Frequently Asked Questions

What is school climate?
School climate refers to the quality and character of school life as it relates to norms and values, interpersonal relations and social interactions, and organizational processes and structures. School climate sets the tone for all the learning and teaching done in the school environment and, as research proves, it is predictive of students’ ability to learn and develop in healthy ways.

Why is school climate important?
Research proves that a positive school climate directly impacts telling indicators of success such as increased teacher retention, lower dropout rates, decreased incidences of violence, and higher student achievement. To view more correlations between a positive or negative school climate and school success, visit the Research portion of our website.

What are the essential dimensions of school climate?
Extensive research outlines 12 dimensions that most comprehensively color and shape our perception of school climate. These dimensions are divided into four major categories of safety, teaching and learning, interpersonal relationships and the institutional environment. In addition, NSCC measures two dimensions particular to staff: Leadership and Professional Relationships.

How are "school climate" and "school culture" different?
Over the last 30 years, "school climate" and "school culture" have been defined in a number of ways. Sometimes, these terms have been used interchangeably. Today, most educators use the term "school climate" to refer to our subjective experience of school while "school culture" is used to refer to the actual state of the school. For example, if the school building itself were in a state of disrepair, this would be an aspect of school culture; but how people feel about this and how they see it (e.g. "Our school is a wreck. It makes me feel like no one cares about the students here." or "It is a beautiful old building that needs some repair, but I love it") reflects school climate.

How is school climate measured? What is the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory?
The Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI) is a research-based needs assessment that helps schools measure, evaluate and improve school climate. It is a springboard for whole school improvement and provides a detailed profile of strengths and potential areas of need. The CSCI has been administered to thousands of students, staff and parents nationwide. Each school community member - including students, parents and school personnel - responds to an easy-to-understand CSCI survey that can be completed within 20 minutes (online or with paper and pencil).

Why measure school climate?
Measuring your school climate is the first step toward improving your school climate.Schools are using CSCI to measure, evaluate and improve their school climate for a variety of reasons:
  • To conduct a school-wide needs assessment. The CSCI evaluates your school's current climate for learning and identifies areas that need improvement. The assessment provides answers to the concerns vital to school success, such as: Is my school safe? Do students and faculty believe they are learning in a safe environment? What areas, if any, could use improvement? Are there subsets of the school community who perceive the school climate more negatively than others? Do we have effective rules and norms? How can this information be used to promote student learning and positive school improvement?
  • To develop a school improvement plan and specific action plans. After measuring your school climate with the CSCI, your school will receive an easy-to-understand, graphic-rich report that details key findings and provides recommended guidelines, resources and data charts that help you begin the process of translating results into specific action plans.
  • To facilitate dialogue and strengthen communication and collaboration among staff members as well as between staff, students, parents and community leaders. Measuring school climate shows your entire school community that their experiences and perspectives are valued. The findings also provide a springboard for building community, promoting student participation and voice and developing school-home-community partnerships. Schools use periodic assessments as a way to connect with their community—staff, students and parents—in order to get a sense about what is and is not working in school.
  • To gain support for continued school improvement. A major reason schools take the CSCI is to evaluate current efforts and programs (ex. peer mediation, risk prevention, health promotion, anti-bullying) in a scientifically-sound manner. Periodic assessment of school climate allows school leaders to understand whether or not these efforts are promoting student learning and their healthy development. Schools that take the CSCI also have life-long access to the CSCI Survey Center, an online center which includes research-based information, guidelines, tools, case studies, best practices and learning communities for continued support in the school improvement process.

How important is using a scientifically-sound evaluation?
Scientifically-sound school and comprehensive evaluations of school climate provide accurate information about the schools strengths and areas of need. School leaders can rest assured that they are developing their school improvement plans based on data that is self-reported and cross-checked for accuracy, and culled from a research-based survey that has been tested and refined with schools.

Where can I gain more school improvement supports?
NSCC has created and collected the following tools to help support your school climate improvement efforts:
  • Caring Classrooms Toolkit—lesson plans & practical tips that address specific issues such as social emotional learning.
  • School Climate Matters—quarterly e-newsletter designed to keep you informed about school climate issues nationwide.
  • Research—information about school climate correlations and best practices.
  • Annual Summer Institute—NSCC's annual 3-day event bringing together educators, practitioners, researchers and parents from across the country.
  • The School Climate Challenge—a white paper discussing the gap between school climate research and school climate policy, practice guidelines and teacher education policy.