Why States Should Focus More on School Climate Under ESSA

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states are allowed to include at least one non-academic indicator of school quality or student success within their accountability systems. The law lays out several possibilities: student engagement, educator engagement, student access to–and completion of–advanced coursework, postsecondary readiness, and school climate. In a new essay, professors Amity Noltemeyer and Andrew Saultz make the case for better measuring, understanding, and improving school climate, and suggest that it could be a key part of the formula for building more equitable and useful school accountability systems.

The authors claim that of all the options for non-academic indicators, measuring school climate is most likely to improve schooling inequities and inform school improvement efforts in a comprehensive and meaningful way. Results from research conducted over the past several decades demonstrates that positive school climate has been associated with improved student academic and psychological outcomes, as well as teacher self-efficacy and job satisfaction; schools with positive climates are also more likely to have reduced rates of suspensions, peer harassment, behavior problems and substance abuse. In addition, school climate is fluid, and both teachers and administrators can make meaningful changes to improve their school’s climate.

Noltemeyer and Saultz recommend that school climate be assessed using surveys administered to both students (at appropriate grade levels) and adults (school staff and/or parents), because these groups experience school climate differently. They identify several free, accessible, valid, quick and reliable school climate measures. For example, the U.S. Department of Education School Climate Surveys (EDSCLS) is an online suite of four school climate surveys (for students, instructional staff, non-instructional staff and parents) for grades 5–12. The EDSCLS also has a free platform districts can use to administer the surveys and obtain results. These surveys are relatively quick (as brief as 10–30 minutes for the EDSCLS versions), and the platform provides interpretive results to help schools understand and apply the findings. Data from instruments like these allow schools to efficiently capture their school climate strengths and weaknesses and inform system-wide improvements.

For more on the promises of school climate as a non-academic measure, see http://bit.ly/2jttaqq

For EDSCLS, see https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/edscls https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/edscls