SAN FRANCISCO – Across all grade levels, the majority of students feel engaged, according to data released today by the San Francisco-based nonprofit YouthTruth Student Survey. On a more concerning note, the survey found that less than half of secondary students feel that what they’re learning in class helps them outside of school, with high school students feeling slightly less positively than middle school students.
“We know that student engagement is critical – research shows that it is an important component of a positive school culture and is necessary for driving academic achievement,” said Jen Wilka, YouthTruth’s executive director. “These findings show that while there are some bright spots, there’s still work to be done to engage students. Asking – and listening – to what students have to say about their learning experiences is a crucial way of understanding where improvements are most needed. We hope that these findings will spark conversations and help schools across the country reflect on how to best engage students.”
The findings come from a recent analysis of student perception survey data from over 230,000 students across 36 states gathered between November 2012 and June 2017. The analysis found slight differences in students’ experiences of engagement across grade levels, with elementary students slightly more likely to be engaged than secondary students. Seventy eight percent of elementary students report feeling engaged, compared to just 59 percent of middle and 60 percent of high school students.
Students’ experiences also vary slightly by school size. Students at small schools are slightly more likely to feel engaged than their peers at large schools, with 68 percent of students at small schools reporting feeling engaged compared to just 57 percent of students at large schools.
Most secondary students also take pride in the work they do in school: 72 percent of middle school and 68 percent of high school students report taking pride in their school work. There is some variation among self-reported demographic groups: female students are slightly more likely to take pride in their school work, and students who identify as other than male or female are slightly less likely to take pride in their school work. Seventy four percent of female students and 66 percent of male students report taking pride in their school work, compared to just 44 percent of students who identify as other than male or female.
While students are engaged, many do not feel a connection between their school work and day-to-day life. Fifty four percent of middle school students report feeling their school work was relevant to life outside the classroom, compared to just 46 percent of high school students. Studies have shown that students understand and retain knowledge best when they have had the opportunity to apply that knowledge in a practical, relevant setting, which allows students to better understand how academic skills transfer to life outside the classroom.
Only 52 percent of secondary students reported that they enjoy coming to school most of the time. Given the recent national conversation about chronic absenteeism and its focus under many state’s ESSA plans, this finding is particularly concerning within the context of untangling why students may not be coming to school. Students who are chronically absent – typically defined as those who miss at least 15 days of school or more in a year – may be missing school for a variety of reasons over which schools have little control, including poverty, health challenges, community violence, and difficult family circumstances.
YouthTruth partners with districts and CMOs across the country to gather student, family, and school staff feedback on the themes that matter most to creating healthy climate and culture. Utilizing sophisticated technology to analyze perception feedback against a large library of aggregate data, YouthTruth also offers professional development and coaching to on how to use student and stakeholder feedback to drive change.