Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Students' Perspectives on Alternative, Community, and Correctional Education Schools and Services (ACCESS)

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Students' Perspectives on Alternative, Community, and Correctional Education Schools and Services (ACCESS)

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many research studies support using students' opinions to improve schools (Bechtel & Reed, 1998; Campbell, Edgar, & Halstead, 1994; Corbet & Wilson, 1995; & SooHoo, 1993). In these studies, Klingner & Vaughn (1999), noted researchers in the area of student inclusion, demonstrated that using student feedback to evaluate teachers and programs was valuable in improving educational quality.

The primary goal of this study was to use research findings to create a formal system or process for "alternative" schools to use students' voices to improve their programs and services. Over the past three years, over nine hundred graduating students who attended one of 105 Alternative, Community, and Correctional Education Schools and Services (ACCESS) sites within the Orange County (California) Department of Education (OCDE) completed an exit questionnaire. The majority of these students had either failed in traditional schools, or they were on court-mandated probation requiring attendance in a court or community school program. Focus groups were also conducted to provide more descriptive information regarding students' perceptions of ACCESS programs.

The results provided a foundation of quantitative and qualitative data about the opinions of ACCESS students. Overriding themes that emerged included:

* ACCESS schools provide solid educational and service opportunities for students.

* The difficulty level of classes should be increased.

* Technology as a tool should be further integrated into the curriculum.

* ACCESS schools have some very gifted and dedicated teachers.

One important additional value of this study was developing a process based on students' experiences that ACCESS Administrators can use for continued improvement and future plans.

Introduction

The use of "student voice" or feedback is not a new concept within the field of education. During the 1950s, the common motto of a teacher was: "My classroom is my castle" (Marchese, 1997, p. 4). However, as time passed, this attitude slowly changed. Student evaluations of teachers entered the higher education scene during the 1960s as part of the student power movement. By 1973, 29% of universities and colleges had incorporated some form of student evaluations of teachers as well as programs into this evaluation system. In 1983, 53% of all educational institutions were using one or more types of student evaluations. Today, the practice of incorporating student evaluations is commonplace at all levels of schooling (Marchese, 1997, p. 4). Although student feedback takes many forms (i.e., informal comments, student-teacher conferences, administrative inquiry), the most valuable include student feedback on evaluation of teachers, program usefulness and effectiveness, and on program quality (Klingner & Vaughn, 1999).

According to research performed at Nottingham Trent University in New Zealand, gathering student feedback provides institutions with insights on course design, teaching skills, and matching learning to learners' needs (www.celt.ntu.ac.uk/se, 2001). However, giving students a voice entails more than asking them for periodic comments or feedback during a lecture. In order to get in-depth insights, students must feel that they will not suffer for providing feedback, the administration will take the process seriously, change will occur, and students will continue to be actively involved as partners (www.celt.ntu.ac.uk/se, 2001).

Many research studies support the gathering and using of student feedback to improve schools (Bechtel & Reed, 1998; Campbell, Edgar, & Halstead, 1994; Corbet & Wilson, 1995; & SooHoo, 1993). Schools that have experimented with using student feedback have found it to be helpful. Feedback has easily been translated into improving the overall education of their institution (Freiberg, 1998, P. 25).

Without continual feedback from their students, schools may lose a sense of direction. …

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