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Some Lorain students question survey's purpose

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LORAIN — Some students are against a recent survey, saying it attacks teachers and isn’t anonymous.

A YouthTruth survey was given to students during classes Monday, taking between 24 and 45 minutes to complete, juniors Ryan Williams, 16, and Murphy White, 16, estimated. Both are members of student-run Titan Nation Times newspaper and opted out of the survey, suggesting others do the same on the student newspaper’s Facebook page.

“It was multiple questions that we at the newspaper felt like were targeting the teachers,” Ryan said. “They just wanted to catch anything they could grasp their hands on and get at a teacher — because of all the concerns, the rephrase that we just had public, it addressed the hostile work environment and all of that, I feel like the teachers are being the target.”

Titan Nation Times was formed last year as a print newspaper working to give a voice to students and cover issues like dress code. Following a change in staff this year, it is only on social media, but members are attending school board and Academic Distress Commission meetings.

The survey was given to students in grades three through 12, according to communications coordinator Sarah Egan-Reeves. It was not mandatory and a letter was sent home to parents beforehand to allow their child to participate.

In an email, she said the survey was anonymous, but that students had to log in so their responses could be sorted by demographics and grade level.

“This is a standard practice in the research industry,” she wrote. “The district receives a report without personal identifiable information.”

Ryan and Murphy said they and other students opted out of the survey because they had to enter in their student identification numbers — meaning responses could be traced back to them.

“Kind of a lack of trust, which is exactly what’s happening in all of this,” Ryan said.

When asked to comment about the perceived lack of trust, Egan-Reeves responded that the survey was given last year as well.

“Feedback from scholars is how we grow,” she wrote in an email. “This survey should reflect the feelings of our scholars. If an individual student feels supported by their learning environment they should respond accordingly.”

Similar concerns on anonymity had resulted in low response numbers on a teacher survey sent out months prior. Lorain Schools CEO David Hardy mentioned the response rate by teachers at the January town hall meeting, and a speech language pathologist pointed out those surveys were not anonymous as they asked identifying questions of teachers and had to be answered through their Google accounts.

The district did not create the student questionnaire, Egan-Reeves wrote, “YouthTruth designs the survey and it is a valid and reliable survey instrument.” She referred to YouthTruth’s website on how the nonprofit conducts surveys.

YouthTruth’s website highlights that through its survey instruments and tailored advisory services, it partners with districts to enhance learning for students. It has several types of surveys available for purchase, including an overall school experience survey, feedback for teachers and other more customizable options. It is unclear which survey type the district opted for.

Egan-Reeves was unable to immediately say how much the district spent on the survey.

Some of the questions on the student survey shared with The Chronicle-Telegram are related to teachers.

One is about math class and asks students to answer whether they agree or disagree with the following statements:

  •  “I can tell that my Math teacher understands the subject that he/she is teaching.”
  •  “The work that I do for my Math class makes me really think.”
  •  “In order to receive a good grade in my Math class, I have to work hard.”
  •  “My Math teacher gives me assignments to help me to better understand the subject.”

A similar question was asked about English teachers.

Another question asked how many of a student’s teachers:

  •  “Believe that you can get a good grade if you try?”
  •  “Make an effort to understand what your life is like outside of school?”
  •  “Are wiling to give extra help on school work if you need it?”

These questions are similar to those provided on YouthTruth’s example survey on its website.

Other questions were about what students liked or disliked in school, or mental health issues.

Some parents pointed out students were given this questionnaire while end-of-course exams loom for high school students and other state testing is coming up for lower grades.

Murphy said he didn’t think the timing of the survey affected end-of-course exams much, but thought time could have been better spent elsewhere.

“It was just a minor inconvenience. We could have been learning something or doing something better with our time rather than wasting our time ratting on our own teachers — even though I doubt any students did that,” he said.

Egan-Reeves had no comment on the timing of the questionnaire, writing she hadn’t had time to talk to all of the district’s administrators.

Murphy said he was surprised students had to take the survey at all, after CEO David Hardy’s recent rollback on requiring high school staff to go through a reselection process to keep their jobs.

“Considering that teachers don’t have to reapply now and then they’re making us basically evaluate our teachers, (it) kind of feels like it’s the same principle, the same idea,” he said. “If they can’t rat out the teachers themselves, they’re trying to get us to do it for them.”

He added later, “All the teachers are really great. The teachers love us, they want what’s best for us. The new administrators are making it harder on the teachers.”

Williams said it wasn’t completely clear to students how the survey results would be used. Egan-Reeves quoted YouthTruth’s website in response — “incorporating the unique perspectives of students into decision-making creates happier, healthier school systems with higher academic achievement.”

But Ryan disagreed.

“The entire spiel about it was it’s supposed to help better the life of students and teachers and supposed to help us as students get further in education,” he said. “Me, myself, I feel like it’s to make themselves look better.”

He added later, “House Bill 70, there’s kind of been, during all of this craze people have taken their focus off of the education aspect. I’m not going to go into how state testing are literally the deciding factor into what our curriculums are and all that, but I feel like our focus has been taken off the state testing, … but focusing more on how can we make ourselves look good or how can we better our pockets or how can we fatten our wallets and all of that.”

Contact Carissa Woytach at 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.


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