By Susan Riddell
It is not out of the norm for Kentucky school districts to poll teachers and administrators on issues facing their schools, according to Darren Gossage, director of college and career readiness for the Russell County school district.
Those polls, however, don’t capture another important voice in their schools – the individuals being taught.
“We wanted to give our students a voice, too” said Gossage, who served as principal of Russell County High School for 10 years prior to taking a job in the district’s central office.
Now, Russell County Schools and many other schools across the state are giving voice to their students with the Gallup Student Poll.
“One of the biggest reasons to use the survey is because it helps school leaders understand what key members, the students, are feeling about the school/district,” said Jeff Coots, information officer for Jackson Independent school district. “The information collected by the survey is designed to support a dialogue among teachers and other staff members of the school about how to make the school a better place for our students to achieve academically.”
During one of Education Commissioner Terry Holliday’s superintendent webcasts last year, he encouraged districts to administer the Gallup Student Poll survey to gather information about students’ perceptions of their educational experiences, engagement, wellbeing and hopes for the future.
The free survey is for students in grades 5 through 12 and is best used to garner community involvement and support for district/schools. It is not intended for use as a measure of educator effectiveness.
Schools from all over the state administered the poll. Results were sent to districts late last year.
The Gallup Student Poll encourages district leaders to share results with students and faculty members as well as community leaders with the hope of starting important dialogues to bring about any necessary changes.
Most, like Russell County and Jackson Independent, are still sorting through results and deciding how to use the findings to improve student achievement.
“We are meeting to move forward,” Gossage said. “Teachers are heavily involved in the engagement component, and our survey results were strong in that area. However, we want to come up with the right approaches to take the next step in terms of college and career readiness.”
Russell County teachers received a score of 4.23 out of a possible score of 5 from students on engagement issues. The statewide score was 4.11, and the national score was 4.07.
Engagement covers a wide area, from the importance of schoolwork to student recognition and how well teachers get to know students.
Another area the survey looks at is how hopeful student say they are. Hope deals with how students feel toward graduation, pursuing goals and finding a job.
Jackson Independent fared well in engagement with 90 percent of hopeful students reporting they felt engaged, and 95 percent feeling their school is committed to building strong engagement.
Coots said Jackson Independent teachers were focusing on improving student engagement prior to the survey.
“It is rewarding to see from this document that our efforts have been noticed and are appreciated,” Coots said.
The hope section is a concern for Russell County Schools, Gossage said. The district scored a 4.37, slightly below state (4.42) and national (4.4) averages.
“Part of the hope section deals with school safety and comfort,” Gossage said. “We know there are things that can be done to help in that area.”
Gossage also noted that increasing the hope numbers means showing students the opportunities outside the Russell Springs community.
“We want them to see beyond Russell Springs because what they tend to see is 10-12 factories here,” Gossage said. “They don’t see what else they can do. Once they realize there are medical field professions and other further education opportunities, that hope will improve across the board.”
Coots said he recommends the Gallup Student Poll to other districts.
“We wanted to know what our students thought about our school and how we could use it to improve not only our instructional strategies but our rapport with our students,” Coots said. “By gaining an insight on how they think, we can adjust to better serve them.”