Measuring School Climate

Photo of teacher and student

By Kyra Caspary
October 18, 2022

The well-established connection between positive school climate and student success means that educators need to know how the climate at their school is faring.1 This information is particularly important now, after the prolonged disruptions in schooling from the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting and using feedback from students themselves about their school experiences is key to understanding school climate. But how do school and district leaders know which measures to use?

Since 2008, YouthTruth Student Survey has provided an easy way for schools to gather feedback from elementary, middle, and high school students about important aspects of school climate and track these indicators over time via a longitudinal dashboard. With funding from the Fund for Shared Insight, YouthTruth partnered with SRI Education to conduct a validity study of the six main student experiences scales on the survey. These scales measure culture, engagement, academic challenge, and relationships for all three school levels, plus belonging and peer collaboration for middle and high schools and college and career readiness for high schools.2 SRI examined the question of whether schools where students rated these aspects of the school more highly also had better school-level student outcomes: higher math and English language arts proficiency rates and lower chronic absence, suspensions, and (for high schools) 9th-grade retention rates.

Using U.S. Department of Education EdFacts data and data from the Civil Right Data Collection, SRI researchers modeled the relationship between the six student experience scales and the school-level outcomes, controlling for state as well as school demographic composition such as the percentage of low-income students and the percentage of students with disability at each school. We found strong confirmatory evidence that the six student experience scales are associated with key school-level student academic and behavioral outcomes.

Highlights from the YouthTruth Concurrent and Predictive Validity report include:

  • Three student experience scales— academic challenge, culture, and belonging and peer collaboration—had large numbers of statistically significant relationships with key academic and behavioral outcomes across school levels.
  • In contrast, two scales—engagement and relationships with teachers—demonstrated concurrent validity primarily for behavioral outcomes.
  • All six scales—including the college and career readiness scale, which was only collected in high school—were associated with lower suspensions.
  • Five of the six scales—all except college and career readiness—were associated with lower chronic absence rates at one school level.

The study doesn’t answer the question of whether improving school climate leads to better student outcomes. But based on the results of the validation study, school and district staff can be confident that school-level results on the YouthTruth student survey are associated with key school-level educational outcomes of interest. These findings support the use of YouthTruth student experience scales as early indicators of successful school improvement efforts.


1 Berkowitz, R., Moore, H., Astor, R. A., & Benbenishty, R. (2017). A research synthesis of the associations between socioeconomic background, inequality, school climate, and academic achievement. Review of Educational Research, 87(2), 425–469.
2 YouthTruth. (2022). Design & methodology: Student survey.

Topics: Assessment High school redesign Research and evaluation School climate