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A Systematic Review of Student Self-Report Instruments That Assess Student-Teacher Relationships


by Kate Phillipo, Jerusha Osberg Conner, Shannon Davidson & Denise Pope — 2017

Background: A large body of survey-based research asserts that the quality and strength of student-teacher relationships (STRs) predict a host of academic and nonacademic outcomes; however, advances in survey design research have led some to question existing survey instruments’ psychometric soundness. Concurrently, qualitative research on STRs has identified important developmental and sociocultural variation in the ways students define, understand, and react to relationships with their teachers. The questions raised by survey methodologists, together with the conceptual elaboration of STRs, suggest that survey instruments used to assess STRs are due for a systematic review.

Purpose/Research Questions: This review of survey instruments examines the strengths and shortcomings of existing measures of STRs. Specifically, we ask: How do student self-report survey instruments assess STRs? We examined the extent to which these instruments reflect current survey design principles and existing knowledge about how STRs work, particularly for adolescents.

Research Design, Data Collection, and Analysis: A systematic search of peer-reviewed journal articles that (a) focused on North American middle- or high-school students, (b) linked STRs to student outcomes, and (c) used a student-report measure of STRs yielded 66 studies for which we could obtain the full instrument. Instruments were analyzed using a literature-informed protocol and an iterative process that resulted in strong inter-rater agreement. We used tables and matrices to examine patterns, themes, and outliers in our coded data.

Findings: The 66 studies varied considerably with respect to how they operationalized STRs and how they addressed the validity of their instruments. Similar survey items were used to measure different constructs, and constructs with the same names were measured inconsistently across studies. Many instruments were limited by (a) items that included words with ambiguous meanings, (b) inconsistent identification of instruments’ focal students and teachers across instruments, and (c) the use of negatively worded items to measure STRs’ strength.

Conclusions and Recommendations: If STR research is to meet its promise to guide and inform teachers’ efforts to develop and sustain effective relationships with their students, the field needs to properly identify those behaviors that make a difference for different students and those that do not. The next generation of student-report STR survey instruments requires more stringent attention to construct specification and validity, as well as to item generation (specifically, language use), in order to most effectively measure and identify aspects of STRs that affect student performance and well-being.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 9, 2017, p. 1-
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21943, Date Accessed: 5/28/2017 4:35:18 AM

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About the Author
  • Kate Phillipo
    Loyola University
    E-mail Author
    KATE L. PHILLIPPO is an associate professor of Cultural and Educational Policy Studies at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Education. Her research interests include student-teacher relationships; student support practice and policy in K–12 school settings; organizational, professional, sociocultural, political, and demographic influences on policy and practice enactment; and student, teacher, and parent experiences of education policy. Her recent publications include Advisory in Urban High Schools: A Study of Expanded Teacher Roles (Palgrave Macmillan Series on Urban Education) and “You’re trying to know me”: Students from nondominant groups respond to teacher personalism,” in The Urban Review.
  • Jerusha Conner
    Villanova University
    E-mail Author
    JERUSHA CONNER is an associate professor at Villanova University’s Department of Education and Counseling. Her research interests include education policy, student voice, and youth organizing. Her recent publications include “Speak Up and Speak Out: Student Voice in American Education Policy” in the Teachers College Record, National Society for the Study of Education Yearbook, and Contemporary Youth Activism (Praeger).
  • Shannon Davidson
    Stanford University
    E-mail Author
    SHANNON DAVIDSON is a researcher at Education Northwest and a Ph.D. candidate in International and Comparative Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Her research interests include teacher-student relationships and adolescent psychological well-being in the context of schooling.
  • Denise Pope
    Stanford University
    E-mail Author
    DENISE POPE is a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She specializes in student engagement, curriculum studies, qualitative research methods, parent education, and service learning. She is cofounder of Challenge Success, a research and intervention project that provides schools and families the tools they need to increase student health and well-being, engagement with learning, and integrity. Recent publications include Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids (Wiley).
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