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Office of Planning and Research

VOCAL Student Survey Project, 2018

Welcome to the 2018 Views of Climate and Learning (VOCAL) Survey Project page.


VOCAL is an annual survey sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Students were asked to share their views on three dimensions and nine topics of school climate:

  • Engagement
    • Cultural competency
    • Relationships
    • Participation in class and school life
  • Safety
    • Emotional safety
    • Physical safety and
    • Bullying and cyber-bullying
  • Environment
    • Instructional environment
    • Discipline environment
    • Mental health environment

The 2018 VOCAL surveys will be administered to students in grades 5, 8, and 10 during the MCAS test administration. Below are answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to help educators plan for the 2018 VOCAL survey administration.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is VOCAL?
    "Views of Climate and Learning" (VOCAL) is an annual student survey sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Students will be asked to share their views on three dimensions of school climate: engagement, safety, and environment.

  2. Why participate in VOCAL?
    Over the last three decades research has demonstrated that positive school climate supports learning and positive youth development. The survey gives Massachusetts students a voice and an opportunity to provide feedback to schools and districts, which can use the data to strengthen students' social-emotional learning, health, safety, and academic learning.

  3. Who takes the survey, and how is it designed?
    VOCAL is administered to students in grades 5, 8, and 10. All students who participate across the three grades will answer a common set of items, in addition to items that are unique to each grade's survey. Grade 5 students respond to 36 questions, with grade 8 and grade 10 responding to 38 questions related to school climate.

  4. What does the survey measure?
    VOCAL is based on the conceptual framework of the U.S. Department of Education's School Climate Surveys, which focuses on measuring students' perception of three dimensions of school climate: engagement, safety, and environment. Each of these three dimensions is in turn composed of three topics. Engagement constitutes the topics of cultural and linguistic competence, relationships, and participation in class and school life. Safety is comprised of the topics of emotional safety, physical safety, and bullying/cyber-bullying. Environment incorporates the topics of instructional environment, discipline environment and mental health environment.

  5. When and how will the survey be administered?
    The grade 5 and grade 8 surveys are administered online after students complete their MCAS Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests. The grade 10 paper-based survey is administered after students complete their MCAS Mathematics test. In the MCAS manuals, the surveys are referred to as the student questionnaire.

  6. Do students, schools or districts have to participate in the VOCAL survey project?
    No. Participation is voluntary.

  7. How long will the survey take?
    DESE estimates that the survey will take students approximately 15 minutes to complete.

  8. Do schools and districts receive reports of their students' aggregate responses?
    Yes. Districts receive a summary report of all of their schools' survey data. To the extent data permits, each school receives an overall school climate index score, an engagement index score, a safety index score, an environment index score, and item-level frequency response data. For each type of score, schools reports include comparative data to the district and to the state.

  9. Will individual student identities be protected when reporting data to districts and schools?
    Yes. To preserve respondent confidentiality in school and district reports, DESE suppresses data if fewer than 10 students responded or if all students responded identically on an item.

  10. How will my school or district receive the 2018 VOCAL survey results?
    Similar to 2017, districts will receive district summary reports and school climate reports in their Planning and Research Dropbox in Dropbox Central. Superintendents will distribute school VOCAL results to their respective schools.

  11. Are the data received by schools and districts subject to public records requests?
    Yes. The data reports could be requested by the media, parents, and/or other stakeholder groups.

  12. How will DESE ensure school and district index scores are reliable?
    For each score, the reliability of the responses was estimated at the district-level, and separately at the school-level. If the reliability was less than 0.7 on a scale from 0 to 1, the data was suppressed.

  13. My district/school participated in the survey pilot last year, but we did not receive all of our index scores. Will we receive them this year?
    DESE has made improvements to VOCAL which should ensure that most schools receive a full complement of index scores. New items have been added to each survey to help schools and districts meet the minimum reliability requirement of 0.7 for index scores. Schools and districts can increase their chances of receiving all index scores by ensuring all students have the opportunity to participate in the survey.

  14. If my district/school participated in last year's pilot school climate survey, will we be able to compare our scores this year to last year's?
    Yes. Scores from 2018 will be reported on the same scale as those from 2017. This will allow schools and districts to compare scores, confirm patterns in their data, and accurately measure any differences due to school improvement initiatives.

  15. Do we have to pay for students to participate in VOCAL?
    No. DESE covers the entire cost of the school climate survey for schools and districts who chose to participate.

  16. May we share our reports with staff, students and other stakeholders?
    Yes. DESE encourages all stakeholders of the school community to have access to the reports.

  17. How will DESE use my data?
    The data will be used by DESE's program offices to better identify resources and supports for Massachusetts educators to help improve local school climates. The surveys also help the state to meet related requirements included in the Act Relative to Bullying in Schools.

  18. Will students and educators be able to provide feedback to help improve the VOCAL surveys each year?
    Yes, DESE strongly encourages and welcomes feedback. Educators and students can email Shelagh Peoples at with any suggestions to improve the surveys. DESE will also provide more formal occasions for stakeholders to provide feedback.

Last Updated: March 21, 2018
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