Districtwide surveys gauge Rochester school climate


Students, teachers, principals, and parents in the Rochester school district recently participated in comprehensive districtwide surveys. Each group was given a survey with questions tailored to their relationship to the district. For example, students were asked about their teachers’ instruction, responsiveness, and classroom demeanor.

The New York State Education Department required the surveys as part of the teacher evaluation legislation enacted last year for priority school districts — those where the majority of schools are failing and in need of improvement.

In some school districts, such as New York City’s and Syracuse’s, the results will count toward teachers' professional evaluation. But that's not the case in Rochester, says Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association. Still, teachers found the surveys frustrating, he says.

“They ate up so much valuable time,” Urbanski says. Some teachers found some of the questions intrusive, he says, and not always age-appropriate.

But Anita Murphy, deputy superintendent of the RCSD, disagrees. The surveys were intentionally designed to gauge perceptions of students and parents for planning purposes, she says. And the cumulative results will be used to help identify problems and guide in the development of solutions, Murphy says.

“We worked very specifically to not make it punitive,” she says. “We want to use the data to make the schools better.”

Rather than providing feedback that is specific to individual students, teachers, and principals, Murphy says, the feedback will be more generalized, like “Here’s what people said about this school."

Still, Urbanski sent a letter (below) to teachers earlier this month acknowledging their frustration with the survey. The RTA is also filing a class-action grievance with the state due to what Urbanski says are violations of the collective bargaining agreement.

The district should get the results of the surveys sometime in August, Murphy says.



Thank you to the many teachers who have written to us about the harmful effect of the Tripod Survey on the teaching and learning environment in our schools. Not surprisingly, most teachers pointed out how this is having a devastating impact on their students. You can find an exact copy of the Tripod Student Survey posted on the RTA website .

Ever since our District mandated the administration of this awful and intrusive Tripod Student Survey, we launched an effort to learn if there is a way to stop it and to persuade the District that it is an enormous waste of instructional time as well as an inappropriate tool for any useful purpose. We have held meetings with Superintendent Vargas and other District officials. We have also consulted with experts at the New York State United Teachers, our state-wide union. Here's what we have learned and were able to establish:

- The Tripod Survey, unfortunately, is required by the NYS Education Department and must be administered at all Focus Districts. The Rochester City School District is a Focus District and therefore is required to administer the survey.

- The results of the Tripod Student Survey cannot and will not be used in the RCSD for any evaluation of individual teachers, unlike in some other NYS districts where it was either negotiated or imposed as part of APPR. You will soon receive a letter from Sup't Vargas confirming this.

- To diminish the potential for identification of individual teachers, teacher identifiers on the Tripod Student Surveys will be suppressed by the vendor even before the survey results are shared with the District.

Before the end of this month, the Tripod Student Survey will be followed by a survey for teachers as well as one for parents. All this is mandated in Focus Districts by the NYS Education Department and none of this is within local control. Added to the State-mandated APPR, and the dismal implementation of Common Core in our state and district, it is undermining the teachers' ability to focus on teaching and robbing students of precious time for learning.

To address all this, we are exploring whatever legislative and legal recourse may be available to us. And while we recognize that the source of these wrong-headed mandates is the State and not the District, we are nonetheless filing a Class Action Grievance for violation of our Collective Bargaining Agreement which acknowledges, in Section 27.2, "that the primary duty and responsibility of the teacher is to teach and that the organization of the school and the school day should be directed at ensuring that the energy of the teacher is primarily utilized to this end."

We will continue to keep you informed about the progress of our efforts. Thank you for all that you do for your students every day under increasingly difficult and frustrating conditions.

Adam Urbanski, RTA President