Student and Staff Attitudes and School Performance

Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 26/16

Date: 2016

Author(s):

Brendan Houng
Moshe Justman

Abstract

This report assesses the extent to which student and staff opinions towards school—specifically, Victoria's Attitudes to School Survey (ATSS) administered to students and its School Staff Survey (SSS)—can improve predictions of government school performance reflected in students Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranks (ATARs), beyond predictions based on students' Year-9 reading and numeracy NAPLAN scores, their demographic characteristics and their socioeconomic status (SES). As the number of questions in the two surveys is very large, we first reduce their dimensionality by combining sets of similar questions into broader categories, and calculate average student answers within schools. (We are not able to identify student attitude responses individually.) We then add these variables to our school-level prediction regressions. While the added explanatory power of these variables in predicting school success rates is limited, we find that for all four success indicators, the student survey variables add more explanatory power than the staff survey variables. Statistically significant coefficients appear sporadically for student motivation, connectedness to peers, a stimulating learning environment, class behaviour, and, surprisingly, student distress. However, these do not necessarily indicate causal effects: our results may reflect, wholly or in part, the more positive attitudes to school of successful students and their teachers, collinearity between observed variables, possible confounding factors, and the subjective nature of survey responses. Finally, we emphasize that ATAR values are only one imperfect measure of school performance. About half the students in a cohort do not go on to university, and for such students other measures of school performance are relevant. The predictive power of these surveys is of secondary importance to their intrinsic value in providing information on student and teacher attitudes as direct indicators of what is happening in schools. Engagement and well-being are significant positive outcomes in themselves.