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Winter 2014

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Survey Says?

Last fall, as part of its broader efforts to maximize student achievement, Garland Independent School District in Texas wanted to learn more about students' home lives and what the district could do to help parents better support learning outside of school. To this end, the district administered the Harvard Graduate School of Education PreK–12 Parent Survey to thousands of its parents. This survey, created in collaboration with SurveyMonkey, the online survey company, is composed of a set of "scales" — groups of related questions that are analyzed as a whole to improve measurement precision — to assess family–school relationships. Jonathan Armstrong, the district's Title I parent involvement facilitator, remembers why they chose the Ed School's survey.

"We discussed creating a new survey that addressed our concerns," he says, "but when I was introduced to the [HGSE] PreK–12 Parent Survey, I knew we wouldn't be able to duplicate the amount of research and evaluation that had gone into developing it."

Associate Professor Hunter Gehlbach led the development process for the parent survey, guiding a team of researchers, including myself, in designing these scales. Senior Lecturer Karen Mapp, Ed.M.'93, Ed.D.'99, and Lecturer Richard Weissbourd, Ed.D.'87, served as content experts, ensuring our scales captured the essential aspects of family–school relations, such as family– school engagement and parent perceptions of the overall climate of the school, as well as their own abilities to support learning.

The survey design process was unique in that it incorporated feedback from scholars, practitioners, and parents from the outset. After reviewing the literature, current doctoral students Sofia Bahena, Ed.M.'13; Lauren Capotosto, Ed.M.'13; James Noonan, Ed.M.'10; Soojin Oh, Ed.M.'10; and I interviewed diverse groups of parents about their relationships with their children's schools. We then created items to represent the central facets of each scale by combining what we found in the literature with our focus group data. After long discussions about precisely how to word items, we asked academic experts and parents to provide us with additional feedback.

After administering the survey this past school year, Garland Independent School District is already uncovering interesting ways to improve their schools. At one campus, many parents reported that their children have trouble getting organized for school. The principal now plans to address this by having teachers create better classroom routines around organization and working with parents to implement these techniques at home. Going forward, the district can continue using the survey to track progress after the new strategies are in place.

Garland is not alone. More than 1,000 schools in 300 public school districts have now deployed the survey. Thus, the relationship with SurveyMonkey has been valuable in multiple ways. As researchers, we have been able to gather evidence of the scales' validity with large samples of parents and explore new ways to help improve parent–school relationships. These scales are freely available to other scholars as well. Schools, districts, and other organizations can now administer the survey tools in both English and Spanish to easily assess the current state of their parent– school relationships or test whether their efforts to improve these relationships are working.

— Beth Schueler is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Education Policy, Leadership, and Instructional Practice concentration.

To learn more about the project visit: http://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/harvard-education-surveys/

For more on the scale development process, see: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/gpr/sample.aspx.