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UI Public Policy Center, Iowa City Community School District release 2017 school climate survey report

A group of students talk on a staircase.

The University of Iowa Public Policy Center (PPC) and the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) have released a report about school climate and students’ own perceptions of and experiences in the District’s schools. The report, which will be presented by Sarah Bruch, director of the PPC’s Social and Education Policy Research Program, at the ICCSD Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, May 23, details results from a survey administered to all 5th through 12th grade students in the ICCSD in February and March 2017.

This is the second year the survey has been conducted. The 2017 survey added more inclusive gender identity and sexual orientation questions, and also included several items related to experiences and treatment of immigrants and students of different religious backgrounds. 

Though many of the student experiences of school climate have improved since the original survey in 2016, the 2017 survey shows large disparities among non-binary gender identified (non-male or female) and LGB-identified (lesbian, gay or bisexual) students, who report having much worse experiences in school. There is also a continued pattern of substantial racial disparities, especially for black and multiracial students, compared to white students.

Key findings of the 2017 report include:

  • 69 percent of non-binary gender identified students reported teachers treat students of all gender identities with respect
  • 86 percent of non-binary gender identified students reported hearing hurtful comments about gender from students, and almost 50 percent report hearing them from teachers
  • 32 percent of Black students reported hearing hurtful comments about race from teachers
  • 36 percent of non-binary gender identified students report being unable to share their views in class due to their gender
  • Almost one in four (23 percent) of black students report being unable to share their views in class due to their race
  • 25 percent of multiracial students reported that their school is not a welcoming and safe place
  • 70 percent of non-binary students reported feeling unsafe in their classes

“The ICCSD is on the forefront of collecting data on LGBT students’ experiences of school climate,” Bruch said. “We know from the few national surveys available that these students have particularly high rates of harassment and bullying. However, we know much less about this population because of the lack of data that can be disaggregated by non-binary gender identity and sexual orientation. Documenting disparities in student experiences of school climate for LGBT students is an important first step in addressing the equitability of school climates.”

The focus on student experiences of school climate is motivated by research which shows that school environments in which all students feel safe, respected and cared for are conducive to student learning and achievement. The student experiences of school climate survey assesses student experiences related to five main areas: 

  • Relationships with teachers
  • Staff, counselor and mentor relationships
  • Inclusive school climate
  • Inclusive classrooms
  • Safety and disciplinary environment

“This data presents a hard truth about our students’ experiences in our schools.  We have taken the first step by asking these questions. Now, we have to collaboratively work with our students, staff, teachers, and administrators to ensure our environments are welcoming to ALL students,” said Kingsley Botchway II, Director of Equity and Engagement.

The report and an interactive graphic of all survey items are available at www.ppc.uiowa.edu/iccsd.

The survey and report are the product of a university-community partnership between researchers the UI Public Policy Center and the Director of Equity and Engagement at the ICCSD. Members of the research team are Tessa Heeren, Qianyi Shi, Irvin Rodriguez, Rachel Maller, Meredith McCaffrey and Nicole Nucaro.