SCHOOL CLIMATE SURVEYS
Note: This section of the website is under development Feb. 24-March 7.

A comprehensive school-wide bullying prevention program begins with surveys to measure the prevalence of bullying, assess school climate, and identify areas of particular concern in a school. Although surveys of personnel are important, and surveys of parents can also be very useful, surveys of students are particularly critical because, ultimately, it is the psychological, social, and physical safety of students that is the goal of a bullying prevention program. Only a student survey can assess the school climate as experienced by the students, and and reveal issues that might not already be apparent to school personnel. However, a student survey can only serve this purpose if it is conducted properly. Survey design is a professional skill. In this section of the website, you can find information about:

What Are the Benefits of Conducting a School Climate Survey?

Aren’t there easier ways to assess climate, like examining disciplinary records, anonymous “bullying reporting boxes,” or having discussion groups with students?  There are other types of data that can be used to assess climate, but anonymous student surveys are the one method designed to collect the information that you need the most, that is, information about the hidden issues that students are afraid to report and that are not already known to school personnel.  You need to hear from the student body at large.  You need to hear from students representing all segments of your student body.  Most importantly, you need to hear from the students who would not choose to speak up, who suffer in silence and don’t receive disciplinary attention, who would not volunteer to participate in focus groups or other These are your most at risk students, and an anonymous survey of the student body provides these students with a safe way to let you know what they know—before you find out in other ways.

What are the Advantages of Using a Professionally Designed Survey?
Does Choosing a Recommended Survey, or a Survey from a Reputable Source, Guarantee a Quality Survey?

There are many school climate surveys available today.  Pre-packaged anti-bullying programs often come with surveys for students and parents, and the NJ DOE website lists a variety of resources, including surveys.  Some of these surveys are available for free.  Some of these surveys are well designed, but some are not--including some that are highly recommended and some that are available from reputable educational sources. If a survey is not well designed, the information it collects, at best, might be meaningless or lack practical applications. At worst, a poorly designed survey wastes time, wastes resources by misleading your anti-bullying efforts, could damage your anti-bullying efforts, and could raise compliance issues. For example, a poorly designed survey could produce apparent evidence that your school climate is getting worse rather than better as a result of your efforts to educate students about bullying. Designing a school climate survey requires expertise in several areas, including: 1) survey techniques for different ages and cultural populations, 2) evidence-based knowledge of the aspects of school climate shown to impact bullying behavior, 3) familiarity with parental consent laws and anti-bullying laws (in New Jersey, the ABR), and 4) a realistic and up-to-date understanding of the issues facing schools, and students, with regard to bullying, including practical experience addressing school bullying.  

It might seem as if creating a survey is a very straight-forward task. However, developing a survey is not simply a matter of writing a list of questions you want answered. A survey is a tool that is designed to elicit the information you need to know. Question wording and survey design are professional research skills that individuals with master's or doctoral degrees in fields like sociology, psychology, public policy, and political science might possess, if they have specialized in the research branches of their fields. Click here for some examples of questions that appear to be simple and unproblematic, but which could in fact produce data that are either useless or damaging, to see how important it is to involve a professional in the design of your school climate survey. Click here for a list of Questions to Ask if you are considering using a survey you found online or from a provider, and want to evaluate whether the survey is well designed.

When is the Best Time to Conduct a School Survey?

Student surveys are best done toward the end of a school year. Rates of risk behaviors, including bullying and problematic social patterns, typically increase over the course of a school year. Therefore, whether surveying is done to provide a baseline assessment prior to enhancing bullying prevention efforts, or to identify areas of concern for intervention, the most useful data will be gathered during the last few months of a school year. Follow-up surveys should be done at the same time of year as the initial survey.

How Do We Prepare to Conduct a School Survey?

First, it is important to choose a survey that is well designed and will yield useful information with practical applications. The Survey Guidance page of this website includes a list of questions you should ask about any survey you are considering for your school, and provides some information about common pitfalls to avoid.

In New Jersey, active parental consent is required by law for students to participate in surveys that contain certain kinds of questions. Districts are obligated to inform parents of their rights regarding student surveys annually, and to provide notification of specific surveys to be conducted during the school year. To ensure ample time to comply with these regulations, the process of choosing a survey, determining whether or not the survey will require active parental consent, and composing and distributing a parental consent form should begin as soon as a school or district determines that a survey is advisable. Your school district policy should contain procedures for obtaining approval to conduct a survey within your district, as well as procedures for both active and passive parental consent.

The details regarding procedures for administration of the survey to students, parents, and staff will depend on which survey you choose. Some surveys are administered using paper-and-pencil, some are electronic, some require the selection of a sample of students who will participate in the survey, some are designed to be done during the school day whereas require students to complete the survey outside school hours, etc. Some surveys require staff time to upload questions or process data; others are offered by providers or organizations that will analyze and interpret the data for you. The survey you choose should include instructions for these aspects of survey administration.

Note: You will not find any other provider's or organization's survey mentioned by name on this website, nor do I offer criticism or recommendations for surveys other than my own, and I will not offer advice on survey design or choice to school districts except in the context of either a consulting relationship or an agreement to utilize the survey that is available from Spectrum Diversity LLC. Whether or not your school or district considers using the School Climate and Bullying Prevention Survey (SCBPS) available from Spectrum Diversity, my goal on these pages is to help your school avoid some of the most common errors that are made on student surveys. If you wish to critically evaluate any survey, you may take my guidance and apply it to the survey you are considering, but if you are employed by a school district please do not contact me to ask for comments on any other provider's or organizaton's survey.