By Cate Keller
Strong K-12 leaders know that stakeholder feedback is critical to informing decisions and ensuring the success of K-12 programs and practices. Surveys are the most efficient and effective way to gather large amounts of stakeholder feedback, but they only provide K-12 leaders with accurate and useful information if designed, administered, and analyzed according to best practices.
This post provides recommendations for strategic survey administration based on Hanover’s vast experience administering climate surveys, staff satisfaction surveys, parent feedback surveys, strategic planning surveys, program evaluations, needs assessments, and other surveys. Look for a future post on survey design and analysis strategies to learn more about how to design and analyze surveys that collect high-quality feedback from key K-12 stakeholders, including students, parents, staff, and the community.
The school year is busy and full of events, assessments, and meetings. Successful surveys are carefully timed so that they don’t get lost in the rush of activity that accompanies each school year. In order to time surveys to maximize the quantity and quality of responses, Hanover recommends the following strategies:
- Minimize the influence of external factors by avoiding state assessment windows, extended school breaks, and the first and last two weeks of the school year.
- Keep surveys open for 2-4 weeks.
- If possible, align survey windows with staff development days (to reach staff) and parent events at school (to reach parents).
All stakeholder groups that you plan to survey for their feedback – whether students, parents, staff, the community – need to an equal opportunity to respond to the survey on an accessible platform. The last thing a K-12 leader wants to do is carefully design a survey but administer it in a way that makes it difficult and time-consuming for stakeholders to respond.
Based on our experience administering surveys through paper and online platforms, Hanover recommends administering surveys online to maximize accessibility, reduce potential data entry errors, and allow for multi-year comparisons. Surveys must be accessible via mobile devices. While families may not have a desktop computer at home, they are more likely to have a mobile device.
There are two main options for online survey platforms: open links or trackable links.
- Open links are accessible to anyone with the survey link. These surveys should include “screening questions” at the start to capture those who are not part of the target survey population.
- Trackable links send a unique survey link to a pre-selected contact list.
The most appropriate platform depends on your priorities; for example, if the survey is targeting parents who may not have internet access at home, an open link will be important to allow parents to take the survey at public locations such as the school or library.
Open vs. Trackable Survey Links:
Open Survey Links
- Can be posted in public forums, such as websites or newsletters
- Can be administered without accessing email (easier for administering at school sites)
- Ensure respondents’ anonymity
- Do not allow for targeted survey reminders to those who have not completed the survey
- Rely on self-reported demographic data
- Are vulnerable to multiple responses per individual
Trackable Survey Links
- Allow for targeted survey reminders to those who have not completed the survey
- Allow for connection to known demographic data from other sources
- Ensure one survey response per individual
- Can only go to individuals with known email addresses
- Cannot be posted in public forums, such as websites or newsletters
- Are vulnerable to compromising respondents’ anonymity
Once you’ve decided on when to administer your survey and which platform you want to use to maximize response rates, you need to strategize on how you plan to conduct your outreach. A successful outreach strategy is carefully planned to account for the topic of the survey, the sensitivity of the survey questions, and the needs of the target survey populations.
Here are some custom strategies that are proven to increase response rates among different populations:
- Designate time during school (e.g., homeroom, all English language arts classes) for students to take the survey, utilizing computer labs or laptop carts as necessary.
- Offer the survey in multiple languages.
- Advertise the survey through existing communication channels, such as school/district websites, parent newsletters, social media, and principal communications.
- Partner with local organizations to advertise the survey, especially those that work with hard-to-reach populations.
- Mail a letter to parents communicating the importance of the survey and requesting their participation. Include a QR code for respondents to access the survey through their smartphones.
- Provide opportunities for parents to take the survey at the school, such as setting up a computer in the front lobby or library. Coordinate survey administration with events that bring parents into school, such as parent-teacher conferences, and encourage parents to take the survey on computers set up during these events.
- Have principals send an email to their staff communicating the importance of the survey and requesting their participation.
- Ask principals to set aside time in staff meetings to complete the survey.
- Send response updates to principals with the number of staff members from each school who have completed the survey to encourage friendly competition among schools.
- Ask principals to consider incentives such as free food at a staff meeting if more than a certain percentage of staff complete the survey.
Finally, don’t assume that everyone will remember the survey you sent a week ago! Regular and targeted survey reminders are crucial for survey success. We recommend the following strategies:
- Clearly communicate the survey closing date.
- If using a trackable survey link, send targeted reminders to those who have not completed the survey.
- Leave the survey open for 2-3 weeks and send reminders on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays for maximum response rates.