Tips for a Successful School Survey

Getting people to respond to surveys is always a challenge.  You can improve your chances of maximizing participation and achieving a representative sample of your target audience by following a few basic best practices:

Identify and understand your feedback objective.  Spend some time thinking about your goal for the survey.  For example, for a course evaluation focus on questions about organization and presentation of content, relevance to student educational or career objectives, degree of difficulty, subject matter completeness, etc.  For a teacher assessment survey, focus the questions on teacher performance, usefulness of feedback on assignments, personal interaction with students, grading in comparison with other courses, etc. That way you create questions that that zero in on the exact information you seek, and build a survey that works.

Keep the survey short, simple and focused.  A shorter survey with a clear purpose will have greater likelihood of useful results.  Questions should be direct and connected to the underlying theme of the survey.  Numerous studies show that keeping the survey as brief as possible—30 or fewer questions and under 10 minutes in duration—maximizes responses.  If you need additional, qualitative information, you also can ask some open-ended questions that will allow participants to voice their opinions.

Questions should encourage balanced, thoughtful responses.  Avoid leading or antagonizing questions, or questions that are overly complex.

Respect participants’ time.  Use a concise, clearly worded invitation or lead-in to the survey that lets participants know why you need their help and the value their responses will provide.

Don’t over-survey.  Work to avoid survey fatigue among participants—avoid an endless stream of survey requests.  Solicit their participation at or near the completion of a course.  For seminars or CE classes, you can distribute the survey at the end of the session or email a solicitation for an online, follow-up survey to each participant.  Coordinate survey activity among departments to ensure that you keep the number of survey requests at a reasonable level.

Offer to share results.  Let students, faculty, staff, parents or others know that you will share aggregate data so they can see how their response compare to their peers’ input.  Post appropriate results on your school’s web site.

Let them know when their feedback results in new policies or initiatives.  That way they can see that you are listening to their voices and that their feedback has genuine value that leads to improvements.

Encourage teachers and presenters to encourage their students to participate.  Teachers should make it clear that they study survey results and use them the way they are intended to be used—as tools to improve both their performance and the value of the courses they teach.

Click on sample surveys to take a look at a variety of templates you can use to design a survey that meets your feedback requirements.

Click on case history to read about the ways schools use surveys as an integrated measurement, evaluation and improvement tool.