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Article updated: 4/1/2013 10:43 AM

Deadline looms for first-time statewide school survey

By Tara García Mathewson

Parents, teachers and students statewide have just a couple of weeks left to provide feedback to their schools through a survey required for the first time by state law.

The 5Essentials survey was chosen to comply with a requirement of an education reform act signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2011. The act mandated a statewide survey of school climate and learning conditions for this academic year. The results will factor into evaluations for principals and teachers, and at least some of the results will be part of the massive state school report cards this fall.

The data will give schools information on what to focus on for improvement. And it will provide a consistent basis on which to judge individual schools across a district and the state, said Stefanie Rome, director of 5Essentials at UChicago Impact, a nonprofit founded by the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, and the organization implementing the survey and generating reports for schools.

"It's a set of schools that now have a common set of criteria that has been proven to matter," Rome said.

The "five essentials" are the vital components for school success as identified by researchers: effective leaders, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environment and ambitious instruction. Schools strong on three or more of the five essentials are 10 times more likely to improve student learning, according to the consortium.

The state mandated that schools must have 50 percent of their teachers and 50 percent of students in grades six through 12 complete the survey, but recruiting parents is optional in this first year.

At least 30 percent of parents in a school's boundaries have to participate to generate a report based on the responses.

While some schools are struggling to get parent participation, Patty O'Neil, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Geneva School District 304, said they expect to reach the 30 percent threshold.

"We have a wonderfully supportive parent community here," O'Neil said. "When they have an opportunity to provide feedback to the schools, they want to be able to do it."

District 304 asked parents for input similar to that being requested from the 5Essentials on an internal survey last year. O'Neil said they knew the survey of learning conditions would be required by the state and they wanted to get parents accustomed to the idea of providing feedback online.

The 5Essentials cannot be completed on paper. In Elgin Area School District U-46, that may affect results.

"A fear could be that folks would be left out of the process," said Patrick Mogge, director of school and community relations.

U-46 has offered a family and community engagement survey for the past few years. This year the district doubled its response rate and received input from 10,000 people -- 70 percent of whom turned in surveys on paper, Mogge said.

The 5Essentials survey is offered in six different languages, though, and Rome hopes a range of people in school communities take it.

Terri McHugh, community relations director at Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, said the district has been promoting the survey to parents since before it opened Feb. 1. They are a long way from the 30 percent threshold so far, but parents have until April 12 to take the survey.

"Any feedback we get from our community, whether it's internal or external, is good feedback to have," McHugh said.

The reports schools receive based on survey results will include scores on each "essential" ranging from very strong to very weak.

The findings will be used for evaluation purposes of principals and teachers, but Rome said the survey is designed as an information tool only.

"The report should be used to make plans on how to improve, not to be the evaluation," Rome said, adding that a set of guidelines already have been developed to make sure results from the 5Essentials are used responsibly as part of the evaluation process.


ŸStudents, parents and teachers can take the survey at https://survey.5-essentials.org/illinois/.

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