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The OCDSB questionnaire – good intentions, but…

There has been much a-flutter in Ottawa over a survey that is being sent to all students in the Public School Board. There are actually two different questionnaires – one sent to K – Grade 6 and another to Grade 7-12.

As someone who knows very well the value of good information and how it can be used to inform decisions on policies and programs, I initially thought, OK… why not? After all, if the data that are to be collected are relevant to the design of policies and programs at the Board level and if they are collected and analysed using scientific methodologies, then this may be a step forward.

But wait a minute?

Um, why is Q 18 collecting information on religion? These are public schools, after all?

OK – maybe this is a bit of a profiling exercise….

Wait – and what about this:

25. In general, how do you feel that you are treated by school staff in your school?

26 b) Do you feel you school expectations have been applied to you in a fair manner?

Seriously? Is there a teenager on the planet who feels that they have been treated “fairly” by their school or the staff? I sure haven’t met one!

And why this?

29 b) If you have been threatened, bullied or harmed by anyone at your current school do you think it is because of any of the following? (Please check all that apply.)

What follows in a who list of reasons why the Board thinks someone may have been subjected to bullying (e.g., sexual orientation, physical appearance). It also asks where and how often the bullying took place.

I get the reason for this question – it is to identify the motivations behind intimidation and harassment and to put into place school-specific programs that may help to mitigate bullying. Bullying sucks and those who bully are basically cowards. This is a given and schools should work toward eliminating it to the greatest extent possible.

BUT, the statistical side of my brain says that there will be no way to use this information at the school level – the only geographic unit where it would be useful – because there will be an insufficient numbers of respondents to each of these categories to publish and interpret the results and still preserve confidentiality. Any results will be unusable at the level of aggregation needed . So why ask these questions at all in a survey like this one?

Finally – sigh – the survey is voluntary. According to Randall Denley’s column:

Then there is the issue of the quality of the information and how it will be used. There are a couple of real problems here. This is not a study that is in any way scientific. Hammond says the board hopes to get a response rate of between 60 and 70 per cent and will be pleased if it does.

Here we go again.

Let me be clear. There will be groups of families who will not complete this questionnaire. Newcomers to Canada, those families of lower income and or education, those who have serious problems at home and are worried that school officials may learn about them. These are families who are much less likely to complete the questionnaire fully and truthfully.

And what about those families with children who may be gay, lesbian, bullied, harassed or otherwise marginalized? Well, they are not very likely to complete it either for a myriad of personal reasons. Some of the content of the survey is about very deep and personal matters and I cannot imagine that students will be at all comfortable expressing themselves openly and truthfully.

So, the reporting population will be skewed and the results will be unrepresentative, unreliable and essentially useless at the school level. And this is too bad because there are some questions on the survey whose answers may have been useful (e.g., Part V, Learning Support, Tools and Resources).

My advice would have been that, for the 120K spent on this survey, the OCDSB would have been better served hiring an experienced external consultant to administer a series of targeted questionnaires combined with some well-designed focus groups and cognitive interviews.

But hey, that’s just me.


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  1. […] want to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.Powered by WP Greet Box WordPress PluginYou might remember that I wrote about this last year. Now the Ottawa public school board has some results to talk about. And they are for sure talking […]

  2. Yomna says:

    And sexual orientation, they have a part about that. It’s crazy because they use the words, queer, gay (which are the same thing), lesbian, two-spirited, transsexual, etc. But we are not allowed to use some of these words at school, yet they are using it in a survey that 120K people are going to see. Students, teachers (etc.) can not use these words, yet the OCDSB is offending lots by using these words.

    It’s crazy, I’m not doing the survey for sure.

    1. trashee says:

      You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that little inconsistency.

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