As already noted on this blog, next week I'll be attending the Mid-South Educational Research Association annual conference in Pensacola, Florida. Besides enjoying one of my favorite Gulf Coast beaches, and besides offering a training session on The Self Aware School: Using the Enneagram System to Enhance Instructional Leadership, I'll also be presenting or co-presenting the results of a wide-ranging analysis of the 2011 TELL Kentucky survey of teacher perceptions.
The TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning) survey was administered to K-12 educators across Kentucky in March 2011. Over 42,000 teachers and administrators participated, representing an 80% response rate. The survey measured teacher's perceptions of their teaching conditions on eight research-based constructs.
Overall, teachers in Kentucky reported fairly high-levels of satisfication with their teaching conditions. Since then, the survey was readministered in March 2013, and the Kentucky Department of Education has widely touted the TELL instrment as a means for schools to improve their learning climate.
With a small grant from the Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education, a group of researchers at Western Kentucky University, including Steve Miller, Kyong Chon, Jie Zhang, Tony Norman, and me, were commissioned to further analyze the 2011 TELL data. Chunling Niu, a doctoral student in WKU's Doctorate of Educational Leadership progam played a lead role in the research, and doctoral student Richard Hunt also assisted with the analysis.
Our goals included exploring whether teacher perceptions on the TELL survey were different between high- and low-performing schools, and how different educator groups (principals versus teachers, principals versus assistant principals) viewed teaching conditions. An additional study explored differing perceptions of teaching conditions between schools that have implemented Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and those that have not (doctoral program graduate Dr. Kelly Davis played an instrumental role in this particular study).
Four papers will be delivered at MSERA next week highlighting the results of our research. Among the findings we will discuss:
- Among high schools in the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (the main service area for WKU), teacher responses on the TELL survey were largely unrelated to student outcomes. The one exception was on the construct of Community Involvement and Support. Regardless of other demographic variables, in higher-performing schools teachers tended to report a greater level of support from parents and the community. These results were consistent with analysis commissioned by KDE finding that, statewide, Community Involvement and Support was the only construct positively associated with student achievement.
- Unsurpisingly, principals consistently had more positive views of teaching conditions than the teachers themselves. However, principal and teacher perception differences were not predictive of student learning outcomes, except (again) for the construct of Community Involvement and Support.
- Assistant principals had perceptions of teaching conditions more in line with those of principals, but were significantly more like teacher perceptions on the constructs of Teacher Leadership and School Leadership. Again, discrepancies in principal and assistant principal views were not associated with student achievement.
- Schools that implemented the PBIS model for improving student behavior outcomes had significantly higher perceptions of teaching conditions on the constructs of Managing Student Conduct and School Leadership. We also found that the more faithfully a school implemented PBIS, the more positive were teacher views of their teaching conditions.
Some of the results of our analyses were not surprising. Other findings have important implications for school leaders interested in promoting higher levels of teacher satisfaction in their schools. I was most interested in results from the PBIS study. Over 400 schools across Kentucky have implemented PBIS, and our research showed that the TELL survey can partially function as a tool for evaluating the effectiveness of PBIS. The findings were promising for schools that want to implement PBIS, but also a reminder that fidelity of implementation really matters.
The dominant theme of our findings, however, is that the TELL survey, whatever its strengths, does not tell us much about whether students are learning measurably more in schools with positive TELL results. In other words, teachers might be very satisfied with the teaching conditions of their schools, but that doesn't mean students are learning anything. This finding should put the TELL survey in perspective. It has value, but policy makers should be careful in overstating its usefulness and importance as a tool for school improvement.
We will be seeking to publish results from these studies in the near future. In the meantime, contact me if you would like further information, and I look forward to sharing this research at MSERA next week.