Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com.

Education Opinion

When Measuring School Climate, Context Is Key

By Peter DeWitt — March 05, 2017 3 min read

Today’s guest blog is written by Jack McDermott, product marketing manager at Panorama Education, a company that partners with K-12 schools and districts to measure social-emotional learning, school climate, and family and community engagement.

As states finalize new school accountability plans under ESSA, measures of school climate have received increasing attention. Many states have included school climate as a “non-academic” indicator of school quality in their recently drafted plans. Meanwhile, groups of educators and students in states from California to Massachusetts have advocated for better approaches to measuring school climate.

While the benefits of a positive school climate have been known for decades--increases in students’ academic achievement, fewer disciplinary incidents, and even improved teacher retention--less is known about the implications of measuring and reporting on school climate in the years ahead.

Measuring school climate
At Panorama Education, we’ve supported over 6,500 schools across the country in collecting and analyzing data about school climate and social-emotional learning. Given the ongoing conversations about measures of school climate, we wanted to better understand the nuances of using school climate surveys across a wide range of school contexts.

We recently analyzed survey results on the Panorama Student Survey from over 2,000 diverse schools across the country. This free, open-source survey instrument asks students to respond to climate-focused questions:

  • How fair or unfair are the rules for the students at this school?
  • How often do your teachers seem excited to be teaching your classes?
  • How pleasant or unpleasant is the physical space at your school?
  • At your school, how much does the behavior of other students hurt or help your learning?

What does the school climate survey data say?
We started by examining how survey scores correlate with a wide range of school characteristics, including: grade level, racial/ethnic diversity, proportion of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL %), region, urbanity, student-teacher ratio, and Title 1 status.

Overall, we find that school level (elementary, middle, high) shows the strongest relationship between survey results and school characteristics. We also see that as students move from elementary to middle to high school, their positive views of school climate tend to decrease. Therefore, school climate survey results at one school level may not always be comparable to those in other school levels.

In this animated screenshot of a Panorama report, it’s clear how a school climate score of 63% favorable (the pink line) is actually quite different at each school level. This score is in the middle 50th percentile for elementary schools, but moves all the way up to the 90th percentile for high schools; a change of forty percentage points on the same survey questions at different school levels.

Why is this important? If you’re a school or district administrator, these comparison points can provide a more accurate picture of your school’s climate. By comparing “apples to apples,” or how an elementary school compares to other elementary schools, this report becomes more meaningful and actionable.

As states move towards including measures of school climate under ESSA, it’s important to develop nuanced measurements and reports that help educators act on data and improve school quality for students. In other words, when you’re measuring school climate, context is key.

Peter DeWitt does not work with Panorama Education. He is, however, interested in school climate.

Lead photo courtesy of Travis Wilber.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read