Paula Arce-Trigatti | NNERPP

Volume 2 Issue 1 (2020), pp. 2-7

In This “Research Insights” Edition

We are excited to kick off Volume 2 of the Research Insights series, a space where we bring together related studies from NNERPP members to help our readers stay current on member research, discover how studies are connected, and advance our collective knowledge by generating new questions, ideas, or strategies. To recap Volume I: We have previously covered early kindergarten transition programs, English Learner time to proficiency, and the cautions one should take when comparing across post-secondary research in two parts (part I and part II). In this edition of Research Insights, we take a look at our members’ work in the school climate space — several RPPs are doing work in this area, which should not come as a surprise given its importance in supporting productive learning environments for students.

In putting together this piece, we were struck by the many ways this research is playing out across contexts, including the variety of surveys that were used, the differences in scope across research questions, and ultimately, the various roles each research artifact is playing in the examination of school climate. This is not entirely surprising, given that partnerships are very attuned to the needs of their practice-side partners, which often look very different across sites. Although we include them below, the focus of this article is not on the actual findings of each individual study; rather, we will take you through a tour of the different ways our members are studying school climate. This is by no means an exhaustive look at what is currently known about school climate, but we hope to offer this tour as a useful place to start your search for knowledge related to school climate.


Before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at the 4 artifacts we’ll examine in greater detail. In Table 1, you’ll find the partnership name in column 1, the title and link to the article or brief in column 2, and in the last column, either the title or description of the survey used in each study.

Table 1. Four Research Artifacts Included in This Article


Article or Brief


Cleveland Alliance for Education Research

School Safety Research Brief (2019)

Conditions for Learning Survey, developed by AIR

John W. Gardner Center

Examining Students’ Perceptions of the School Environment: Sequoia High School’s School Climate Survey (June 2013)

Sequoia High School survey, some survey instruments co-developed with Sequoia High School

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools

Schools as Organizations: Examining School Climate, Teacher Turnover, and Student Achievement in NYC (March 2016)

New York City Dept. of Ed.’s School Survey, created by the NYC DOE

Equity Implemented

Student Experiences of School Climate in the Iowa City Community School District (2019)

The Student Experiences of School Climate Survey, created by Equity Implemented


You’ll notice that we have not listed the four pieces in Table 1 in alphabetical order; this is intentional. Instead, this order is capturing an increasing scope and complexity to the work across the articles, either because of the research questions being considered or how demanding the work is on the partnership. For example, Cleveland’s efforts represent a landscape scan, something you might take up if you were trying to get an initial understanding of what is being experienced in the schools. The Gardner Center’s piece, in contrast, answers more customized and specific questions raised by the practice-side partners. Third on the list is work from the Research Alliance: This piece is a full-on research project, where learning about the current school climate is not itself the aim; rather, the authors study how school climate interacts with other important outcomes: teacher turnover and student achievement. And finally, the Equity Implemented partnership is entirely built around school climate work, with their report representing the most recent one from a whole portfolio of work that includes annual administration of a survey co-developed by the partnership’s research and practice-side partners. 

It is important to note that we are not advocating for a certain way to conduct this research – local needs should always dictate how and what research is conducted. Instead, as we showcase the many variations this type of work can take in a partnership setting, we hope to provide ideas on the multiple paths partnerships can take to studying this topic. We would note, however, that the paths partnerships choose to take in studying school climate also have implications for how the respective research might contribute and be applicable to the efforts of others. That is, how is the research or certain aspects of the work informative to another site? We take up this topic in greater detail in the Deep Dive article of this issue. Even as you read through our little tour of different research artifacts below, you might notice different research instruments, research questions, research findings, or overall approaches to examining school climate as being more or less applicable to your own context, partnership, and questions/wonderings. We invite you to keep these observations in mind as you learn about four ways partnerships in NNERPP are studying school climate.

Part I: Four Ways Partnerships Are Studying School Climate 

In this section, we present a snapshot of each of the studies listed in Table 1. As you’ll see in the tables below, each snapshot includes a short description of the article, the research questions examined in the work (if applicable), the data collected to support the research, a short description of the findings, and links to the article and where available, to related materials.


Background This research brief is one artifact among many that the partnership has or will produce in its efforts to study school climate with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). The partnership aims to increase the capacity of CMSD to better use the findings from its annual school climate survey, as well as gain a better understanding of subgroup differences with respect to school climate. In this particular report they examine school safety, defined as how safe students feel on school grounds, in hallways, bathrooms, and classes. 
Research Questions

From the IES award announcement page

  • (1) What is the relationship between school-average student survey reports of school climate and school average standardized test scores and course grades, days of attendance, and suspensions? and 
  • (2) within the same school, do certain subgroups of students systematically provide different reports of school climate than others? 
Data The team worked in partnership with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to administer the “Conditions for Learning Survey,” which was developed by AIR. 
  • Students in CMSD, on average, do not view their schools as particularly safe or unsafe. 
  • School safety is positively related to school performance: the safer a school is considered, the better it performs.
  • Across all grade levels, CMSD students who view their school as safer have higher math and reading achievement.
  • CMSD students in the middle grades (5-8) and in high school attend school more often when they feel safer at school.
Links IES Award Announcement Page, CMSD Info Page, Link to School Safety brief


B. JOHN W. GARDNER CENTER | Examining Students’ Perceptions of the School Environment: Sequoia High School’s School Climate Survey (June 2013)


This report shares findings from a study conducted by the Gardner Center, in partnership with the Sequoia Union High School District, examining school climate related measures at one of the district’s four comprehensive high schools, Sequoia High School. The project utilized an existing survey administered by Sequoia High School, with the Gardner Center helping to “fine-tune” it by developing a survey instrument to assess students’ perceptions of various aspects of the school environment. The Redwood City School District (RCSD) was additionally included in the study, as the team was interested in studying how students’ self-reports on a school climate measure changed as they moved from RCSD middle schools to Sequoia High School. 

Research Questions

  • How do the results of the Sequoia High School survey differ by grade level, gender, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, English learner status, special education status, prior achievement, and other student characteristics?
  • To what extent does the transition from RCSD schools to Sequoia HS influence 9th grade students’ perception of care at school? What are the characteristics of students whose perceptions change across this transition?


All Sequoia High School students enrolled in the 2011-12 school year (n = 2,074) were instructed by their guidance counselors to complete the school’s climate survey online (between May and August of 2012) in order to obtain their course schedules for the 2012-13 academic year. A total of 1,606 students completed the survey.


  • As students’ grade point averages increase, so too does the likelihood that they will report high average ratings on their perceptions of Academic Care, Academic Expectations, and Overall Sense of Care at School.
  • Female students were more likely than males to report positive ratings on their perceptions of Academic Expectations and Overall Sense of Care at School, all else equal.
  • Compared to 12th graders and those without disciplinary infractions, students enrolled in the 11th grade and those with at least one suspension were less likely to report that they experienced a climate of care at school or perceived opportunities to exercise their autonomy and personal decision making.
  • Further, the transition from 8th grade in RCSD to Sequoia High School had a positive influence on 8th grade students who reported low average perceptions of overall care at their middle school. Eighth grade students who reported high average perceptions of overall care in middle school continued to report similar high average perceptions in the 9th grade. In this cohort, non-White, non-Latino, and students with at least one 9th grade suspension were less likely to report high average responses on the Overall Sense of Care scale at Sequoia High School, relative to their peers.


Report, also available as a snapshot


C. RESEARCH ALLIANCE FOR NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS | Schools as Organizations: Examining School Climate, Teacher Turnover, and Student Achievement in NYC (March 2016)


Recognizing that there are organizational structures, practices, and norms that may impede or support good teaching, this study set out to explore whether schools that strengthened their organizational context also improved outcomes. Specifically, researchers examined how changes in school climate were related to changes in teacher turnover and student achievement in 278 NYC middle schools between 2008 and 2012.

Research Questions

  • What distinct aspects of school climate were captured in NYC’s annual school survey?
  • To what extent did improvements in these aspects of school climate predict lower teacher turnover?
  • To what extent did these improvements predict student test score gains?


Teachers’ responses to the New York City Department of Education’s (NYC DOE) School Survey between 2008 and 2012.


  • The survey captured four distinct, potentially malleable dimensions of middle schools’ environments: (a) Leadership and professional development, which includes teachers’ perceptions of the quality of school leadership, feedback they receive, and professional development opportunities;(b) High academic expectations, which captures the extent to which schools set high expectations for all students, have clear measures of student progress, help students develop challenging learning goals, and support students toward achieving these goals; (c) Teacher relationships and collaboration, which captures the extent to which teachers feel supported by their colleagues, work together to improve their instructional practice, and trust and respect one another; and (d) School safety and order, which reflects perceptions of crime, violence, threatening or bullying behavior, and disrespect towards adults; whether order and discipline are maintained; and whether teachers feel safe at their school.
  • Robust relationships were found between these four dimensions of school climate and teacher turnover. Improvements in all four dimensions were independently associated with decreases in teacher turnover.
  • Compelling evidence was also found that improvements in schools safety and order and increases in academic expectations for students predict corresponding improvements in students mathematics achievement.


Technical working paper and Brief. See also this webpage that includes several additional links related to how the Research Alliance worked in partnership with the NYC DOE to redesign the annual NYC School Survey.


D. EQUITY IMPLEMENTED | Student Experiences of School Climate in the Iowa City Community School District (2019)


Equity Implemented built an entire partnership process around this survey, which includes a needs assessment, identification of key focus areas and strategies for the district, the formation of task forces charged with providing feedback to these strategies, implementation plans, and evaluations of initiatives. 

Research Questions

The survey includes the following overall topics: Teacher and Adult Relationships, Social and Peer Relationships, Inclusive Classrooms, Safety and Disciplinary Environment, Social and Emotional Learning.


Online survey, sent to all 5th through 12th graders in the Iowa City Community School District in February 2019, followed by two reminder emails that same month. The district has been administering the survey since 2016.


From the news announcement accompanying the release of the report:

  • On the positive side, there were improvements in several types of student experiences of school climate, reduction in some gender and sexual orientation disparities, and high levels of social and emotional support reported by ELL and IEP students.
  • However, there were also declines in some areas including students perception of equitable treatment from teachers and fairness in how discipline is enforced, and the percentage of students hearing hurtful comments from teachers and students increased.
  • The data also highlight the presence of persistent disparities by race, gender, sexual orientation, and FRPL (free or reduced price lunch) status in several areas, including racial disparities in teacher relationships, gender disparities in bullying, sexual orientation disparities in classroom membership, and higher numbers of FRPL hearing hurtful comments from teachers
  • One of the striking patterns that also stands out in the data is one best described as “advantaging the already advantaged” whereby students who are designated as advanced learners have more positive experiences and fewer negative experiences of school climate on almost every metric in the survey compared to their peers, and whereby students whose parents have advanced degrees also are more likely to report positive experiences and less likely to report negative experiences compared to their peers across a wide range of experiences.


2019 brief, Website containing annual reports since 2016 

Part II: Two Additional School Climate Tools to Consider 

In addition to the four research artifacts shared above, our scan of NNERPP members’ work turned up two more pieces related to school climate, which we discuss below. Although these pieces are not research dissemination efforts, in that their purpose is not to share findings, they both discuss school climate related tools that others might consider using when studying this topic in their own contexts.

1. BALTIMORE EDUCATION RESEARCH CONSORTIUM | Measuring School Climate Using Existing Data Tools on Climate and Effectiveness to Inform School Organizational Health (2014)

This report provides an overview of four data sources Baltimore City Schools, the practice-side partner of the Baltimore Education Research Consortium, has available related to school climate. These include the School Survey data (Likert-type responses from students, school staff, and parents), the School Effectiveness Review data (school-level data collected by the Office of Achievement and Accountability), Climate Walk data (school-level qualitative data set on climate observations), and Student Surveys on Teacher Practice (student-level responses to Likert scaled questions concerning several school climate related aspects). The affordances and constraints of using each of these data sources to assess school climate are discussed in the report. 

The research questions considered include:

  • What data are being systematically collected by Baltimore City Schools that can speak to school climate, effectiveness, and organizational health? 
  • What are the strengths and limitations of each data source? 
  • How do the different data sources relate and correspond to each other?  

The report finds that data from existing tools or measures, even those not necessarily designed with school climate in mind, can be useful in informing school climate efforts – if the tools and measures are aligned with domains and indicators that correspond to each other. The authors additionally propose a tool that would synthesize the data collected from these different sources.

2. UCHICAGO CONSORTIUM ON SCHOOL RESEARCH | The Essential Supports for School Improvement (2006)

This UChicago Consortium report goes beyond a single measure of school climate and provides a comprehensive look at what supports schools and communities should consider, one element of which is school climate, when working towards school improvement efforts. The report presents a framework that identifies five “essential supports” critical for school improvement efforts: Effective Leadership, Professional Capacity, Parent-Community Ties, Student-Centered Learning Climate, and Ambitious Instruction. Based on data from Chicago public elementary schools in the 1990s, the framework captures and summarizes evidence-based findings on widely-agreed upon characteristics of good schools. This particular report used a natural experiment within Chicago Public Schools, where there was a great diversity in principal leadership, to explore which supports had the most impact on school improvement efforts. The findings suggest that schools measuring strongly in most of the essential supports were at least 10 times more likely than school weak in most of the supports to show substantial gains in reading in math. 

[An interesting side note here: When redesigning their annual School Survey (the one used in the New York study outlined above), the New York City Department of Education together with the Research Alliance for New York City Schools relied heavily on this research on school improvement by the UChicago Consortium – just one example for how research by one partnership can inform other partnerships’ efforts.]

Since the publication of this report, several additional artifacts have emerged, including the following:

In Closing

As we’ve seen in this edition of Research Insights, there are many ways NNERPP members are studying school climate with their practice-side partners, including different tools to measure school climate and differently scoped research questions – and this is to be expected given the localized nature of RPP work. Through the tour of the four research articles, as well as the two additional school climate related resources shared in Part II, we hope to have given you some ideas for your own school climate research. As this is a topic that is gaining importance and is not completely well defined just yet, we are excited to see the next round of research in this area!


Paula Arce-Trigatti is Director of the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships (NNERPP). Nina Spitzley, Marketing Specialist with NNERPP, contributed to this report.

Suggested citation: Arce-Trigatti, P. (2020). Exploring School Climate with NNERPP Members. NNERPP Extra, 2(1), 2-7.

NNERPP | EXTRA is a quarterly magazine produced by the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships  |  nnerpp.rice.edu