School survey mixed bag of good and bad | AspenTimes.com

School survey mixed bag of good and bad

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A recent survey of Aspen School District “customers” has revealed general satisfaction. However, “there are significant pockets of dissent,” according to survey administrators.

The survey, dispensed by the District Accountability Committee at the end of the last school year, was created to measure “customer satisfaction” at area schools.

“The goal of the DAC study was to measure perceptions about performance, identify areas of concern, and establish baseline comparisons between schools and grade levels,” reads a description of survey results presented to the Aspen School Board.

The survey included 67 questions on a variety of school topics. The version given to adults – including parents, staff and school administrators – allowed users to rate the overall performance of the district, school board, teachers, principals and even the school’s athletic coaches. It also requested opinions on district curriculum, funding and attitudes toward drug use.

The version distributed to students followed the same line of questioning, but included a special focus on the quality of classwork and “school atmosphere.” Students were also asked about their plans after high school graduation.

The survey allowed for a few glitches, administrators admit. The survey’s online format made it possible for a person to take the test several times and skew its results. Also, a technical problem deleted survey questions 31-39 on 188 tests, causing further distortion of test results.

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Still, DAC members are happy with the final product, which was analyzed and reviewed for the school board at its Monday meeting. The group will conduct another survey in the spring of 2005 as it seeks to measure changes in district attitudes.

The following is a brief analysis of survey highlights. Complete survey results – including additional comments by students, teachers and parents – are available in the Aspen School District office, located in the renovated wing of Aspen High School.

The schools

Over 80 percent of adults surveyed by the District Accountability Committee rated their individual school as “good” or “outstanding.” However, respondents seemed more likely to praise Aspen Elementary School.

The elementary school was rated higher by survey respondents than Aspen Middle School, while AMS rated higher than Aspen High School. On a scale of 1 to 5 – 1 meaning “excellent” and 5 meaning “unacceptable” – AES averaged a 1.75, AMS rated a 2.46 and AHS garnered a 2.56.

“Part of this skew can be attributed to the fact that kids run into more complex issues as they grow older, and it can be easy to blame the school system,” survey reviewers wrote in their report. “But it also appears to be an issue of inclusion: more elementary school respondents, and fewer middle school and high school respondents said they had someone to confide in.”

However, a high percentage of survey takers – over two-thirds, according to the review report -agree that Aspen schools “adequately addressed individual academic strengths in the classroom, and helps students to reach their academic/intellectual potential.” These respondents also gave high marks to both district curriculum and social programs, such as the popular Outdoor Education initiative.

“Sixty-two percent of respondents feel the schools address `both academic and socio-emotional needs of its students,'” the report read.

The DAC survey also included questions on recent “hot button” issues affecting Aspen schools. A recent debate over proposed changes to the school calendar resurfaced in the survey, leading to strong opinions from respondents.

“There is a strong minority interested in changes to the scholastic calendar, but more favor the status quo,” the report read.

The school board

On the DAC survey’s 1-5 scale, the Aspen School Board drew an average rating of 2.88. However, perceptions about improvements in the board’s performance drew a rating of 3.11.

“The latter is one of the few weighted indices that falls below the median,” the report read.

Nearly 25 percent of adults who took the survey rated the school board as “poor” or “unacceptable” in “addressing issues and resolving problems in the Aspen School District.” Over 25 percent said their opinion of the school board has declined in the last year.

These negative opinions apparently emanate from parents, rather than students or teachers, the report read.

“Criticism for the board of education seems to be harshest among parents, and least harsh among teachers,” it said.

These results reveal at lease one fault in the district, survey reviewers say: The school board must reach out to the “disenfranchised” families in order to run an effective school system.

“This is a district of extreme contrasts. There are amazingly wonderful and abysmally dreadful things going on here simultaneously,” one survey taker wrote. “The administration and board seem more concerned with lip service and politic considerations than with meaningful education for every child as an individual.”

The school district

As a whole, the Aspen School District received an average rating of 1.93 from survey respondents. Only 4 percent of adult respondents rated district performance as “poor” or “unacceptable.”

“And in weighted indices for performance on specific academic and non-academic programs, the school district received above-average ratings, the equivalent of B- to A- grades,” the report read. “Nearly half said that their assessment of the district had improved over the past year.”

Overall, the district received its highest marks from teachers and parents, with lower marks from students.

“While 82 percent of teachers rated the school district as good or excellent, only 62 percent of the high school respondents rated district performance highly, and 16 percent rated it as poor or unacceptable,” the report read. “And while 44 percent said their assessment of the district’s performance had improved over the last year, 21 percent said their opinion had declined.”

However, “there are significant pockets of dissent,” the report continues.

Overall, 10 to 15 percent of survey respondents reported feeling dissatisfied with Aspen’s education system at some point.

“Not surprisingly, these disenfranchised respondents are among the most critical of the school district and the Board of Education,” the report read.

According to survey administrators, “one of the most important findings” relates to the way the district handles complaints and disputes. Eighteen percent of students and 16 percent of parents reported a lack of an effective dispute resolution process, while 24 percent of adult respondents can’t find a “meaningful way to provide input on decisions.”

“The `proper channels’ are generally a dead end,” one survey taker complained. “There needs to be a [dispute] resolution process that actually resolves issues.”

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]

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