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posted: 4/3/2013 8:51 AM

Editorial: Help make sure survey is more than just interesting

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Public opinion surveys can sometimes be more notable for their human interest appeal than for their ability to make a material difference on the subject they address. Not so in the case of an online poll under way to assess the quality of individual schools in Illinois.

The 5Essentials survey, the subject of a story Monday by Daily Herald staff writer Tara Garcia Mathewson, aims to assess a school's effectiveness in each of five qualities identified as critical to educational success -- effective leaders, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environment and ambitious instruction. According to the University of Chicago, whose Urban Education Institute is implementing the survey and assessing its results, schools found to be succeeding in at least three of those five criteria are demonstrably more likely to improve student learning than other schools.

Interestingly, schools may get a hint about how well they'll fare merely in the level of participation they attract in one aspect of the survey. Parents have just a couple of weeks to complete their portion, and schools that don't achieve at least 30 percent participation -- a fairly low benchmark, it bears noting -- will clearly have some work to do in the area of "involved families."

Just as important, though, their degree of success in the other four categories will depend heavily on the feedback their involved families provide, which is of course where you come in.

Schools have some control over the teachers and students in their charge, so they ought to be able easily to meet the 50 percent participation expected from those groups. If the voices of parents are not heard in comparable levels, though, the results may be inadequate or distorted.

The poll is mandated in a 2011 package of state school reforms, but its results obviously depend on the degree to which stakeholders get involved. That means, too, that an individual school's ability to identify where it is succeeding and where it is not depends on that same involvement.

Poll questions for parents range from the purely experiential -- such as whether the office staff greets visitors warmly -- to the more broadly academic -- such as whether your child will do better as an adult because of his or her teachers.

The survey is far from perfect, its most notable shortcoming being that many schools, did not solicit parental participation because the state did not require it. And some questions are not always as clear or as specific as one might like. But taken as a whole, parents' answers will tell a school much about whether it is connecting with its students' families as well as it should be.

It's rare to have the chance to simultaneously learn how well your child's school is doing and contribute to the answer, but that is precisely the opportunity facing Illinois parents now. Here is a survey whose results won't just be interesting; they also may make a difference.

Don't let pass your chance to be a part of both outcomes.

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