Timing Is Everything: Temporal Variation and Measures of School Quality

WCER Working Paper No. 2015-04

Peter T. Goff, Jihye Kam, and Jacek Kraszewski

August 2015, 40 pp.

ABSTRACT: Survey tools are used in education to direct policy, drive leadership decisions, and inform research. Increasingly survey measures of school climate and perspectives of leadership are incorporated into measures of school and principal quality. This study examines the role of temporal variations in survey response patterns using the data from the 2007 - 08 Schools and Staffing Survey. Our findings show that if survey responses are not collected over a fairly small window of time, the systematic differences may manifest owing to the survey timing rather than the differences between schools or teachers. For example, teachers responding to survey on Sunday are more likely to perceive leadership support to be positive, and Monday responders tend to see student behavior problems to be more detrimental to classroom instruction. In addition, notable changes in teachers' perceptions of leadership support and student behavior problems are observed across the school year, which generally become more negative over time. Lastly, teachers tend to report aspects of classroom control and student behavior in a more positive light prior to the state exam as compared to the period following. These findings suggest that the timing of surveys matters and can be a complicating factor when making comparisons among schools and examining change over time.

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keywords: temporal variation, instability of survey responses, teacher burnout and self-efficacy, school leadership.