District pilots course evaluation survey, receives mixed reviews

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    Sophomore Nikki Merkle-Raymond participates in the student feedback survey issued by PAUSD last week on her phone for her math class. Many students used mobile phones to take the survey, though iPads and computers were available. Photo by Emma van der Veen.

    The Palo Alto Unified School District has issued a new district-wide student input survey to collect data and give students a chance to provide feedback for their teachers and courses.

    According to Principal Kim Diorio, the survey was created to gain insight into student opinion on courses and course alignment, one of the three Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) committee’s goals as of last year.

    “The district wanted to be able to create a system for some uniform questions across teachers and across courses so that it would be easier compare the different student input in the different courses as we work on our goal of alignment and consistency,” Diorio said.

    According to Diorio, although many teachers have administered their own surveys in the past, this survey gives the district, departments and teachers more consistent feedback.

    “It [the survey] is to get some feedback from students and to make sure we have a systemic process of doing that,” Diorio said. “In the past, many teachers have developed their own surveys that they’ve used with students and they’re welcome to continue to do that, but they still have to administer these questions as well.”

    Some teachers, such as English teacher George Vuong, expressed concern with the misleading requirement to enter student IDs prior to survey completion, despite the survey being anonymous.

    “In the fine print, it says something like ‘confidential,’ so I was worried about that for the students,” Vuong said. “I wasn’t sure what confidential meant. Hopefully it will be anonymous when the feedback is released. I didn’t want the students to say something and then get tracked down for it, so I was worried for them.”

    According to Diorio, the student ID login is to prevent a single user from filling out multiple surveys.

    “I won’t and teachers won’t have access to who said what,” Diorio said. “It’s more used on the back end with IT [Information Technology] and the software company that it’s run through. I think they were worried that without having some way for students to identify that it would invalidate some of the results. They wanted to make sure that it was a single sign-on.”

    The survey was generally well-received by students, as it gave them a chance to say what might not otherwise be said, according to sophomore Tanay Krishna.

    “The survey is useful because it gives students an opportunity to directly critique things that they think are going well and things that are not going well in their classes,” Krishna said. “If students don’t feel comfortable telling their teachers something, it gives them a way to say what could be improved in their classes.”

    The survey consists of 12 questions and is administered in all classes, according to Diorio.

    “It’s 10 questions that are all on the likert scale, so strongly disagree to strongly agree,” Diorio said. “Then, there are two open-ended questions. The questions were negotiated between the district and the Palo Alto Education Association, PAEA, last spring as part of the collective bargaining that takes place every year with the annual teacher’s contract.”

    According to science teacher Ashwini Avadhani, the survey is an effective way to give feedback to teachers, which is important for improving learning environments.

    “The questions are fair and I think that students should have their opinions and should have a right to give a teacher feedback,” Avadhani said. “Teachers also need to get feedback. They need to know what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong.”

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