Continuing my review of HSSSE materials, seeking to learn more about how schools are using student engagement data (in part in preparation for a presentation next month). One great source of information is in the 2009 report, a 25 page letter on the HSSSE data from 2009, and, more importantly, case studies in how the data are being used for school improvement in five schools or districts.
The only independent school profiled, Explorations Academy, takes its HSSSE data very seriously.
When the HSSSE data come back to the school, there are usually two kinds of initial analyses that emerge from the data: One set of responses are the “congratulations,” the things that students affirm the school is doing well.
Another set of responses are the “eye-openers” for staff, the areas that students say need more work…the school works on these issues, through “robust” staff discussions in which “HSSSE figures pretty prominently”; assumptions are uncovered and tested, and student engagement data are used to plan programs and processes, driven by an important central question: “Will something new gain us an additional unit of educational growth?”
There are three important forums in which Explorations Academy makes use of HSSSE data. The first is in-house, as part of the school development and improvement process, in which the staff wrestles with the data to identify areas in which school practices can be more tightly connected to the mission and philosophy of the school: “HSSSE is the first tool we’ve found that gives us quantitative data that matches our outcomes…HSSSE asks the kinds of questions we should be asking in all of our schools.”
The second forum is for promotion of the school, with an audience comprised of potential students. The data provide ways in which Kirkpatrick can identify to prospective students and families both strengths of the school and areas that the school continues to work on, through the voices of current students; use of the data in this way
creates a vivid picture of the student experience for outsiders.
The third forum is centered on performance and credibility; the audience here is comprised of the school’s accrediting bodies and funders. Much of the budget of Explorations Academy is raised through private donors and foundations; it is important that HSSSE data provide a way to compare the school to a nationwide pool of respondents.
Student engagement data play a role in helping Explorations Academy fulfill its mission: “We discovered HSSSE as a tool that offers quantifiable data about some of the things that we focus on – relevance of learning, exposure to new ideas, diversity in curriculum…HSSSE has filled a niche and a very important niche.”
I appreciate all of this. Clearly Explorations looks at this much like I do, particularly in the recognition and appreciation that this data is so wonderfully and exactly aligned with the central goal of their school: meaningful student engagement, knowing that true and significant learning can only follow from engagement. I like the messaging here that Explorations takes their data seriously, and I like very much they use the data for school marketing and for school accountability, as I intend to. And yet, unfortunately, there is still not a lot of detail about what, exactly, they do with the data to improve their program– (except for an generalized expression they should take student voices more seriously).
One of the public schools taking the data seriously is Yorkville School:
student engagement has become a primary issue that Shimp and Burks are trying to address at the high school, and this effort is spreading across multiple areas, including structures, practices, and professional development: “There was an assumption that ‘if we teach it, you will learn it.’ We have to move from the teaching aspect to the learning aspect,” says Shimp.
This shift means that what students think, how they learn, and how they are experiencing school will all play important roles in Yorkville High School’s improvement process. Though the school has not done much staff development on student engagement, Shimp says that the survey data will “steer some changes. We are looking for more intentional ways of impacting kids.”
One of those areas will be the school schedule, in which the school is figuring out whether to continue with block scheduling, go back to a traditional schedule, or move to a hybrid format. One student stated on the HSSSE 2009 survey, “Block scheduling is not good and teachers should not lecture the whole time.” Shimp noted that block scheduling “has assisted space issues, as we are a high-growth district, but perhaps it created dis-engagement. We haven’t talked about how to keep kids engaged for 90 minutes.”
One thing is for sure – students’ voices will be heard in Yorkville. Traditionally, schools create structures to address a variety of needs: space, schedules, course requirements, and specific issues that arise in the school context. Shimp is taking a different course of action: “Engagement will drive structures” at Yorkville, tying the creation of structures and programs together with how students experience those structures and programs.
I think this is more helpful: the school looked closely at achievement patterns in the school, and tied them to engagement issues; they looked at student reported sources of disengagement, such as 90 minute periods in which teachers lectured the entire time, and focussed on how school structures need to change to correct this pattern of disengagement. (As an aside, I would have preferred they examined continuing with 90 minute period but using the time differently, in project based or inquiry driven lessons where students are able to learn by doing in collaborate, engaging activities rather than listening to lectures).