Office of Planning and Research

Views of Climate and Learning (VOCAL) Survey Project, 2019


VOCAL is an annual survey sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In 2019, participating students will be asked to share their views on three dimensions and nine topics of school climate:


Cultural competence
  • The extent students feel the adults/students value diversity, manage dynamics of differences, and avoid stereotypes.
  • The extent students feel there is a social connection and respect between staff/teachers and students, and between students and their peers.
  • The extent students feel engaged intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally in the classroom, and the extent that students or their parents are engaged in school life.


Emotional safety
  • The extent students feel a bond to the school, and the extent adults/students support the emotional needs of students.
Physical safety
  • The extent that students feel physically safe within the school environment.

  • The extent that students report different types of bullying behaviors occurring in the school and the extent that school/staff/students try to counteract bullying.


Instructional environment
  • The extent that students feel the instructional environment is collaborative, relevant, challenging and supportive of learning.
Mental health environment
  • The extent that students have access to systems support that effectively support their social, emotional and mental health well-being.
Discipline environment
  • The extent that discipline is fair, applied consistently and evenly, and a shared responsibility.

Views of Climate and Learning (VOCAL) Data Release

The data are in the Office of Planning and Research's folder within Drop Box Central in the Security Portal. The data is provided in an Excel workbook for each district and school. The 2019 data are located at the end of your list of files. The VOCAL data include index scores (overall school climate score and three-dimension scores) and item response data based upon all students within participating districts and schools. Full graphical reports that provide trend and subgroup data will be available in the fall; these reports will be found in a separate 2019 VOCAL Dropbox. For more information, please read the welcoming letter for principals and superintendents from Matthew Deninger, DESE's Acting Chief Strategy and Research Officer.

Training Opportunities

The Department will offer several data usage workshops entitled Maximizing EWIS and VOCAL data in a Cycle of Inquiry this fall. Each session will cover the basics of EWIS as well as an introduction to VOCAL data.

Dates and locations:
September 18, 2019: Marlborough
September 24, 2019: Holyoke
October 3, 2019: Devens

More information and registration is available online. If you have any questions, please contact,

Survey Content

The 2019 surveys can be viewed below:

Download Word Document
Grade 4
Download Word Document
Grade 5
Download Word Document
Grade 8
Download Word Document
Grade 10

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to help educators plan for the 2019 VOCAL survey administration.

  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?
    In 2019, VOCAL is administered to students in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10. All students who participate across the four grades will answer a common set of items, in addition to items that are unique to each grade's survey. All students will respond to 40 items designed to measure 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?
    In 2019, all surveys will be administered online. The grade 5 and grade 8 surveys are administered online after students complete their MCAS Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests. The grade 4 and grade 10 surveys are administered online after students complete their MCAS Mathematics tests.

  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, school reports include comparative data to the district and to the state. Trend data will also be provided.

  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 2019 VOCAL survey results?
    Districts will receive district summary reports and school climate reports in their Planning and Research Dropbox in Dropbox Central. This year, the district and school climate reports will be provided in an Excel spreadsheet. Districts and schools will use a filter based on their district or school name/code to access their data.

  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 last year, but we did not receive all of our index scores. Will we receive them this year?
    DESE has made additional 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 school climate survey, will we be able to compare our scores this year to last year's?
    Yes. Index scores from 2019 will be reported on the same scale as those from 2018. This will allow schools and districts to compare scores, confirm patterns in their data, and accurately measure any differences due to school improvement initiatives. Districts and schools should not compare percent responses across years as these data are not adjusted for the difficulty of the items, or for the differences in cohort-level predispositions.

  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 with any suggestions to improve the surveys. DESE will also provide more formal occasions for stakeholders to provide feedback.

  19. Who do I contact if I have a question?
    For any questions please email Shelagh Peoples.

VOCAL Student Survey Project, 2018

VOCAL Student Survey Project, 2017

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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