A recent poll indicates a key predictor of academic success occurs when engaging students by empowering teachers to build their individual strengths.
Students who have teachers who make them “feel excited about the future” and who attend schools that they see as committed to building their individual strengths are 30 times more likely than other students to show other signs of engagement in the classroom—a key predictor of academic success, according to a report released Wednesday by Gallup Education.
School leaders should not neglect the social and emotional factors that help students thrive, and they should empower teachers so that they are more engaged and effective in the classroom, says the “State of America’s Schools” report, a synthesis of polling data and research from the international Gallup organization.
“The right leadership and the engagement of teachers and students are all one very important ecosystem,” said Brandon H. Busteed, the executive director of Gallup Education, based in Washington. “Any link broken in that chain, and you’re undermining the importance of an entire school.”
The report comes as America’s schools are working to ratchet up educational expectations to better compete internationally, an emphasis of many state and federal education initiatives.
The stakes are high. In a 2013 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll cited in the report, just 17 percent of respondents agreed that U.S. high school graduates are ready for work, and 29 percent agreed they are ready for college.
A broad focus on testing and new standards can lead schools to neglect the individualized needs of students, the report’s authors say.
“These elements are often overlooked in the effort to ‘fix’ America’s education system, but there is growing recognition that unless U.S. schools can better align learning strategies and objectives with fundamental aspects of human nature, they will always struggle to help students achieve their full potential,” the report says.
From ‘Stuck’ to ‘Hopeful’
Gallup uses an annual 20-question survey, administered online to more than 600,000 students in districts that volunteered to participate, to determine how students view their school experiences. Participants answer each question on a scale of 1 to 5—with 1 signifying they “strongly disagree” and 5 indicating they “strongly agree.”
Gallup uses responses from three clusters of questions to summarize responses.
In questions related to hope, 54 percent of 2013 respondents were deemed “hopeful” under the analysis, 32 percent were deemed “stuck,” and 14 percent were deemed “discouraged.”
Teacher and Student Engagement
In response to survey items related to engagement—questions about friendships, a feeling of safety, 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.
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