All too often, education officials rely on academic measurements and test scores to record student success rates; one district will focus on measuring hope, engagement and well-being this year to determine students’ overall academic success this school year. addition to the traditional data points gathered to ensure students are learning at or above grade level, Montgomery County officials will poll students asking whether they “energetically pursue goals,” “laughed or smiled a lot yesterday” and “have a best friend at school.” Intended to measure hope, engagement and well-being, these questions are part of a comprehensive survey Montgomery County is conducting with the help of polling giant Gallup.

After long relying on traditional measures of success, such as standardized test scores and graduation rates, the school district is redefining student achievement to include more social and emotional aspects of education.

“We’re taking a holistic view of what school performance looks like,” Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said. “Rather than just saying it’s just about student achievement results, we’re saying it is also about how you get student achievement results.”

In an era of school accountability, much of it linked to standardized testing, Montgomery is joining hundreds of districts across the country in trying to quantify how students feel about school and their lives so school officials can work to improve academic outcomes by improving school culture.

Educators, researchers and administrators say it isn’t just about handing all the students trophies and making them feel good. They contend that there is a direct line between emotional well-being and long-term academic and career success.

The Montgomery Board of Education this summer approved a policy that includes student hope, engagement and well-being as part of accountability measures school administrators must track and improve. Montgomery is the largest school system in the nation pursuing such work with Gallup on a districtwide scale. The Gallup Student Poll is surveying students in 2,000 schools nationwide this fall.

Although the student poll is free, Montgomery has paid Gallup $900,000 for three years of work, which includes helping Montgomery survey parents and staff to understand the “climate and culture” at individual schools. Gallup also will coach administrators in analyzing polling data so the staff can develop school plans to improve weak spots. Montgomery also surveyed students last year, meaning the new data will allow the district to compare hopefulness levels in its schools.

Starr, who is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the Gallup Education Conference in Nebraska this week, said such trends can be instrumental in determining how to help students do better in class, perhaps as important as examining reading and math scores. Starr has been an outspoken advocate for a moratorium on standardized testing.

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