World civics teacher Chad Starrett prepares for a lesson during his planning period at McCreary Central High School (McCreary County). McCreary County had 100 percent participation in the Kentucky TELL survey. Photo by Amy Wallot, May 20, 2015

World civics teacher Chad Starrett prepares for a lesson during his planning period at McCreary Central High School (McCreary County). McCreary County had 100 percent participation in the Kentucky TELL survey.
Photo by Amy Wallot, May 20, 2015

By Brenna R. Kelly

A vast majority of Kentucky teachers say that their school has taken steps in the last two years to improve the working conditions that affect teaching and learning.

That improvement, teachers say, was due to schools using the results of the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Kentucky Survey. In this year’s survey, a question about whether schools used the results for school improvement showed the biggest increase over the previous survey, said Ann Maddock, senior adviser at the New Teacher Center which administers the biennial survey.

“What a great thing to improve upon,” Maddock said as she presented the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) with the results of the survey taken by nearly 45,000 teachers.

The rate of agreement jumped more than 9 points, with 84.7 percent of teachers saying administrators used the results of the 2013 survey to improve the school.

That rate was even higher at McCreary Central High School, where 93 percent of the school’s teachers said the results of the last survey have been used to better the school.

“Our administration really looks at the results and make the changes that need to be made,” said Stacey Musgrove, a special education teacher who also serves on the school’s leadership team.

The 2013 survey showed that teachers wanted a bigger role in school leadership and to take charge of their own professional development, said Principal Sharon Ross-Privett.

“We really targeted teacher leadership,” Ross-Privett said. “We wanted them to feel recognized as educational experts.”

So the school created an instructional leadership team, allowed departments to choose the professional development opportunities, started a mentor program and began recognizing teachers for their accomplishments, among other things.

“They now have a voice in every level of everything that we are doing,” Ross-Privett said.

As a result this year, nearly 95 percent of teachers at the school said they feel the school recognizes them as educational experts and that they are relied upon to make educational decisions.

The changes at McCreary Central are just some of the improvements that have been made at schools across the state since the TELL Survey was first administered in 2011. Statewide, there has been continuous improvement in all 10 survey areas, Maddock said.

But this year the results were particularly encouraging. Schools had clearly worked on areas where they did not rate well in the last survey, she said.

“The survey questions that had the least positive conditions in 2013 are the very ones that went up the most,” she told KBE. “That shows that across the state everyone was focusing on the things that they weren’t strong in.”

Those areas included:

  • The amount of routine paperwork teachers are required to do is minimized.
  • Professional development is evaluated and results are communicated to teachers.
  • Class sizes are reasonable such that teachers have the time available to meet the needs of all students.
  • State assessment data are available in time to impact instructional practices.
  • Professional development is differentiated to meet the needs of individual teachers.
  • Teachers have an appropriate level of influence in decision making in the school.

While time saw the most growth of any of the areas– up 5.2 percentage points from 2013, it remained the least positively viewed area in the survey, Maddock said.

“In every single one of our states, time is always the lowest on our rates of agreement,” she said. Kentucky, however, ranked above other states in agreement on time issues.

The biggest problem teachers said was the amount of time spent doing routine paperwork. It was the least positively viewed question in the survey with only 61.5 percent of teachers agreeing that efforts had been made to reduce the amount of time spend on paperwork.

That question showed the largest increase at McCreary Central high. The percentage of teachers who agreed the school made an effort to reduce time spent on paperwork more than doubled from the 2013 survey.

That’s likely because the school started using the GradeCam system, Ross-Privett said. GradeCam allows teachers to grade assessments by scanning answer sheets.

“That has been huge and teacher can use their iPads for that and the students like it because they can scan their own answers,” she said.

In addition to schools and districts, the Kentucky Department of Education uses the results of the TELL Survey to improve working conditions across the state.

After the rate of agreement on technology questions dropped between the 2011 and 2013 survey, KDE requested and received $5.8 million for technology from the Kentucky General Assembly. That money was used to improve access to reliable technology and address Internet speed.

This year, there was a 4.6 percentage point increase in the rate of agreement that Internet connections are sufficient to support instructional practices.

The largest agreement among teachers across the state at 98.5 percent was that the curriculum at their school is aligned with the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. The second highest rate of agreement at 95.8 percent was that school leadership facilitates the use of data to improve student learning.

At McCreary Central, 100 percent of teachers agreed on two questions: that the school’s environment is clean and well maintained and that the school environment that is safe.

Every teacher at the school responded and the McCreary County district was one of 39 districts in the state that had 100 percent participation. Kentucky’s statewide participation of 89.3 percent was the highest of all 18 states that took the 2015 survey.

Musgrove said she and her fellow teachers take time to fill out the survey and really think about their answers.

“I like that your input matters, but you’re not singled out,” she said. “And I think all the teachers like that, we feel like we can be honest and we know that the administration will use it to make changes.”

And Ross-Privett is happy to have the feedback to guide her as she works to improve the school.

“Hearing it from the people who touch the students every day,” she said, “is really the most efficient and reliable way to make the biggest change for the better.”


Sharon Ross-Privett

Stacey Musgrove


All results, including a statewide summary, are online at