TELL survey of Texas educators produces more questions than answers
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By Linda Bridges
We supported the state TELL survey, which surveyed 425,000 educators about teaching and working conditions in public schools, and did a lot of legwork encouraging our members to take it. We felt it was important to get more information on the working environment for school professionals.
Unfortunately, the low response rate and the inability to view much of any specific data related to campuses and districts leave us with a lot more questions than answers, and that’s a position you usually don’t want to be in after spending a lot of time and money on a statewide survey of 425,000 educators.
We also expressed our concerns to TEA about the 50 percent participation rate threshold required for public reporting of the results. While we agree that some threshold is needed, we would have preferred a lower threshold and more information on how representative the responses were for different types of educators and campuses.
Without the ability to evaluate specific kinds of campuses, the overall results could be misleading. For instance, is there a particular type of district or campus that was most likely to meet the 50 percent participation threshold for public examination of results?
What does it tell us when only 9 percent of districts met the 50 percent threshold, with the vast majority of those being small districts or charter school districts? How revealing can the results be if every major urban school district--with the exception of Austin ISD, which required participation--fell significantly short of the 50 percent threshold?
Two districts facing challenges in educating our kids, Houston ISD and Dallas ISD, had dismal participation rates--11 percent and 13 percent respectively. That only allows us to view results for 8 of the 286 campuses in Houston ISD, and 21 of the 233 campuses in Dallas ISD.
While there are going to be kinks in any project of this size, we noted a significant number of problems with its implementation. Key problems included lack of knowledge of the survey, administrators stifling participation, and educator mistrust that the results truly would be anonymous.
Many educators also felt the questions presented were too vague. For example, we know that time spent preparing for and administering standardized tests is a significant concern, but two questions simply asking for the number of hours spent per week on assessments aren’t sufficient to gauge that impact.
Here are a few of the comments we received regarding the survey:
“I would have never known about this survey had I not stumbled upon it.”
“The survey did not feel confidential because you had to request a code, and the admin would be aware of who received what code.”·
“Every teacher I spoke to at my campus was basically afraid to be completely honest. No one believed in the anonymity, and retaliation in the school is swift and very stern.”
“My principal knew nothing about it, and I had to request the codes myself for the campus. I encouraged teachers to complete the survey personally and during in-service. We got only 40% of our campus to participate.”
“It asked for my campus name, my grade level, what other grades I've taught, and my years of experience. And they considered it an ‘anonymous’ survey. Really?”
“I was never given a code. It was awkward to ask admin for a code. I did request one online, but by the time I knew about the survey, I was neck-deep in end-of-year duties, so the timing was bad.”
“I didn't find the survey useful at all. The questions were entirely too vague, not specific enough to be of any use to anyone.”
Bridges is president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers (Texas AFT). The Texas AFT represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.