Working paper

Assessing Survey Satisficing

The Impact of Unmotivated Questionnaire Respondents on Data Quality
Christine Vriesema
University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire
Hunter Gehlbach
Johns Hopkins University


Education researchers use surveys widely. Yet critics question respondents’ ability to provide high-quality responses. As schools increasingly use student surveys to drive policymaking, respondents’ (lack of) motivation to provide quality responses may threaten the wisdom of using surveys for data-based decision making. To better understand student satisficing (sub-optimal responding on surveys) and its impact on data quality, this paper examines the pervasiveness and impact of this practice on a large-scale social-emotional learning survey administered to 409,721 students in Grades 2–12. Findings indicated that despite the prevalence of satisficing in the sample, its impact on data quality appeared more modest than anticipated. The paper concludes by providing an accessible approach for defining and calculating satisficing for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers working with large-scale datasets.

Suggested citationVriesema, C., & Gehlbach, H. (2019, October). Assessing survey satisficing: The impact of unmotivated questionnaire respondents on data quality [Working paper]. Policy Analysis for California Education.