Wise Minnesota schools gain from surveying seniors & graduates

Mar 29, 2012 by

Joe Nathan – Many Minnesota public schools wisely recognize the value of surveying graduates, and seniors about to graduate.  Recently I contacted thirty-six Minnesota districts and five charter public schools. Twenty-nine responded.  Just under half do these surveys.  But in every case, where it’s done, school officials are gaining useful information.

Some years ago our center produced a report,”What Should we do?”  with five national evaluation experts.  That report concluded that surveying graduates and reporting results was a key part of a school’s annual evaluation plan.

Rob Metz, St. Louis Park High School principal explained, “Yes, we require our seniors to do an exit survey before they can get their cap and gown to graduate.   We use the survey for a variety of purposes.  First of all, it helps us keep track of where they are going after high school.  We also get their personal contact information.  We also get feedback from the seniors- mostly regarding counseling practices.  For example, do seniors need more information about financial aid, or scholarships, or college information, etc.  We have made changes based on this feedback.”

Duane Berkas, Director of Teaching and Learning, Columbia Heights Public Schools told me that the district “has begun tracking its alumni in college through the National Student Clearinghouse. This data is helpful in getting an accurate read on how many of our students are enrolling and completing college. In addition, we are working on maintaining communication with alumni through Facebook and targeted email campaigns.  We find that students and staff are very interested in hearing from our former students… One current project is a film that captures alumni responses to a series of questions on the degree they were prepared for college that can be shared with teachers and students. “

“…Feedback from alumni has shown us that we need to focus more on certain areas such as improving students’ writing skills.  It has also reassured us that we are doing many things well.  Alumni experiences show that our AP classes provide the kind of rigor that prepares students well for college courses. Many of our former AP students have expressed their appreciation at being able to save time and money by receiving college credit for the AP courses they completed in our high school…many of our alumni have commented on how much they appreciate having been part of the rich diversity present in our schools and having developed the skills to interact comfortably with students from varied backgrounds.”

Rosemount High School Principal John Wollersheim explained, “We survey our graduates every year. We use this information to track college access for our students.  Additionally, the most concrete thing we use as a result of the survey is the section where the students thank teachers.  Because “Gratitude” is one of our monthly themes – we’ve constructed opportunities for students (to) thank specific teachers.  We integrate those responses into staff development days and it always sets a great tone for the day! “

Shannon Peterson of Lakes International Charter in Forest Lake explained, “We’ve only recently started surveying our graduates.  We did so this year as part of a self-evaluation process to renew our IB authorization.  Based on their feedback about “language ambassadors” being one of the most positive aspects of their experiences at LILA, the PTO voted to authorize hiring additional language ambassadors for next year.  Our language ambassador program brings young education majors or recent ed. grads from target-language countries to work as assistants and language/culture models in the classroom. They get paid a stipend by the PTO, and stay with host families for the year.”

John Schultz, Hopkins Superintendent  reported that when “our curricular areas when they are under review, (we) have surveyed graduates to understand how the curriculum and instruction received in Hopkins supported their transition to post secondary schooling. In most recent times, we have made improvements and refinements to our writing curriculum and instruction.”

Dennis Peterson, Minnetonka Superintendent responded, “we do follow-up surveys after they have been out a few years.  We find that graduates who look back rate their experiences higher than when they were Seniors.”

Ryan Laager, Stillwater High School principal, told me that they have been doing senior survey and senior exit interviews.  Last year the school conducted 300 exit interviews.  Laager pointed to several improvements that were the result of student, along with parent and faculty feedback.  This includes

* Increasing the number of “College in the Schools” courses students can take

* Holding a college fair at the high school

* Deciding to meet this spring and ask three things the student likes at the high school, two things they would like to change, and “one way we can better support your learning.”

* Helping students, starting in the 9th grade, to develop a plan for their next six years.

After talking with Princeton High School Principal Pete Olson, Princeton Superintendent Rick Lahn reported that student feedback included adding “more concurrent classes at the High School level. In other words, more college classes in the schools”  Other recommendations included “increasing the rigor in AP classes to prepare students for challenging post-secondary coursework.” Finally, the district received “Feedback on the importance of continuing to offer elective courses that provide students a well-rounded education. Examples would include music, art, theatre, agriculture and technology.”

Olson noted  “We have responded positively to each of these areas by adding opportunities and increasing rigor.

Jay Haugen, Farmington Superintendent wrote:  “We survey our seniors each year. Because of this, and other information, we added a career counseling position and Naviance. We feel we would get a lot better information if we developed a system that kept track of and obtained feedback from our graduates for some number of years after graduation. At some point we will explore this topic in greater detail.”

After talking with Karrie Boser, Pierz Healy High School Principal , Pierz Superintendent George Weber reported  for the last  four years, the school surveyed seniors via computer in the spring.  “Then after we get the data, many of the responses require follow up in order to gather more info from the seniors.  So once each senior is done, the principal has an additional one-on-one meeting to allow each student to expand more on their opinions and responses.”  Results included

“Students wanted more rigorous courses in subjects other than just Math and Science.  Students state that they feel that they are not certain how to study well and they feel they want to be taught how to study. Students feel stressed and not confident in their time management skills.  Students feel that they want to be taught more about how to best manage their time and organize their life.”

Weber reported that in response: “We have added many new classes/courses that expect higher levels of rigor across more disciplines.  We now offer more college classes across all areas of study.
We emphasize to staff the importance of connecting with students, being actively engaged with students, seeing students in other venues than just the classroom and then following up with them as much as possible. We have questions in the survey regarding the connection to school.  In our most recent survey only 8 out of the 90 respondents stated that they do not feel connected to the school.”

Steve Massey, Forest Lake High School principal reported, “We survey seniors at the end of the year to gather information on their plans after graduation. Our Perkins program surveys graduates during their first year after graduation. The intent of both of these surveys is to gather post-secondary plan data.

Based on this information, we have implemented the following:

a. A final’s schedule.

b. More Advanced Placement and CIS courses.

c. A senior picnic on seniors’ last day of school.”

Jeffrey McGonigal Anoka Hennepin Associate Superintendent wrote, in part,  “We value the perceptions of our graduates and seek to gather that information when possible.  Once a student graduates and departs this task is extremely difficult.  Given that fact, our survey of seniors in May is our best opportunity. “

Anoka Hennepin Research, Evaluation, and Testing Director Johnna Rohmer-Hirt explained that this is the second year that the district is doing a senior exit survey: “Building level career placement specialists have reviewed the data as it pertains to their work.”

Tom Nelson, West St Paul Superintendent reported: “Our district did survey our seniors this past year.  The results… led to a more comprehensive checklist for seniors that focuses on the college application process and their preparing for the next steps in their future.  Guidance folks went into each senior classroom and walked through the checklist (“Options Beyond High School”) guide that was assembled by our staff.”

Schools cited above recognize the value of surveying seniors and graduates.  These young people are helping their schools identify what’s working well, and what needs attention.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota Public School teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Macalester College.  Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu

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