By Stuart Jenner
One tool for gathering input to the Highline School District strategic plan update is a “Thought Exchange.” In it, participants could share thoughts, then rate them. This Thought Exchange was open from Feb. 10, 2023, until Feb. 26, 2023; it was an extension from the original end-date of Feb. 22, which we mentioned in this previous story posted on Feb. 17 on Burien-news.
There were four areas in the Thought Exchange:
Now that the Thought Exchange has concluded, the task of analyzing and interpreting the findings begins. The school district web page on the Thought Exchange has this statement:
“Across the four conversations, there were nearly 1,200 participants who shared 943 thoughts and gave nearly 28,500 ratings.” (bold in original)
The numbers sound impressive but look at them closely before accepting the thoughts and ratings as representative of the whole community. Here are some issues:
- The skewed nature of who participated
- There are four categories of participants, but the staff (including teachers) made up 54 to 61% of the participants.
- The number of participants
- There are “nearly 1200” participants, but how many unique participants? Since there were four different areas, one person could count as four participants (one in each group). The number of unique participants was likely around 500.
- Community and student members, though, were less than 20 in each group.
- The Thought Exchange algorithm is proprietary, and it is unclear how it ranks and categorizes the comments. In the final analysis, thoughts are ranked and sorted, but categories are broad.
- If you are a later participant, starring comment after comment becomes tedious.
- Participants never have to make tradeoffs. Every single comment can be rated 5 stars, leading to many comments having very similar ratings.
- Example: of very close ratings: on “Culture of Belonging,” there are 396 total thoughts.
- 36 thoughts are rated 3.9,
- 27 are rated 4.0,
- 24 are rated 4.1.
- What’s the difference in importance among these 87 thoughts? Not much, probably.
These issues aside, what is a summary of the findings?
The number of comments and ratings is overwhelming. The Thought Exchange tries to help readers by summarizing themes for each individual exchange. These themes are quite broad; for example, “Moral Character” is first in the Student Learning theme, followed by “Critical Thinking” and “High Expectations.”
Reading through the top 10 comments in each category on the school district web page on the Thought Exchange, here is a summary of the findings:
- Request for a safe environment, cultural respect, and effective safety practices are all highly ranked.
Here are two comments with 48 ratings, putting them at the top for the number of ratings, and also were very highly rated in the stars system on a scale of 1 to 5:
- Address and stop student violence immediately and take effective measures to prevent the student from repeating it. Students and staff need to feel they have the right to be safe.
- Clear, thought-out, comprehensive policy around behavior response. It’s vital because schools don’t have any clear guidance on responding to dangerous classroom behaviors that inhibit a feeling of safety.
- Students need to be challenged with high expectations and the support to reach those expectations. Critical thinking, life, communication, and interpersonal skills are all very important. (The phrase’ critical thinking’ was prominent in both the Future Ready and Student Learning categories).
Middle School needs to be different, with more opportunities to explore. Students need to see themselves in instructional materials.
- For bilinguals, the school district needs more bilingual staff members and translations of materials, including special-ed materials. Staff recruitment and communicating the value of knowing languages other than English was just a smidgen away from the top.
- There were significant differences in the number of participants per area. Teachers and staff are well represented, family somewhat, students and the community are essentially invisible.
- Future Ready – 175 participants
- Bilingual & Biliterate – 185
- Student Learning – 288
- Culture of Belonging – 519
- Staff members, including teachers, ranged from 54% to 61% in the four areas.
- Family – 30 to 38%
- Students and community members were very low, at 2 to 5%.
How was the Thought Exchange discussed in the Strategic Planning retreat?
At the school board’s retreat on Friday, Mar. 10, 2023, participants (the three board members who attended, plus some staff) reviewed the findings in small groups, then shared their observations. There was no overall summary presented from the Thought Exchange in the meeting. See slide 16 for the process at the meeting.
The Thought Exchange is a good starting point for further research. It provides a way to generate ideas but should not be used to represent the opinions of the broader population due to the number and narrow range of those who actually participated. The findings should be used with care in the strategic plan update.