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Valuing Voices

On June 19, 2020, the OCDSB released the first summary report of our Valuing Voices – Identity Matters! survey of students from kindergarten to grade 12.

The results demonstrate the rich diversity of the OCDSB student population and provide data we will need to consider as we prepare our Indigenous, Human Rights and Equity Roadmap to be released in fall 2020.

Conducted between November 2019 and January 2020, nearly 35,000 surveys were completed for students from kindergarten to grade 12. Parents completed surveys for students from kindergarten to grade 6, with students completing surveys from grades 7-12. The overall response rate was 46.5%.

The study explores issues of identity – such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation – along with perceptual questions focused on student well-being, safety and other topics.

While the majority of students and parents surveyed said they were positive about their school experience, the data shows that more work is needed to improve overall student well-being at school.

Work on the survey was guided by the input of students, parents and community partners through focus groups and discussions beginning in spring 2019.

The OCDSB will use this information to inform our commitment to human rights and equity. This data will help identify trends and patterns, which will allow the District to take action to address structural racism and systemic barriers.

For example, the data will help to better understand racial disparity in student outcomes (e.g., achievement, suspension rates, graduation rates) and experiences in school (e.g., sense of belonging, safety, etc.), and disproportionate representation of different groups across programs and services (e.g., academic/applied/locally developed level courses; English with core French/French immersion programs).

What was the purpose of the survey?

The purpose of the student survey is:

  1. to gather demographic information about the unique and diverse characteristics of the OCDSB’s student population; 
  2. to identify and respond to barriers to student learning and well-being; and
  3. to enhance the District’s capacity to serve its increasingly diverse student population and client communities.  

This will help the District identify where systemic barriers and bias exist within our system with a view to eliminating these barriers through changes to policy, procedure, programs and practices that affect students, staff, and the communities we serve.

Why was the survey necessary?

We have been working on issues of equity for several years and despite considerable effort, we continue to hear stories from students and families about their experience with bias and barriers in the education system. Last year, we held focus groups with parents and students to learn more about their experience. These stories informed a report titled “Valuing Voices”. We appreciated the open and honest feedback we received in our focus groups. This report is not simply an account of the challenges our students and families have experienced, it’s a call to action. We need to do more to address the barriers our students face. The collection of identity-based data is an important step forward in this direction.

Who was asked to complete the survey?

  • Parents of children in Kindergarten through grade 6 will complete the survey on behalf of their child(ren). 
  • Students in grades 7-12 will complete the survey during class time at school.

Was participation in the survey voluntary? 

Yes. The Student Survey was voluntary. Students and parents were able to choose whether to participate and were able to refrain from responding to specific questions.

  • For students in K-grade 6, parents provided consent by completing the survey.  If the parent did not consent, they simply did not complete the survey.
  • For students in grades 7-12, parents were able to complete an opt-out form indicating that they did not consent to their child’s participation.  The form was included with the information letter sent to parents.

Why did the school district decide to use an opt out consent process?

The Ontario Anti-Racism Act provides the legislative framework for school districts to collect this data for the purpose of identifying and eliminating systemic barriers and bias that negatively impact students, staff and communities that are served. The district recognizes that decisions about consent in relation to data collection involving students are made on a case-by-case basis by parents. Recognizing that the survey is voluntary, the opt-out consent model seemed to be the best method for managing individual decisions about participation.

Was the survey anonymous?

The survey data is confidential but not anonymous.  Student names did not appear on the survey, and will not be included in the data.  Each survey included a unique survey ID which allows the creation of a data key which is only accessible to research staff at the District to link survey data to other data sets (e.g.,achievement outcomes, participation rates in different programs/courses, suspension rates, etc.). This is necessary in order to identify trends and to develop programs, policies, and practices aimed at improving outcomes and services. The data key will not be shared with any third parties.

How will confidentiality be maintained?

Data from the survey will be stored in a database that does not contain information which could identify individual students. This unique identifier will be used to link survey data to other data (e.g., achievement) in order to identity groups of students who are being underserved so that we can implement strategies, programs, and services to better meet their unique needs. The database will only be accessible to a small team of research staff at the District office for the purpose of analysis and reporting. Reporting will be based on groups of students, and not at the individual student level in order to protect students’ privacy.

What types of questions were asked on the survey?

The survey included questions about: language, Indigenous identity, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious/spiritual affiliation and/or creed, disabilities, and socioeconomic status. Perceptual questions relating to school experiences and opportunities, sense of belonging, and well-being are also included.

Here are two sample questions:

In our society, people are often described by their race or racial background.

Which racial group(s) best describes your child? Select all that apply.

Black (African, Afro-Caribbean, African-Canadian descent)
East Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese descent)
Indigenous (First Nations, Métis, Inuit descent)
Latino/Latina/Latinx (Latin American, Hispanic descent)
Middle Eastern (Arab, Persian, West Asian descent, e.g. Afghan, Egyptian, Iranian, Lebanese, Turkish, Kurdish, etc.)
South Asian (South Asian descent, e.g. East Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Indo-Caribbean, etc.)
Southeast Asian (Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Indonesian, other Southeast Asian descent)
White (European descent)
A racial group(s) not listed above. (please specify):

Thinking about your child’s experience while at school, please indicate how much you agree with each of the following statements:

Strongly Agree

Agree

Disagree

Strongly Disagree

Not Sure

My child feels accepted by other students.

o

o

o

o

o

My child feels accepted by adults and staff in the school.

o

o

o

o

o

My child feels respected at school.

o

o

o

o

o

My child feels like their identity is welcomed at school.

o

o

o

o

o

My child feels like they are part of the school community.

o

o

o

o

o

My child has the same opportunities for a quality education as other children.

o

o

o

o

o

 

What gives the school board the right to collect this information?

The Ontario Anti-Racism Act (2017) and its accompanying Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of System Racism provide a framework for school Districts to collect identity-based data for the purpose of identifying and eliminating system barriers and bias. This work is also governed by the Education Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

What will happen next?

Survey responses will be analyzed by research staff at the District office for the purposes described above and a series of reports will be generated.  Staff has prepared a summary of District level results from the survey that will provide a comprehensive overview of the OCDSB student population; school level reports will follow, ensuring that the detailed level of reporting maintains the confidentiality of individuals. Beginning in the fall of 2020, District-level reporting that requires the linkage of survey data with student outcomes will begin to be incorporated into existing reports. (e.g., the Annual Student Achievement Report). The District already reports on a range of student data, such as achievement rates, graduation, enrolment, suspensions and expulsions. During the survey, the district collected both demographic data and perceptual data from students. This type of data, when analyzed with other data sets can be very helpful in revealing trends which could help to answer questions about:

  • Achievement Gaps and whether certain groups of students achieve at the same rate;
  • Suspension and Expulsion Rates and whether certain groups of students are suspended or expelled at a higher rate;
  • Streaming and whether certain groups of students are over or under represented in particular programs or streams (academic versus applied; English with Core French or Elementary French Immersion);
  • Sense of Belonging  and whether certain groups of students feel more engaged/disengaged at school; and
  • Feeling Safe at School and whether certain groups of students feel more or less safe at school.
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