Howard County schools are about to launch an ambitious systemwide survey in an attempt to assess whether the perceptions of parents, teachers and students match the system's consistent top performance on state achievement exams.
Beginning this week, the survey will be taken in county schools by 34,000 third- through 12th-graders and 2,700 instructional staff members, and it will be sent home to 26,000 families who have children in Howard schools.
"This is the single most massive attempt on the part of the school system -- at least in my time here -- to gather feedback from our various customers," Howard school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said yesterday at a news conference. He has been superintendent since 1984.
All of the multiple-choice questions are tied to the Howard system's strategic plan, known as "Beyond the Year 2000." The questions seek to assess satisfaction in such areas as how much children are learning, school safety, class sizes and respect between teachers and students.
Howard school officials emphasized that the survey is not meant to be a referendum on the performance of individual schools but is intended to show schools and the system where they need to improve.
"The survey results will provide feedback and will represent a baseline, a point from which continual improvement will start," said Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin.
"We may have a great product, but we may not have a satisfactory perception," Kalin said, noting that achievement tests show Howard students perform better than their peers across the state.
Kalin said he expects that the survey will be repeated annually, with some basic questions remaining the same and others changing depending upon what is happening in the system and in individual schools.
Though the student survey will have names and identification numbers at the top of each copy so school officials can track the results by demographic characteristics, officials emphasized that the survey responses will remain anonymous. The teacher survey and the parent survey will have only the name of the schools printed at the top.
The survey results are expected to be released in September. It has yet to be decided whether only systemwide results will be made public or if individual school results will be made public, Hickey said.
The survey is expected to cost about $11,000, Kalin said. School officials will send the copies of the survey home with children. The high cost of postage ruled out mailing. Officials hope publicity will encourage parents to ask their children about the survey on the day it is sent home.
School officials anticipate an almost 100 percent response rate among students and staff members and hope most parents take the 10 to 15 minutes required to fill out the survey.
Last year, 70 percent of middle school parents responded to an even longer survey sent home with students.
The dates that the survey will be taken by parents, students and teachers differ by grade level: The high school parent survey is to be sent home May 9 and should be returned by May 16.
The elementary and middle school parent survey is to be sent home May 20 and should be returned by May 27.
High school students and staff members will take the survey between May 8 and May 15.
Elementary and middle school students and staff members will take the survey between May 21 and 29.
Families will be asked to complete one copy of the survey for each school attended by their children. A family with one child in elementary school and another in middle school will receive two copies of the survey. But if a family has two children in one school, one copy of the survey will be sent home with the youngest child.
The survey has been tested with small groups of parents, students, teachers and administrators and have received positive responses from the county's PTA Council and Citizens Advisory Council, according to school officials and members of those groups.
For families with a limited knowledge of English, notices will be sent home in Spanish, Korean and Mandarin-Chinese. The notices will tell whom to contact to participate in the survey.
Future surveys are likely to be translated into at least some of the 54 languages spoken by Howard families, Kalin said.
The school system also intends to develop a survey that will gauge the county's business community's perception of county high school graduates and has preliminary plans for another survey involving the preparation of Howard children for kindergarten, Hickey said. The state conducts an annual survey of the performance of county graduates at Maryland's public colleges and universities.
Many other school systems, including Montgomery County's, and national groups have participated in similar surveys, Howard school officials said.
Pub Date: 5/06/97