SAN FRANCISCO – Less than half of secondary students surveyed in California rate their school culture positively, according to data released today by the San Francisco-based nonprofit YouthTruth Student Survey. The findings are just one topic explored in a recent analysis of student perception survey data gathered between November 2010 and February 2018 from over 63,000 students across California in grades five through twelve, focused on their overall experiences in school. The report includes analysis of students’ responses to questions about school culture, student engagement, and college readiness.
The survey also found that middle school students are slightly more likely than high school students to positively experience school culture: 44 percent of middle school students feel positively about their school culture, compared to just 37 percent of high school students. These findings are particularly poignant amidst recent studies showing that school leaders should focus on school climate and culture to help drive positive academic outcomes, particularly as they work to bridge the achievement gap.
When asked about another aspect of their school culture, less than half of secondary students – just 44 percent – feel that discipline at their school is fair. Middle school students are slightly more likely than high school students to feel that discipline at their school is fair: while 49 percent of middle school students feel that discipline at their school is fair, just 42 percent of high school students agree.
“Students are the experts about their own experiences. California is home to more than six million students, each with their own important and unique school experiences. In order to lead responsive and inclusive schools, it is crucial that decision-makers ask – and truly listen – to what students have to say about their learning experiences, what is working for them, and where improvements are most needed,” said YouthTruth Executive Director Jen Wilka. “We applaud the work that educators, school systems, and organizations across the state are doing to listen to students.”
In addition to school culture, the survey also examined students’ perceptions of their own college readiness, and found that while the majority of students (84 percent) want to go to college, only about half (52 percent) feel that their school has helped them understand the steps they need to take in order to apply for college. While it is encouraging that so many students have a goal of attending college, this feedback tells us there is still work to be done to help equip students with a more complete understanding of how to navigate the college application process and make that dream a reality.
Helping students gain a better understanding of the college application process could be beneficial for addressing the issue of undermatching, in which students do not apply or attend colleges they may be well suited for.
Students were also asked about their experiences with engagement in school. Only 59 percent of students feel engaged and just 52 percent of students enjoy coming to school most of the time. In a similarly concerning vein, many students do not feel a connection between their school work and day-to-day life. Forty nine percent of middle school students report feeling that their school work was relevant to life outside the classroom, compared to just 42 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.
YouthTruth partners with districts and charter management organizations 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.