Student and Teacher Perceptions of School Climate: A Multilevel Exploration of Patterns of Discrepancy


  • Support for this project comes from the National Institute of Mental Health (1 R01 MH67948-1A1), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1U49CE 000728-011 and K01CE001333-01), and the Institute of Education Sciences (R305A090307).

Catherine P. Bradshaw, Associate Professor, (, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 624 N. Broadway, Hampton House Room 803, Baltimore, MD 21205.


BACKGROUND: School climate has been linked with improved academic achievement and reduced discipline problems, and thus is often a target of school improvement initiatives. However, few studies have examined the extent to which student and teacher perceptions vary as a function of individual, classroom, and school characteristics, or the level of congruence between teachers' and their students' perceptions of school climate.

METHODS: Using data from 1881 fifth-grade students and their 90 homeroom teachers, we examined parallel models of students' and teachers' perceptions of overall school climate and academic emphasis. Two additional models were fit that assessed the congruence between teacher and student perceptions of school climate and academic emphasis.

RESULTS: Multilevel analyses indicated that classroom-level factors were more closely associated with teachers' perceptions of climate, whereas school-level factors were more closely associated with the students' perceptions. Further analyses indicated an inverse association between student and teacher ratings of academic emphasis, and no association between student and teacher ratings of overall climate.

CONCLUSIONS: Teacher ratings were more sensitive to classroom-level factors, such as poor classroom management and proportion of students with disruptive behaviors, whereas student ratings were more influenced by school-level factors such as student mobility, student-teacher relationship, and principal turnover. The discrepancy in ratings of academic emphasis suggests that while all of the respondents may have shared objectively similar experiences, their perceptions of those experiences varied significantly. These results emphasize the importance of assessing both student and teacher perceptions in future research on school climate.