Engagement: The Key to Academic Success

A new report from the Gallop Organization, State of America’s Schools, compiles evidence supporting the emphasis of the California Safe and Supportive Schools Project on fostering developmentally supportive schools that are focused on student and staff engagement and building social-emotional competencies.  The data indicate that almost half of students are not engaged in school.


In response to engagement-related questions about friendships, a feeling of safety, and praise for good work, researchers classified 55 percent of students as “engaged,” 28 percent as “not engaged,” and 17 percent as “actively disengaged.”  Emotional engagement at school is the noncognitive factor that most directly correlates with academic achievement, the report says.


In a 2009 Gallup study of 78,106 students in 80 schools across eight states, researchers found that a 1-percentage-point increase in a student’s score on the engagement index was associated with a 6-point increase in reading achievement and an 8-point increase in math achievement scores.


In a finding described by the organization as highly significant, students surveyed in 2013 who said they strongly agreed with two statements—“My school is committed to building the strengths of each student,” and “I have at least one teacher who makes me excited about the future”—were 30 times more likely to be classified as “engaged” —a key predictor of academic success — than students who strongly disagreed with those statements on the 1-to-5 scale.


The report emphasizes that school leaders should not neglect the social and emotional factors that help students thrive.  They are powerful drivers of achievement. 


It also recommends a number of strategies to build engagement that Cal-S3 schools have been implementing, including encouraging students to discover and apply their strengths and addressing teacher engagement to help students succeed.


Although teachers’ engagement levels at work are similar to those of the general workforce, teachers were the least likely among occupations to say that their opinions counted at work. To build engagement among teachers, the report recommends that principals ask them questions about curriculum, pedagogy, and scheduling, and incorporate their feedback into decision-making. School leaders should also pair engaged administrators and teachers to collaborate and generate enthusiasm for student-centered projects, the report says.


The report warns that a broad focus on testing and new standards can lead schools to neglect the individualized needs of students and that “unless U.S. schools can better align learning strategies and objectives with [these often overlooked] fundamental aspects of human nature, they will always struggle to help students achieve their full potential.”

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