September 4, 2013—Virginia’s public middle schools are receiving results of the first statewide school climate survey, developed by a research team at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. “Overall, the results are positive,” lead investigator Dewey Cornell said.
Surveys were collected from 43,805 seventh- and eighth-grade students and 9,134 teachers from 423 public schools. Most of the schools were middle schools, but in some school divisions the seventh and eighth grades are part of elementary or high schools. The surveys were completed anonymously online during the spring semester.
The U.Va. research team compiled and analyzed results over the summer and prepared individual school reports, which were made available to the schools this week via a secure website.
“A major purpose of the surveys is to give schools detailed information about their school climate and safety conditions so that they can identify strengths as well as areas for improvement,” said Cornell, a forensic clinical psychologist, Bunker Professor of Education in the Curry School and director of the Youth Violence Project.
The survey assessed school “climate domains” such as the strictness of school discipline, the quality of teacher-student relationships and the degree of student engagement in learning and school activities. The survey also assessed “safety domains” that included bullying, teasing and other aggressive behavior. Both students and teachers were asked about safety concerns.
Each school was provided with two reports: one report of survey results from students and a separate report from teachers. The reports compared student and teacher perceptions of the individual school with state and regional norms.
More than two-thirds of Virginia’s seventh- and eighth-grade students agree that they like school, feel like they belong at their school and feel comfortable asking their teachers for help with their school work. More than three-quarters of students say that they feel safe in school, but 50 percent report that bullying is a problem in their school and 13 percent report being bullied on at least a weekly basis during the school year. Approximately one-third of students reported being physically attacked, pushed or hit in school.
More than 90 percent of Virginia seventh- and eighth-grade teachers report that they feel physically safe at school, and nearly 80 percent feel that they are treated with respect by students. The teachers had more mixed views about discipline, with only 59 percent agreeing that their school’s disciplinary practices are effective. When teachers were asked to evaluate various student support efforts, at least 60 percent of teachers rated student counseling services, classroom management training and methods for students to report safety concerns as moderately or very effective.
The survey was conducted as part of the state’s school safety audit program, which is administered by the Virginia Center for School Safety in the Department of Criminal Justice Services, in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Education.
The survey project is being supported by a four-year grant from the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice, through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. High school students and teachers in grades nine through 12 will be surveyed in spring 2014.
PHOTO CAPTION: Members of U.Va.‘s research team who produced the Virginia Public Middle Schools Climate Report (L-R: Erin Nekvasil, graduate student, Curry; Patrick Meyer, Curry professor; Francis Huang, Curry research scientist; Anna Schnizler, undergraduate research assistant; Pooja Datta, Curry grad student; Dewey Cornell, Curry professor; Tim Konold, Curry professor and Anna Lacey, Curry grad student. Not pictured, Anna Heilbrun, Curry grad student)