The 2013 School Climate Report: A New Perspective for the Hartford Board of Education

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The Hartford Board of Education meeting in session. (Photographed by Victoria Smith Ellison)

On Tuesday March 5th, the Hartford Board of Education held a workshop during their meeting to present survey findings that were included in the draft of the “School Climate and Student Connectedness in the Hartford Public Schools” 2013 Report. The survey was designed to gather perceptions of school climate and measure the sense of connectedness that students feel within their schools. It was adapted from the American Research Institute and was administered this past December and January to students in grades three through twelve, parents, and school staff. The survey was made available in eight different languages, online and in print versions.

Hartford Public Schools teamed up with Achieve Hartford!, a third party education reform non-profit organization that focuses on bringing awareness to education issues, increasing parent engagement, and school accountability efforts. Last year’s data results were not sufficient enough to provide adequate feedback due to lack of participation from students, parents, and staff. However, due to the lessons learned from last year’s efforts, the preliminary results from this year’s improved survey and administration provides a substantial amount of data for the board. This information will allow the board to continue making efforts to improve school conditions and enhance students’, parents’, and teachers’ experiences.

This year’s data shows significant improvement in participation among all participant groups across the board. Matthew K. Poland, Chairman of the Hartford Board of Education, was critical of the results stating, “the data and increase in participation provides great information, but there is a need for deeper analysis of why the numbers are so low”. This year’s participation goal was set at 90 percent. Only one of the four groups of survey participants actually met the goal. In fact, survey participation for students in grades three and four increased from 58 percent to 95 percent, which exceeded the goal. Students in grades five through twelve saw an increase from 63 percent to 85 percent participation, and school staff saw an increase from 52 percent to 87 percent.

There was a huge focus on increasing participation this year, but the board was also very interested in the actual responses to the survey questions. Although there was an increase from 29 percent to 50 percent parent participation, they have the lowest participation for the second year in a row. Parent responses were discussed the most because of the low participation and the actual responses were surprising to the board. Parents were asked a series of fourteen questions that were not detailed in the report. The data shows parents who completed the survey felt positive about the schools that their children attend. On a scale from zero to five, zero being disappointed and upset and five being completely satisfied, parents rated an average of four point three towards their children’s school. The most surprising finding was the average satisfaction rating for parents whose children attend the district’s three lowest performing schools- Milner, Burns and America’s Choice at SAND was above four. This made some of the board members skeptical of the data and sparked questions for further analysis on parent’s perceptions of Hartford schools.

Moving forward, the board wants to explore what drives parent satisfaction, and if there is a correlation between school performance and parent satisfaction. In response to these questions, the superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, Christina M. Kishimoto stated, “We did talk about two components. One is that we have targeted focus group sessions to see how parents themselves are describing the quality of the school and see what indicators they are using. The other is looking at which time of the year the school is discussing with the parents the school’s performance and what level of detail in order to look at theses two items.” These findings were very surprising because the data shows a disconnect between student and parent responses on similar topics.

In considering the data collected in the draft of the 2013 Report on “School Climate and Student Connectedness in the Hartford Public Schools”, the Hartford Board of Education was pleased with the results of participation and the improved administration efforts from individual schools. In the future, the board suggested that Achieve Hartford! considers more ways  to increase participation to meet the goal. The board also wants them to carefully evaluate the data because of the prevalence of inaccurate data and missing information in this year’s report. The final report is not available yet, but be sure to check Achieve Hartford!’s website when it is officially published to read it. The next Hartford Board of Education meeting will be held at 5:30 pm on March 19, 2013 at America’s Choice at SAND (Address: 1750 Main Street, CT 06120).


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Veronica Armendariz and Victoria Smith Ellison

Victoria is a student at Trinity College in Hartford, CT majoring in Educational Studies.