s results for their schools and suggested the vague questions – and in some cases, low number of responses – mean the results offer little to supplement their understanding of school communities.
The survey looks at whether students feel safe at school and like their teachers.
“I don’t like surveys, period,” said Shirley Sulentich, principal of Chief Maquinna annex in Vancouver. “I didn’t even look at last year’s [results], to be honest with you. I don’t see them as the most important thing in my world.”
Sulentich said she might be more interested in the results if she were new to the school or if the children were older, but given that the annex is K-3, she wasn’t sure the children appreciated the significance of the questions.
At Kitsilano secondary, principal Alex Grant was similarly lukewarm.
“Typically, I haven’t found the results to be particularly useful – mainly because the questions are really vague,” he said in an interview.
Last year, none of his teachers and only 30 parents completed the survey. Although student returns were higher, Grant suggested a sample survey would take less time, use fewer resources and be just as valid.
The survey is administered from January to March to parents and students from Grades 4, 7, 10, and 12 and all public school staff. In K-3 annexes, the survey is given to Grade 3s.
Participation rates are relatively high for elementary students because surveys are completed in class, but drop to 60 per cent by Grade 12. Less than half of elementary school parents and only nine per cent of high school parents took part.
The questions include: Do you like school? Do you try your best? Do adults in the school treat all students fairly? Do your teachers help you with your schoolwork when you need it? Do you feel safe at school?
BCTF president Irene Lanzinger said the survey doesn’t ask the right questions to get a true picture. For example, it doesn’t ask teachers if they have the resources to do their jobs and it doesn’t allow students and parents to say what’s lacking.
“This survey is very, very biased in terms of trying to provide only the positive side of the story,” she said.
In most cases, the results change little from year to year. But some schools stand out. One school with unusual results was Elsie Roy elementary – a place so popular parents lined up overnight this month to secure a kindergarten spot for their children in September.
Yet the survey suggested only 54 per cent of Elsie Roy parents were satisfied last year with what their children were learning.
Asked if the results were significant, principal Isabel Grant would say only “numbers can mean so many things” before referring questions to the district head office, which didn’t respond to a request for an interview.
The cost of the survey was $160,000.
Sun education reporter
© Vancouver Sun