How Engaged Are Dexter Students with Their Schools?

Dexter Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Timmis presented Dexter’s Board of Education with preliminary results of a survey conducted to assess students’ engagement with Dexter schools.

Dexter Community Schools conducted a Student Engagement Survey this past winter with students. The survey measures the connection that students have with their school and their studies. The survey was conducted by K12 Insights via email invitation to students in grades 5-12.

K12 Insights is a group of former educators and administrators who have the clear mission to help schools strengthen relationships with parents, students, teachers and staff. They work with schools to gather data from students regarding their school experience and then help turn it into actionable plans for student, school, family, and community success.

The Student Engagement Survey defined three types of student engagement:

  • Cognitive engagement is the quality of students’ psychological engagement in academic tasks and activities.
  • Self-Awareness is how connected students are to their school and how well they are able to manage themselves.
  • Social Awareness is the connection students have to other students and adults in their school.

All engagement questions use a 4-point frequency scale: Rarely or Never, Seldom, Often, and Almost Always. Higher scores reflect stronger engagement.

The survey was voluntary and 1,899 of Dexter’s 2,299 total students filled it out for an 83% return rate, well above the desired 70% return.

The graph below shows the level at which the kids in grades 5-6 like school and how that declines as they get older. According to K12 Insights, this is typical with the data they have collected over the past ten years from thousands of schools.

After being tabulated, the scores are compared to benchmark scores determined by other schools with similar demographics. Dexter students scored a little bit below the benchmark meaning, the collective feelings about school from those who took the survey, is below the average of other students in similar communities.

 

For overall engagement, Dexter students are close to the benchmark. The benchmark is not a set goal, an ideal, but an average of scores tabulated from students in communities with similar demographics.

For cognitive engagement and social and emotional engagement, Dexter students were below the benchmark.

Other data showed that the students who took the survey were right at the average in their feeling about the academic support they receive. However, their student experience scored lower than average as did their sense of relevance of what they are learning in school and how it relates to their future.

“It’s one of the challenges we always have – how do you make school relevant for kids especially as they get older when they are getting into some higher level content,” Dr. Timmis told the Board.

Board member Dr. Julie Schumaker commented, “It would be great as a long term plan if we can do  something at the high school that really connects kids to the world of work – to explore areas of interest and see the relevancy of what they’re doing in school.”

“Sometimes kids just don’t know what they’re going to do,” said Dr. Timmis. “Or maybe they do know what they want to do and if it is in the sciences, what do they need Shakespeare for? It might be something like that. That’s where the focus groups should give us some insight.”

There were a total of 57 questions in the survey with each one also broken down to see where students landed in their thoughts about school.

Dr. Timmis pointed out that the Self Management scores were well above benchmark. Students are civil and nice.

“We have really nice kids,” Dr. Timmis told the Board.

While the survey showed a lot of positive aspects to how students feel about their education, the real purpose was to look for any areas of concern that may need to be addressed. One of those areas is the difference between how much students like school and how much they say their friends like school.

“Generally, I like school” scored 2.70 across the district.

“My friends like school” scored 2.46 across the district.

“This surprised us,” said Dr. Timmis. “We’re not sure what the reason is but something is going on here that we’ve got to figure out.”

Focus groups, comprised of students who succeeded in school and students who were not as successful, were formed to dig deeper into some of the responses. These students were asked for input on areas of concern such as the disconnect between how kids said they like school and how much their friends say they like school.

“I met with those kids and told them, ‘I need you to be brutally honest. I will have no idea who said what. You have to be honest and answer the question,’” Dr. Timmis told the Board.

Focus groups were facilitated by a representative of K12 Insights with a Dexter Community Schools representative present who the kids would not know from school. The information gathered is being processed and is expected to be ready in 4-5 weeks.

What Dr. Timmis found more alarming and pointed out to the Board was the response to the question, “There is a staff member in this school who cares about me.” 80% of the students who took the survey agree or strongly agree.

“That looks good, but that means there are 20% who disagree, strongly disagree, or don’t know,” said Dr. Timmis. “We’ve got to do a better job for those kids.”

 

Another area of concern is how students manage their feelings. 31% of students feel like they cannot pull themselves out of a bad mood. 26% regularly feel sad. 35% cannot stay calm when stressed.

“We have somewhere between a quarter and a third of our kids that are really struggling through some things,” Dr. Timmis pointed out. “We’re seeing it in the schools. We have to break it down and figure out what’s going on. Out of all the insights this is the one that is most troubling.”

These are a few of the initial thoughts from the survey that was “hot off the press” as Dr. Timmis described it. The information is being processed along with the focus groups’ feedback. More detailed results and conclusions along with the benchmark numbers will be released in the future.

“We have some work to do, but at least we know where to look,” Dr. Timmis said in closing.

If you would like to view the complete survey you can do so here.

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