Families & the Community

Gallup Student Poll Finds Engagement in School Dropping by Grade Level

By Ross Brenneman — March 22, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A recent poll of nearly a million U.S. students concludes that schools need to work on building supports to keep students invested in their educations, especially as they advance in grade.

The survey, conducted by Gallup, found that only half of adolescents report feeling engaged in school, and a fifth are actively disengaged. About 10 percent of students are classified as both disengaged and discouraged.

Engagement levels also show a consistent decrease as students get older, bottoming out in 11th grade.

The survey’s findings are based on a convenience, or non-representative, sampling of more than 900,000 students in grades 5 through 12 that was conducted online last fall.

The Gallup Student Poll asked the participants two dozen questions about their level of success in school, then categorized the answers into four areas: engagement, hope, entrepreneurial skills, and financial literacy.

“A tenth of American students are really struggling,” Shane Lopez, a senior scientist at Gallup, said during a panel discussion on the survey at the organization’s headquarters here last week.

How Many Students Feel Engaged?

Student engagement decreases in nearly every progressive grade level, according to the 2015 Gallup Student Poll. The survey bases engagement measurements on questions about school environments and adult relationships, including perceptions of whether educators value students.

Grade 5: 75%

Grade 6: 67%

Grade 7: 55%

Grade 8: 45%

Grade 9: 41%

Grade 10: 33%

Grade 11: 32%

Grade 12: 34%

Source: Gallup Student Poll 2015

The report suggests that engagement drops as students age because older students feel less cared for by adults and see less value in their own work.

Lopez emphasized that students’ level of hope can also be a strong predictor of academic success, pointing to findings showing that students’ responses to questions on their expectations for the future corresponded to indicators of school achievement.

But even hopeful students worry about barriers to their goals.

“Where there’s a will there’s not always a way,” Lopez said.

The survey also asked students to assess their grades and attendance. The findings tracked with other studies showing correlations between absenteeism, engagement, and academic performance. The results have not yet been disaggregated, Lopez noted.

Panelists at the Gallup event explored a number of ideas to improve student engagement in schools.

Heidi Balter, principal of Ducketts Lane Elementary School in Elkridge, Md., said her school works to give students a vision of a successful future, with a focus on helping students of color. The school brings together a group of 5th grade black and Hispanic boys to meet with high school students every two weeks, as a form of mentorship. It also took that group on a field trip to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, so that students could better understand what aspiring to higher education means.

Boosting Parent Involvement

Panelists also highlighted the importance of improving parental engagement as a way of boosting students’ sense of connection to schools.

“Many of the parents want to help but they don’t know what to do, and we need to work a little closer with them to find that common ground,” said Harold Fitrer, the president and CEO of Communities in Schools of Richmond, which works to prevent dropouts and improve students’ attendance in Richmond, Va., schools.

Fitrer said that Richmond has found success in improving engagement through a variety of outreach programs for parents, including strategies that recognize parents’ limitations. Knowing that non-English-speaking parents might not be literate in their native languages, for example, the school invites parents to dinners where they can explain students’ work to them.

Other suggestions from the panelists included:

● Rotating the locations of PTA meetings, so parents who live farther away won’t feel excluded.

● Making sure undocumented parents, who might be reluctant about coming to school, feel included.

● Having students do presentations at PTA meetings.

Fitrer also urged administrators to acknowledge that the burden of student engagement and success should be on the entire community, not teachers alone.

Khalisa Jacobs, the senior director of communications and development at Break the Cycle, a national organization that fights domestic violence, said after the panel that she would like to see more focus on students’ problem-solving skills, which the Gallup survey highlighted as vital to hopefulness.

“There are a significant number of young people that just feel hopeless,” Jacobs said.

But lessons from the students who’ve persevered through challenges may offer a path forward for the less hopeful students, she added.

Coverage of learning mindsets and skills is supported in part by a grant from the Raikes Foundation, at www.raikesfoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the March 23, 2016 edition of Education Week as Survey: Student Engagement Drops by Grade Level

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Leader To Learn From Absenteeism Was a Big Problem in This District. A New Strategy Is Getting Results
Sharon Bradley remembers how it felt to miss school for reasons outside her control.
11 min read
Sharon Bradley, director of student, family and community services for Plano ISD, listens to members of the Character, Attendance, and Restorative Education (CARE) team discuss their current projects in Plano, Texas, on Dec. 14, 2023. The CARE department focuses on equipping students and adults with the tools, strategies, and resources that support a safe, engaging, and collaborative learning environment through character education, attendance recovery, and restorative practices.
Sharon Bradley, the director of student, family, and community services for the Plano, Texas, school district listens to staff members on a special team that focuses on helping students and their families address a range of challenges that may get in the way of regular attendance and engagement at school.
Shelby Tauber for Education Week
Families & the Community Leader To Learn From A Former Teacher Turns Classroom Prowess Into Partnerships With Families
Ana Pasarella maximizes her community's assets to put students first.
8 min read
Ana Pasarella, the director of family and community engagement for Alvin ISD, oversees an activity as Micaela Leon, 3, a student in Alvin ISD’s READy Program, draws on a piece of paper on Alvin ISD’s STEM bus in Manvel, Texas, on Dec. 8, 2023.
Ana Pasarella, the director of family and community engagement for the Alvin Independent school district in Texas, oversees an activity as Micaela Leon, 3, a student in the district's READy Program, draws on a piece of paper inside the district's STEM bus in Manvel, Texas.
Callaghan O’Hare for Education Week
Families & the Community Parents Trust School Librarians to Select Books, But There's a Catch
A new survey shows what parents think of school libraries and librarians following efforts throughout the country to remove books.
5 min read
Books sit in a cart and on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Aug. 18, 2023.
Books sit in a cart and on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Aug. 18, 2023.
Hakim Wright Sr./AP
Families & the Community A Side Effect of Anti-CRT Campaigns? Reduced Trust in Local Schools
The calls to ban CRT had little evidence behind them, but they were powerful enough to change people's perceptions of their local schools.
6 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly signs HB7, "individual freedom," also dubbed the "stop woke" bill during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on Friday, April 22, 2022.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs HB7, the Individual Freedom Act, also dubbed the Stop WOKE Act, during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., on Friday, April 22, 2022. The bill is intended to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools. New research finds that the public calls for bans on the instruction of critical race theory diminished the general public's trust in local schools and teachers.
Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP