Data on school district student climate revealed

Grades 3-5 below state average, while Grades 6 and up score above

T-R PHOTO BY TREVOR BABCOCK — Marshalltown Community School District Director of Special Services Matt Cretsinger presents a report to the school board detailing findings of surveys aimed at gauging student climate.

The Marshalltown school board reviewed the findings of a survey conducted to gauge the student population’s climate and culture during Monday night’s meeting, and the results garnered both optimism and concern.

As required by the Iowa Department of Education, every public school district in the state completes an annual Conditions of Learning survey with the intent to improve student safety and learning environments. It is administered to students in grades three through 12 as well as parents of children in all grades and focuses on five domains, including physical safety, emotional safety, adult-student relationships and expectations/boundaries.

Questions in the survey include statements such as “My classmates treat others with respect,” “Adults who work in my school have the same rules for all students,” and “My teachers care about me.”

From student respondents in grades three through five, data showed the school district to be behind in all five domains compared against the state average. However, from student respondents in grades sixth and up, the school district is ahead of the state average in all five domains.

Emotional safety was an area in need of improvement at all grade levels, scoring the least favorable numbers including in the parent survey. Questions in the category included “I was called names, made fun of, or picked on in a way that hurt my feelings,” “Other students made me feel included in their group of friends” and “I got a scary or hurtful message from another student on a phone, computer, or iPad.”


Of the student population, 952 students in grades three through five responded and 1,981 students in grades six through 12 responded.

Director of Special Services Matt Cretsinger, who presented the results to the school board, said the number of respondents made for a representative sample of the student body.

Around the same time the Conditions of Learning Survey was administered, the school district also worked with Hanover Research to survey students on social-emotional learning competencies. This showed social-awareness and student social support to be strengths within the district, but student emotional well-being was identified as a weakness.

Cretsinger said the school district’s social-emotional steering committee is looking at the data to determine how to support teachers and students better.

Board member Mike Miller said he didn’t get a clear vision on what will be done differently in response to the findings. He suggested that if the data was taken now or last month, the numbers wouldn’t be as favorable, especially in grades six through 12.

“It gives more importance, I think, to your steering committee group to meet, make some decisions and implement (them),” Miller said. “I’d say that a plan violently executed right now is better than a perfect plan executed next month.”

Miller requested another presentation at a future board meeting to explain what changes have been made in response to the survey results.

“These are just pieces of evidence based on other stuff to tell us whether we’re on the right track, if we’re missing something, or we need to make a course of navigation,” Cretsinger said.

Board member Bonnie Lowry opined that in order to make a change in the classroom for students, sometimes the answer is to look inward. She added that adult social-emotional training should be an area of great focus.

“Changing adult behavior usually changes student behavior,” Lowry said.

Superintendent Theron Schutte said the school district will use the data to help guide their social-emotional learning work. He found it interesting that at grades six and up, the district scored above the state average. Marshalltown has implemented the Capturing Kids’ Hearts training at the secondary level, which focuses on relationship building with staff and students. According to Schutte, the district is in the early stages of embarking on similar work at the elementary level.

“I would imagine (that) once that gets more pervasive through the district, we’ll probably see some positive in-roads there,” Schutte said.

School staff at a building level are also seeing the data for the first time, Schutte noted, and will have to make individual decisions on how to make improvements.


Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611 or tbabcock@timesrepublican.com.


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