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Student Hope, Engagement as Important as Graduation Rates

Student Hope, Engagement as Important as Graduation Rates

Chart: data points are described in article

A recent Gallup survey of the nation's K-12 school district superintendents asked them to rate the importance of seven factors in assessing the effectiveness of public schools in their community. The question mirrored one asked of a broader sample of U.S. adults in 2015 -- and the results were strikingly similar.

Each group prioritized the same three factors: high school graduation rates, student engagement and student hope. Superintendents were a bit more likely to rate most factors as "very important," likely due to their personal investment in education, but they were equally as likely as U.S. adults to rate students' standardized test scores as least important.

Importance of Factors in Assessing the Effectiveness of Public Schools
How important do you think each of the following is for measuring the effectiveness of the public schools in your community?
U.S. superintendents U.S. adults
% %
Percentage of students who graduate from high school 90 69
How engaged students are with school 88 78
How hopeful students are about their future 85 77
Percentage of graduates who go to college or community college 50 38
Percentage of graduates who go to technical or trade school 44 *
Percentage of graduates who get jobs immediately after high school 33 27
Scores that students receive on standardized tests 14 14
*Not asked
2016 K-12 Superintendents survey, 2015 PDK/Gallup Poll

One factor, the percentage of graduates who go to technical or trade school, was not asked of U.S. adults.

It may come as little surprise that nine in 10 superintendents and seven in 10 adults believe high school graduation is a very important success measure for local schools. High school graduation is a finish line of sorts for the K-12 system, and many goals past high school are more difficult to accomplish without a diploma. High school graduation rates were at an all-time high of 82% for the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent year with available data. School leaders and U.S. adults seem to agree that maintaining and improving this measure is a top priority.

Student hope and engagement also rank high, with nearly nine in 10 superintendents and more than three in four U.S. adults saying these measures are very important. In other words, while crossing the finish line at high school graduation is a critical measure, a student's daily experience and preparedness for the future are about as important in their eyes.

There is agreement that student hope and engagement are important measures of school success, and the 2015 Gallup Student Poll reveals that these factors really do matter for students. These noncognitive measures of students show links to student success, and both improve at the school level with relatively simple actions and intentional effort.

Hopeful students believe that the future will be better than the present and that they have the power to make it so. But the poll of more than 900,000 participating students in grades five through 12 found that less than half of students (48%) are hopeful, meaning they have the necessary ideas and energy for the future. This leaves room for improvement, as 34% are categorized as "stuck" and another 18% "discouraged."

Engaged students are involved in and enthusiastic about school. The 2015 Gallup Student Poll found that only 50% of participating students are engaged, while 29% are not engaged and 21% are actively disengaged. Among other attributes, engaged students are more likely to know their strengths and have opportunities to do what they do best every day. They have strong relationships with best friends at school and with teachers who make them excited about the future. On any given day, engaged students are more likely to have learned something interesting at school and to have been recognized for doing good work.

There is general agreement among the nation's school superintendents and the broader population that for schools to be successful, students must be engaged today as well as hopeful for the future, all while progressing toward graduation. With the high school graduation rate on the rise, and with the knowledge that student hope and engagement can be improved at the local school level with intentional effort, here's hoping that this will be the best school year yet.

Gallup Student Poll Methodology and Limits of Polling

The annual Gallup Student Poll is offered at no cost for U.S. schools and districts in the United States. The online poll is completed by a convenience sample of schools and districts each fall. Schools participating in the annual Gallup Student Poll are not randomly selected and are neither charged nor given any incentives beyond receipt of school-specific data. Participation rates vary by school. The poll is conducted during a designated survey period and available during school hours Monday through Friday only. The Gallup Student Poll is administered to students in grades five through 12. The primary application of the Gallup Student Poll is as a measure of noncognitive metrics with links to student success in academic and other youth development settings.

The overall data from the annual administration of the Gallup Student Poll may not reflect responses from a nationally representative sample of students, and the overall data are not statistically weighted to reflect the U.S. student population.

Read the full K-12 Superintendents report and learn more about the Gallup Student Poll.


Tim Hodges, Ph.D., is a Senior Consultant at Gallup.

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