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March 1, 2008
Vol. 65
No. 6

Special Report / Engaged and On Track

If you want to know how to engage students in school, who better to ask than a student? Then again, you can ask 81,499 of them.
  • A majority of students (72 percent) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I am engaged with school." However, only 55 percent responded similarly to the statement, "I am an important part of my high school community." Nearly one-half of students surveyed believed they werenot an important part of their high school communities.
  • Responding to the question, "Why do you go to school?" 73 percent of students noted that they wanted to get a degree and go to college. Only 39 percent responded that they go because of what they learn in classes; only 34 percent, because they enjoy being in school; and only 22 percent, because of their teachers.
  • When asked, "Have you ever been bored in high school?" 50 percent of students reported being bored every day. Students indicated various reasons: The coursework wasn't interesting (75 percent); relevant (39 percent); or challenging enough (32 percent). Approximately one-third of students reported that they were bored because they had no interaction with the teacher.
  • When asked, "Have you ever considered dropping out of school?" 22 percent responded that they had. Reasons given included not liking the school (73 percent); not liking the teachers (61 percent); and not seeing value in the work they were asked to do (60 percent). One in four students responding affirmatively to this question indicated that no adult in the school cared about them.
  • When asked how many hours they spent during the week doing written homework, 43 percent of students reported spending one hour or less. Fifty-five percent reported spending one hour or less each week reading and studying for class. Nevertheless, a majority of students recognized the importance of homework and studying.
  • Although 78 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that "There is at least one adult in my school who cares about me and knows me well," more than one in five students (22 percent) disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.
  • When asked what methods of teaching and learning would excite them in school, students favored discussion and debate (83 percent); group projects (83 percent); role-playing (69 percent); and art and drama activities (67 percent) over activities in which they do not play an active role. Nearly one-half of students indicated that they were "not at all excited" by teacher lectures.
The High School Survey of Student Engagement is available at http://ceep.indiana.edu/hssse.

Starting—and Staying—on Track

A recent report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research suggests that schools could use information about a student's course performance during freshman year—such as grades, course failures, and attendance—to intervene with students at risk of dropping out.
  • Three indicators—being on track (having five full credits and no more than one semester F in a core subject), grade point average (GPA), and the number of courses failed each semester—identify future graduates and nongraduates 80 percent of the time.
  • Grades and course failures are strongly related to a fourth indicator—course attendance. Even moderate levels of absences during a school year—from five to nine days—reduce a student's probability of graduating.
  • A monitoring system could check each of the four indicators at different points during the year to identify failing students and provide the necessary supports.
  • Course failures tend to indicate broader problems of academic performance. Comprehensive strategies (such as instructional coordination across classes) may be more successful than targeted strategies addressing specific courses (such as math remediation).
  • More intervention is needed for the large percentage of students with GPAs in the D+ or C- range. Because these students are as likely to graduate as not to graduate, schools could substantially lower their dropout rates by focusing on them.
  • Students' background characteristics before high school are much less important in predicting failures than are their behaviors in high school, such as attendance and study habits. Schools would do well to focus on these in-school issues.
  • Differences in failure rates by gender are smaller in schools in which more students report strong student-teacher trust, personal support from teachers, a schoolwide focus on preparing all students for the future, and peer support for academic achievement.
  • In general, grades, course failure rates, and absence rates were better in schools characterized by supportive relationships between teachers and students and a perception among students that their coursework was preparing them for the future.
"In general," notes the author, "the factors that seem to matter the most for student success are those that are most in the control of the school" (p. 33). By figuring out how to help students do better in their courses and receive higher grades, schools can push students to higher achievement and keep more students in school.

Amy Azzam has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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