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A biennial survey released Tuesday by DODEA showed overall parent and student satisfaction with the schools and academic standards, but fewer than half of the respondents believe the school system was "very effective" in preparing students for the 21st century.

More than 18,000 sponsors with children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and more than 35,000 fourth- to 12th-graders took the 2008-09 Department of Defense Education Activity survey between Nov. 1 and Feb. 28.

Questions focused on curriculum, instruction standards, assessment, technology, student support and communication.

The results — which can be broken down by school at www.dodea.edu — showed that more than 70 percent of students and parents gave the Defense Department schools an overall rating of A or B.

But when asked how effective those same schools were at preparing the students for the 21st century, only 35 percent of parents and 30 percent of students gave the highest rating of "very effective." The majority — 54 percent of parents and 30 percent of students — rated the schools "somewhat effective."

Shirley A. Miles, DODEA director, said in a news release that the survey is "critical to DODEA’s efforts toward continuous improvement."

"This survey helps us know what’s working and how we can improve what we do for children to ensure highest achievement for all our students," she said.

While 75 percent of parents and 72 percent of students gave the schools an overall rating of A or B on meeting or exceeding challenging academic standards, it also topped the list of what they most want to improve at the schools. Reducing class size and improving teacher qualifications and competence followed.

In previous years, parents and students reported low satisfaction in response to the sole question about counseling services, according to the release. Since it’s an "area of concern" for DODEA, several new questions on counseling were added in this survey.

According to the DODEA release, "students and parents also appear to either not utilize the counselling services at their schools or are not aware ... what constitutes counselling services."

Only 26 percent of students and 34 percent of parents reported using counseling services at their schools.

There also was a consistent difference in reporting between parents and students when it came to their thoughts on problems in the school system, including crime/vandalism, fighting/violence, gangs, bullying, the use of drugs or alcohol, and racial and ethnic understanding. More students than parents reported "major problems" in each category.

This was the first survey in which teachers, administrators and educational support staff didn’t participate, according to the release. They will take the DODEA Employee Satisfaction Survey, which is under way.

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