Following the debrief of the results from the spring Strategic Plan survey administered to Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD), high school students, parents and District administrators are making plans to maximize the reliability and effectiveness of the survey.
The District originally created the Strategic Plan survey to gather information regarding several relevant topics and issues in PAUSD. In 2008, the District alongside outside consultants set priorities and focused their energy on making sure the District had an appropriate understanding of how students, teachers and parents viewed PAUSD.
“That effort looked at a wide range of information about our environment — things like enrollment, funding, test scores and of course, the views of various stakeholders.” School Board Vice President Todd Collins said.
School Board Vice President Todd Collins
However, during a Jan. 15 board meeting, PAUSD Superintendent Don Austin announced the results from the recent spring 2017 and 2018 Strategic Plan surveys were unreliable, as the District felt the data was not sufficient to making any concrete conclusions.
“I wouldn’t call it a problem, but the survey itself was an older document,” PAUSD Director of Research, Assessment and Evaluation Chris Kolar said. “It had been given for many years and things got tapped on as the District went along. The issue was that it no longer aligned well with the District’s goals as well as the actions that we were taking to meet those goals.”
Looking to revitalize the purpose of the survey, the District has taken the time to analyze the issues with it and discuss future revisions.
“Once it gets finalized, then we’re going to talk about a strategy for helping make sure that any survey that we send out tightly aligns with our calls,” Kolar said. “We look at these things and say, ‘Okay, so what does that tell us we should do?’ The questions need to be written in a way that will help us make decisions.”
The outdated survey administered in spring 2018, which contained more general questions instead of focusing on particular issues, saw a drastic decrease in participation from the student base.
According to Collins, responses from both Paly and Gunn went from 2,500 students in spring 2017 to 825 students in spring 2018, the latter of which fails to represent the student body well.
“I think that (student engagement is) one thing; as much as we’ve tried to reach out to the student councils a couple times, it hasn’t become a real District practice yet to include students in something like this,” Kolar said. “That’s where I would like to go, and I think that it would increase participation if it was something that you had a stake in helping create.”
Junior Class President Zoe Silver believes that by making the survey a more accessible priority, the District would see a surge in student participation.
“I think it is important that teachers give ample class time to take the survey. It would be better to have the survey open for a longer period of time, because it is only open during and right before finals when students are frantic.”
Junior Zoe Silver
According to Kolar, Austin and his team are currently taking several factors into account regarding the Strategic Plan survey, and are continuing to reflect on and analyze what data would be most suitable to guide the District in the right direction in terms of designing the survey.
“Like most surveys, the Strategic Plan survey was originally designed to meet the particular needs of a particular time and project,” Collins said. “Ten years on (from when the survey was reinvented), it makes sense to take a fresh look and create something that works for our current needs.”