Spotlight on Continuous Improvement: OTC Student Surveys

Data Research and AnalysisGrade 9 SuccessStudent Voice and Success

As a network, we are committed to continuous improvement. Collectively, we seek to refine our efforts based on new data, learning, and needs. This month, we are sharing a blog series focused on continuous improvement through the lens of our Grade 9 and postsecondary work. We conclude our series by exploring how On-Track Coach student caseload surveys inform strategy and practice. 

Throughout the academic year, the RISE Applied Data & Research Team (ADRT), which works to promote meaningful data use, collaborates with program teams and school partners to administer student surveys. ADRT recently teamed up with RISE On-Track Coaches (OTCs) to survey their student caseloads to gain a better understanding of their mindsets as they start the year, identifying their strengths and areas of need. 

Over time, ADRT and the OTC team have used continuous improvement principles to refine the OTC Student Survey process. This year, they focused on limiting the number of questions and updating those questions to create greater clarity for students. They have also shifted the focus of the survey to reflect the four main competencies of their “Youth Development Framework;” self-advocacy, self-regulation, self-motivation, and positive relationships.

“We want to hear the voices of the students,” said Karleka Norman, RISE Deputy Director for Student Success. “We want to understand how they feel and how they have grown with their OTCs, beyond their on-track rates.”

And this year’s OTC Student Surveys have certainly provided valuable insights. Many students indicated that they had an understanding of what it takes to be on-track and were exhibiting on-track behaviors; 81 percent said they know what it takes to become a sophomore and 87 percent make it a priority to come to school regularly. Of note, 84 percent of students have goals they’re working toward and 95 percent said it’s important to them to graduate high school on time. This underscores the fact that many students who are struggling have high aspirations and care about their academic performance, and OTCs are there to help them achieve their goals. 

Survey analysis revealed students’ three main academic priority areas: getting good grades (setting goals of A’s or a minimum GPA), passing classes so they can promote to 10th grade on time, and doing better than in previous years. Multi-language learners indicated a desire to master English; others hoped to earn high enough grades to be able to participate in athletics; and some expressed a desire to set themselves up for success following graduation. 

When asked what they would like to accomplish during 9th grade, students answered:

  • “I would like to be successful in so many ways; sports, education, tournaments, and more.”
  • “I would want to accomplish public speaking, reading quicker, and problem-solving.”
  • “I want to pass 9th grade and make my parents proud.”

Finally, when asked how their OTCs can best support them during this school year, they cited various needs, including help with academics, providing motivation, assistance with computer-based tasks, gathering information about college, staying focused, and having someone simply talk and listen to them. 

ADRT will soon share a full summary of their findings with RISE OTCs, giving them meaningful insights into student mindsets, behaviors, and needs for the year ahead. OTCs will then use this data to create plans for their caseloads. They will start by reviewing the areas of the survey with the lowest scores and developing goals based on that data, then plan supports throughout the year as indicated by the needs expressed by their students. 

Even for relatively high-scoring questions, such as those regarding on-track knowledge, OTCs employ personalized interventions and supports to increase these numbers to as close to 100 percent as possible.

OTCs may opt to group students struggling in similar ways together. For example, they might form an after-school group for students who scored lower on relationship-building or initiate a social-emotional learning group for students who scored lower on self-advocacy to help them build those skills. Other students may prefer to work individually, in which case OTCs would focus on increasing their one-on-one meetings with these students. 

“OTC surveys are important to my work because they provide an opportunity to learn which areas students might be vulnerable in at the start of the year,” says Jamie Muerer, RISE Senior On-Track Coach for Hartford Public High School. “The surveys are a great way to gather useful information from teenagers who might not otherwise be very talkative early on in the OTC/student relationship.” 

OTCs will assess the effectiveness of their efforts through student caseload surveys administered again at the end of the school year, revisiting the areas covered at the start of the year. This continuous improvement process helps ensure that the supports provided to students are relevant and impactful. 

“The most important thing for me, from the start-of-year survey to the end-of-year survey is to see student growth in feeling like they belong at the school and that they can identify a trusted adult in the building,” says Meurer. “It isn’t important who they identify, as long as they can name someone they felt connected with during the school year. I am proud to say that 100% of my students last year reported that they had found a trusted adult.”   

Through surveys such as this, and the continuous improvement process in general, we look for ways to improve based on what’s working and what’s not. We know that it’s not enough to repeat the same playbook every semester and school year. Instead, we intentionally refine our strategies and hone our efforts so that we may best serve the needs of our students.