Each year since 2006, the NYC Department of Education (NYC DOE) has distributed an annual School Survey to all students in grades 6-12, as well as all teachers and parents in the district. This survey—the largest education census in the United States—provides important information about the school climate in the district’s 1,800 schools.
One of challenges of administering a survey to a very large population is ensuring as many responses as possible. In general, the higher the response rate, the more likely it is that a survey’s results will fully represent the perspectives of the larger population. Researchers commonly consider a response rate of 70 percent or more to be sufficient, but as we describe below, there are a number of factors to consider when assessing response rates.
First, the response rate for each major group of respondents matters. In NYC, teachers and students are much more likely to take the survey than parents. For example, in the 2015-2016 school year, teacher response rates hovered around 85 percent for all grade levels; the student response rate stood at 87 percent for middle schoolers and 73 percent for high schoolers. But, for parents, response rates were much lower—64 percent for elementary school parents, 57 percent for middle school parents, and just 35 percent for high school parents.
Second, it is often necessary to consider response rates not only at the district level, but also for each individual school. In NYC, this is important because the Survey is used both to examine conditions across the overall system and to learn about each school’s particular strengths and weaknesses.
The figure below shows the percentage of schools that had a 70-percent response rate or better in the 2015-2016 school year, for each respondent group and grade level.
- The NYC DOE has invested significant financial and human resources into survey administration, including training a staff member at every school about the logistics and ethics of survey administration, and translating the parent and student versions of the Survey into several languages. How have these investments affected response rates?
- Are there further strategies that could be piloted, in an effort to encourage and incentivize responses – especially for parents, who have the lowest response rates?
- Are there important differences between schools with higher and lower response rates? Do high or low response rates correlate with other indicators of school quality or community engagement?
What else should we be asking about school survey response rates? Are you exploring any of these topics? Let us know via email.
This post was developed using data provided to the Research Alliance for New York City Schools by the NYC Department of Education. Analyses conducted by Lisa Merrill.
 Elementary school students do not take the survey.