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Letter: Pinpoint weaknesses by surveying students

Pinpoint weaknesses by surveying students

In response to an editorial regarding data use for making educational decisions, I would like to point out that there is a missing voice in the Buffalo school system: the students. This omission does not have to be continued.

While a dean at a community college, I became acquainted with the Community College Student Survey of Student Engagement. I was able to use this tool to pinpoint various weaknesses in our department, as perceived by the students. The test identified problems associated with our teachers, counseling, administration and overall academic rigor. I can tell you that it was an accurate measure, and when I addressed the shortcomings as identified by the survey, the results were positive.

Oftentimes, schools that scored poorly dropped the test rather than trying to change. This was especially true of those with poor administrative scores. That was the major weakness – it was voluntary and participation was usually determined by those identified as the problem.

A similar engagement survey for high schools could be assembled and would accurately pinpoint the weaknesses of our system and also identify the problems that correlate with student dropouts and poor performance. At the very least, it would provide the decision-makers with perceptions of competence, levels of interaction between students and school personnel, the perceived academic rigor of the school and the levels of assistance by the administration. This could then be correlated with “good performing schools” and “poor performing schools.” Why students are doing poorly is the problem, not a data stream linked only to academic scores. We must go to the source, the students.

John Brandenberger

Buffalo