This article, written by Jessica Bies, was originally featured in the Delaware News Journal.
Though little data was collected from some of Delaware’s lowest-performing schools, officials say a 2017 survey of local teaching conditions still has valuable takeaways.
Less than half of the state’s educators participated in the survey, results show. At some schools, like Bayard Middle School in Wilmington, only a few teachers responded.
Despite the response rate, the Department of Education still uses the data to make decisions.
“In the aggregate, you can certainly see trend data that is pretty sturdy,” said Angeline Rivello, associate secretary of the state Department of Education, pointing to responses from new teachers around mentoring and broader data on professional development and learning.
But when it comes to other subjects — like how safe schools feel or how administrators address student discipline issues — it’s harder to make determinations.
The Education Department did not highlight those numbers, for fear of drawing faulty conclusions, Rivello said.
Bayard, where only three teachers responded to the survey, has a history of high-turnover and behavioral problems. At Howard High School of Technology, where a student was killed in 2016, only eight teachers responded.
Statewide, educators had positive feedback about the schools they worked for, but district-level data was available from only 8 of the 42 school districts and charter school networks surveyed — results from schools and districts that did not have at least 50 percent of their teachers respond were not published.
The statewide response rate was 39.4 percent, or 4,030 out of 10,222 educators.
Politics get in the way
This is the second time the survey, called TELL Delaware, has been administered. In 2013, 59.2 percent — more than 6,000 teachers — responded.
“Obviously, I’m a little concerned about the response rate,” said Mike Matthews, president of the Delaware State Education Association. “However, speaking as a teacher, it’s a time-of-year issue.”
The survey was administered in the spring, near the end of the school year, he said.
“And bluntly, putting this bluntly, I think many folks have survey exhaustion at the end of the year,” Matthews said. “For many people, it was probably just one more thing to do.”
It’s also possible the response rate suffered because the survey was delayed. Originally scheduled for 2015, the State Board of Education and the Rodel Foundation raised concerns about several questions added to the survey shortly before it was to be released.
The questions were proposed by DSEA, the state’s largest e
Without the new questions, DSEA said it would not continue its support of the survey. That led to it being rescheduled.
The survey became “really politicized in a way that was unfortunate,” said Atnre Alleyne, founder and executive director of the Delaware Campaign for Achievement Now.
In 2015, he was director of Educator Effectiveness and Analytics at the Education Department and helped administer the first TELL Delaware survey.
DSEA had recently issued a vote of “no confidence” in then-Education Secretary Mark Murphy for making changes to the teacher evaluation system without what they felt was sufficient input from Delaware educators, Alleyne recalled. They also said he put too much emphasis on standardized test scores.
Alleyne said DSEA wanted the 2015 TELL Delaware to “be a tool to evaluate the [Education Department]” and the recent changes.
When the survey was administered in 2017, it was promoted less because of fewer resources, DOE said. Rivello said she’s not sure if all teachers got the information they needed to take the survey, but that from a research perspective, a response rate of 39 percent is generally considered pretty good.
The Education Department released a summary of the survey results on Wednesday and focused on teacher retention and mentorship.
In 2017, 78 percent of novice teachers (those with less than three years of experience) said the additional support they received as a new teacher improved their instructional practice. In 2013, that figure was 64 percent.
Eighty-four percent of novice teachers, compared to 56 percent in 2013, said support from their mentor influenced their practice of classroom management.
Because mentorship is part of the teacher licensing process, for a long time it’s been more of a compliance activity, said John Neubauer, and education associate at the Education Department.
But there’s been a push to change that and the Education Department has been awarding school districts competitive grants to enhance their mentorship programs.
The department also has started holding workshops for novice teachers.
Paul Herdman, president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, said he was pleasantly surprised to learn that 82 percent of teachers agreed with the statement that “overall, my school is a good place to work and learn.”
That’s despite the perception the teaching profession is no longer desirable or fulfilling as a career and that according to a recent study, by the school year 2015, 38 percent of all new traditional teachers starting between 2010 and 2013 had left the Delaware public education system.
“I think overall the numbers are pretty positive in terms of the importance of it,” Herdman said.