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Using teacher exit surveys to improve teacher retention

Using teacher exit surveys

By Joni Wackwitz
July 24, 2020

Teacher departures and turnover can pose serious challenges for schools—challenges only heightened by the uncertainties schools face due to the pandemic. Moreover, research shows that high teacher turnover can lower student achievement, particularly in schools serving predominantly low-income students and students of color (Ronfeldt, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2011). A teacher exit survey can help districts and schools better understand why teachers leave and better target efforts to improve retention.

Developing a teacher exit survey for Ohio districts

Ohio’s 2015 Plan to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators [2,036 KB PDF icon] calls for the use of a valid teacher exit survey to assist schools serving large populations of students of color in retaining a qualified teacher workforce. At the request of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest provided the agency with training and coaching on developing a teacher exit survey and supporting its use by districts.

To ground the work in science, Jill Walston, Ph.D., a principal researcher at REL Midwest, led a workshop at which ODE staff and other stakeholders examined recent research on teacher retention. The evidence shows that many factors can play a role in teacher departures, including school administrator support, working conditions, social conditions (such as collegial relationships among teachers), and salaries and benefits.

Building on this foundation, REL Midwest experts in survey methodology provided nine coaching sessions to guide the ODE team through the entire survey process, from development to administration. As part of the coaching, the REL Midwest team shared best practices for survey design and sample surveys as models. In addition, the team reached out to district and school leaders and teacher associations for input on what they hoped to learn from exiting teachers and how they might use the information.

With REL Midwest’s support, ODE then piloted the survey in a community school management system and 13 school districts in Ohio, which administered the instrument to both former and exiting teachers. The feedback helped the team fine-tune the survey. The final REL Midwest coaching sessions focused on developing effective messaging and guidance for districts on the survey’s use, including ways to announce the survey, follow up with respondents, maximize response rates, and report survey results.

Ohio districts are now using the survey statewide to learn about exiting teachers. Questions cover topics ranging from teachers’ reasons for leaving and plans for the future to their perceptions of their school administration, facilities, professional learning, instructional support, teacher leadership, staff collaboration and collegiality, use of time, and student management.

Yinmei Wan, Ph.D., the project co-lead and a senior researcher at REL Midwest, reflected on the impact of the work: “The coaching provided by REL Midwest has helped ODE develop a valid survey instrument and a guidance document to support the appropriate use of the teacher exit survey. District and school leaders in Ohio now can use the survey to gather valuable and actionable data, with the goal of better understanding why teachers leave their positions and using that information to inform plans to improve conditions and reduce teacher turnover.”

>> Read more about the development of the ODE teacher exit survey.

Using surveys to collect valuable data on education topics

High-quality surveys can serve as useful tools for collecting data to guide education policy and practice. For example, surveys can be used to do the following:

  • Understand teachers’ perceptions of the district and school supports they receive.
  • Understand the needs and experiences of teachers and students in remote learning environments.
  • Track high school students’ attitudes and plans toward attending postsecondary education.
  • Compare the attitudes and experiences of principals who led different school reforms.

Not all surveys are equal, however. REL Midwest has developed a range of resources (see below) to support educators in developing and administering high-quality surveys that provide accurate findings to inform decisions. In addition, REL Midwest staff are available at no charge to assist state and local education agencies in our region in developing and administering surveys and analyzing the results.

REL Midwest survey tools

  • Workshop on Survey Methods in Education Research: Facilitator’s Guide and Resources: This survey methods workshop, which includes a facilitator’s guide and eight modules, is designed for state and local education agencies to use with staff who develop and conduct surveys. The workshop materials draw on evidence-based research from the field of survey methodology and offer guidance on designing and administering high-quality surveys.
  • Survey Training – Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: REL Midwest developed these materials as part of a six-part training series for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on the fundamentals of research and evidence. Handouts include a survey planning tool, survey development guidance checklist, survey-planning Gantt chart, and a survey item writing guide.
  • Survey and Focus Group Training – Illinois State Board of Education: REL Midwest developed these materials as part of a five-part training series for Illinois State Board of Education staff on using research to support evidence-based decision making. Handouts include guidance on turning research questions into measures and a survey sampling planning tool.

If you are interested in learning more about REL Midwest’s survey tools and support, please contact us!


Ronfeldt, M., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2011). How teacher turnover harms student achievement (NBER Working Paper No. 17176). ). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

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Author Information

Joni Wackwitz Staff Picture

Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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