Moore County Schools is opening a set of proposed student surveys to public feedback amid heightened scrutiny of the practice.
Last year the district pulled one of those surveys, which asked students about sexual activity and drug use, after 80 of 100 respondents objected to it as an invasion of students’ privacy.
But the district has continued with two others that it has administered for the last several years: a social-emotional learning survey for students in grades three through 12, and a school culture survey for students in grades seven, nine, and 11.
The proposed surveys will be available for viewing on Moore County Schools’ website through Oct. 9. Parents can offer feedback before the school board considers approving the final versions in November.
As proposed, each survey includes about 40 questions, with slightly different questions for elementary school students and those in grades six and up. Answers are either multiple-choice or on a range of agreement with a given statement.
Taken overall, responses give the district an idea of how students view their schools and the culture among students and staff alike. Responses to the climate and culture survey are anonymous, as are about half the questions on the social-emotional learning survey.
Whether students ever see those surveys is shaping up to be a close call. The school board agreed last week to put the questions out for public feedback, but only by a 5-2 vote with members Robert Levy and Philip Holmes opposed.
School staff have not brought the controversial Youth Risk Behavior Survey back up for consideration.
With that off the table, some board members still worry that some responses to the proposed surveys could be linked to individual students — especially since that data will be stored by a private company.
Those non-anonymous questions deal with “competencies” like how well individual students set and pursue goals, deal with challenges and interact with others. That part of the survey also asks students to reflect on things like how well they considered their classmates’ perspectives and dealt with opposing viewpoints among their classmates in the 30 days prior.
But some school board members oppose the idea of potentially sensitive student information being stored by a third party. The same school board members have also expressed political opposition to the company in question — Panorama — in the past based on the company's other products in the realm of diversity training.
The board voted 4-3 this summer to extend Panorama’s contract to host student surveys. Levy, Holmes and David Hensley were the ‘nay’ votes then.
“Panorama, which I believe to be an extreme, extreme left-wing organization, has the personal data of our students including identifiable data correct?” Levy said.
“I want this to go out, obviously, to parents … but I don’t believe a whit that we should ever give Panorama or anybody other than Moore County Schools anything on our children.”
Tim Locklair, Moore County Schools chief officer for academics and student support services, said that the company is bound by federal laws protecting student privacy and that there’s no situation where Panorama would ever extract a specific student’s survey responses.
“They house the data. We’ve actually had some situations where we may have wanted to access some individual student data and remove it from the server,” said Locklair. “They send that information to us to go in and to find that student information and remove it, then we send that file back to them. So that’s how that relationship works.”
Board member Ed Dennison said the public input process gives parents a chance to raise objections to specific questions if they have them. If the board approves the surveys’ administration, parents will be able to opt their children out with a note to their principal. Officials also say that students aren’t penalized for refusing to participate on the day of the surveys.
“You can look at the surveys, have an opportunity to respond, read every question on the survey and let us know if you feel there are questions there that are not appropriate,” said Dennison.
While Hensley voted for the proposed surveys to be put up for public feedback, he echoed Levy’s objection to storing student information with Panorama.
“That will be there forever, and that information whether Panorama eventually sells it or it’s disclosed through some kind of hacking attempt or whatever, if that information is leaked or hacked and becomes publicly available, that information will follow those children, who are in our care, for the rest of their lives,” said Hensley.
Other questions on the social-emotional learning survey deal with teacher-student relationships, school safety, and whether students feel accepted at their schools. Responses to those questions are anonymous.
The climate and culture survey is proposed to be administered to seventh, ninth and 11th graders this fall. It asks students’ to reflect on the extent to which racial discrimination, bullying and harassment are present in their schools and whether or not teachers are adequately supportive of their students.
That survey is also anonymous, but as proposed asks students to identify their gender and ethnicity. All proposed survey questions and a feedback form to the district can now be accessed through a link on Moore County Schools' home page at ncmcs.org.