The Power of Surveys
  • By admin
  • January 7, 2020

By Grace Shelton



Why Surveys Matter

Surveys are an important tool in determining what education stakeholders need. Policymakers and practitioners can gain a lot of knowledge and insight into the needs of their students, parents, teachers, and administrative staff through the use of well-designed surveys. That is why more and more evaluative processes are using survey data to determine success. Teachers survey their students to see where academic gaps might be and what the student believes they need in order to succeed in the classroom. Principals survey their teachers to determine what aspects of coaching and culture need to be shifted in the school to maximize their contentment and improve their practice. Districts can survey principals similarly, and all parties can survey parents to measure their level of engagement and satisfaction with their child’s schooling. Student surveys can even be used to assess whether or not a teacher is performing adequately on the job. All this aside, perhaps the most important merit of surveys is that they give everyone a voice in education and allow all parties to feel valued and respected. Improved motivation and engagement in the learning process is closely tied to surveys for students and teachers alike. In this article, we examine cases of survey data for both teachers and students and discuss the benefits of each. 

Teacher Surveys 

Teacher surveys allow policymakers and district leaders to uncover hidden truths and gaps within the classroom. For example, a recent Education Dive post discusses how teachers’ survey results point to a large “homework” gap for low-income students of color based electronic access. According to their survey data, teachers are more likely than ever to assign homework that requires electronic access and internet access, but teachers in low-income schools and teachers with more students of color often refrain from assigning electronic homework. This is partly because of lack of access, but also shows that low-income students and students of color do not have the same learning opportunities when compared to students with digital tools. Furthermore, the survey found that deeper academic work, such as research, can only be accomplished with a computer. Survey data reports that out of 1,208 K-12 teachers, 4 out of 10 reported that they teach students who do not have access to internet at home. If anything, this survey confirmed to leaders that the homework gap persists and “the new report urges lawmakers to work toward closing the digital divide.” 

Tennessee is currently a wealth of teacher data thanks in part to the 2019 Tennessee Educator Survey. The survey, administered every year by the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, had a response rate of over 45,000 educators (62% of the state). According to the recently released report, districts across the state use this data to improve practice on multiple levels including school climate, working conditions, school leadership, professional learning, evaluation, and experiences of counselors, administrators, interventionists, etc. The data from this year’s survey has already begun to inform policy and practice in the state, and multiple reports are forthcoming related to how data has changed with each annual survey. The survey report states, “by listening to our educators, the department and other policymakers can build on strengths, address areas causing concern, and learn from differences across schools…” 

Large scale survey data, like the data collected from the Tennessee Educator Survey, or smaller-scale gap finding data, like the data collected by Common Sense in Education Dive, both serve important purposes in improving the working conditions of teachers. When teacher voice is magnified, real progress can begin for many schools. 

Student Surveys

While it is vitally important to survey teachers to discover successes and gaps, students are also a wealth of knowledge when it comes to their own learning. If this is the case, it is often surprising to see how little student surveys are used in order to determine teacher effectiveness and proper courses of action for struggling students. 

A 2012 report on student surveys states that researchers have suggested for years that students will perform better in the classroom when it is clear to them that their teachers care about them, manage the classroom well, clarify ideas, challenge them, make lessons interesting, and include students in decision-making on lessons and activities. Surveys, according to the report, are an excellent way to signal to students that their opinions are valued and their input matters in teacher planning. According to MET and other projects, student surveys have provided students and classrooms with a chance to show they can actually predict their own successes and differentiate between classroom strategies that will help them get there. Often, teachers doubt that student surveys have much reliability, and worry that student survey responses will reflect family backgrounds and personalities rather than teaching quality. However, the report states that “well-constructed classroom-level student surveys are a low burden and high-potential mechanism for incorporating students’ voices in massive numbers…to improve teaching and learning.” It remains clear through these surveys that students know good teaching when they see it, and bad teaching when they experience that as well. 

These types of student surveys were referenced in a report compiled by the Gates Foundation that uses survey data in part to evaluate teachers. The report points to the need for teacher evaluations to rely on better tools and combining observation scores with student feedback “improved predictive power and reliability.” In fact, when student feedback was combined with observation scores to evaluate teachers, students ended up performing better in both math and ELA as a result of their teacher’s improved performance under the new evaluation system. 

Lastly, Edutopia released an article on how student surveys use student voice to improve their own learning. First, the report outlines multiple steps for teachers and principals to begin using student surveys, including building a group of advocates and getting teacher buy-in. Surveys, according to the article, help students reflect and become more self-aware, developing more agency over their learning. The survey allows students to see that if they want to reach their goals, they might need to work harder or help their teacher find new ways to help them succeed. 

The Power of Surveys – Surveys Matter

Surveys matter for more than just students and teachers. But these particular articles point to how valuable the data can be for district leaders and policymakers, as well as for teachers invested in improving their students’ performance. There are several survey tools out there, but the act of surveying stakeholders makes it clear that their input is important. And that message speaks volumes to teachers and students alike. 


Surveys are what we do!  Schedule a time to talk with Resonant Education about how we can help you tune in.