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Triangulating School Climate: Areas of Convergence and Divergence Across Multiple Levels and Perspectives

NCJ Number
American Journal of Community Psychology Dated: 2019
Date Published

This study assessed the convergence and divergence between independent observers’ assessments and students’ perceptions of school climate at the classroom and school levels.


Students often have differing perceptions of their school's climate. Although these subjective perceptions can be meaningful outcome predictors, discrepancies create challenges for those seeking to globally characterize or intervene to improve the climate of a school. Trained, independent observers can provide insights on perceptible and ostensibly malleable aspects of the school; however, the extent to which these observations help us to understand differences in students’ report of school climate has not been examined. In addressing this research gap, the current study obtained data from the Maryland Safe and Supportive Schools Initiative (MDS3), which included 20,647 students and observations of 303 teachers in 50 high schools. Students responded to survey items regarding safety, engagement, and environment; independent observers assessed teachers’ classroom practices and the school physical environment. A three-level model partitioned variance to the individual, classroom, and school levels. The variance in students’ climate perceptions was primarily between students, with most classroom and school intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) ranging from 0.01 to 0.08, although one was as high as 0.20; however, observations explained large percentages of between-school variation in climate (58 percent–91 percent). Findings suggest the potential utility of outside observations for explaining school-level variation in school climate to inform decisionmaking and future research. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019