School Climate

New Surveys Aim To Assess School Climate

A national nonprofit has created a series of free Web-based surveys that schools and districts can use to assess the climate of their schools.

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) has created the ED School Climate Surveys for the United States Department of Education that offer educators a sophisticated analysis of school climate, measuring everything from safety to the quality of the instructional environment.

The surveys will be distributed to schools at no charge. The results will be stored on AIR's Web platform and can be stored locally on districts' or schools' own platforms.

Separate surveys have been created for middle and high school students, teachers, school staff and parents. Schools, districts and states can add their own items to the surveys and use them over time to set benchmarks and identify trends.

According to AIR representatives, school climate encompasses a wide range of elements, from physical safety — such as vandalism or fighting — and respect to caring relationships and trust. Examples of questions targeted at students asks them to select their response on a scale that ranges from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree" to statements like:

  • My teachers care about me";
  • "I feel safe at this school";
  • "My teachers praise me when I work hard in school"; and
  • "Students at this school stop and think before doing anything when they get angry."

The surveys are the result of two White House initiatives, the "Now Is the Time" plan and "My Brother's Keeper Task Force," both designed to enhance school climate across the nation. Next year, the Education Department plans to use the surveys to create a nationally representative sample of schools that will offer national benchmark scores.

"Two big reasons schools typically cite for not doing school climate surveys is that they lack the funds to administer them or the expertise to analyze them," said AIR Vice President David Osher. "This project eliminates those arguments. The survey is free and the results are presented in a user-friendly language that any layperson can understand."

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.