By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Many area school districts, including Quincy, have started administering a state-mandated survey of teachers and students as a way to assess the "instructional climate" in about 4,000 Illinois schools.
"It's actually taking place now" in Quincy schools, interim Superintendent Joel Murphy said this week.
The "Illinois 5 Essentials" survey is being administered statewide through March 31. Schools began offering the survey as early as Feb. 1, but some didn't start until later.
By law, all certified K-12 teachers and students in grades 6-12 across the state must be surveyed through an online process at school. The survey is voluntary for parents this year. The Quincy School District is encouraging the participation of parents, who can fill out the online survey from their home computers.
Murphy said a flyer explaining the survey to parents was sent home with students last week. He said parents have until March 31 to participate if they wish.
He said arrangements are being made for parents who don't have access to a home computer.
"Some schools are looking to set up some kiosks in their building, so as parents come in for parent-teacher conferences, they'll be able to take the survey at the school," he said.
The Illinois State Board of Education has contracted with the University of Chicago to implement the survey to meet the requirements of school-reform legislation approved last year.
For example, one requirement of Senate Bill 7 calls for an instrument to be developed that will provide feedback from -- at a minimum -- students in grades 6-12 and teachers on the "instructional environment" within schools. Meanwhile, a revised state law governing school report cards also now requires input from a "school climate survey." Murphy said results from the "5 Essentials" survey will appear on the next school report card to come out next fall.
Murphy said the survey will be beneficial, because it will help local schools provide a better picture of the learning environment in each building.
"Basically it's going to give us information that we haven't necessarily gotten in the past -- particularly from teachers and parents," he said. "Schools have done individual climate surveys in the past, but this is one of the first times we've been able to get it on a districtwide level and include both teachers and parents into it."
The survey questions will focus on assessing five key areas deemed essential in successful schools: Effective leaders, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environment and ambitious instruction.
Murphy said research shows that a school strong in at least three of the five areas is more likely to improve student learning.
Debbie Niederhauser, regional superintendent of schools for Adams and Pike counties, said all five school districts in Adams County and all four in Pike County are encouraging participation. She said parent participation will be available in some but not all of the districts. She said if parents have not yet been contacted by their local school district, they should be soon.
"This is an opportunity for our schools to highlight the many positives that are in place in our schools," Niederhauser said in a press release. "It also will give schools baseline data for improvement in areas that need additional strengthening. So often, we only hear of the negatives. It is a shame that all the good is often in the shadow of the negative. There is amazing learning happening all around our region, and this is a chance to share that."
More information about the survey is available at the following website: illinois.5-essentials.org/2012/