Our 2nd HSSSE (High School Survey of Student Engagement) report has arrived, and we are delighted about our results.   We are one of only three AZ schools which administers the HSSSE because we are serious about our students’ engagement in learning.  Our students continue to outpace the national norms in every category of engagement in learning.  Our students report double the national HSSSE population, for instance, in often writing papers of greater than five pages, in often receiving helpful feedback on assignments, and in the school’s emphasizing analyzing ideas in depth.

Two notes on the slides above:  1. The graphs are not easy to read; to view more clearly, click on menu in the lower left hand corner, then “view full screen.”  2. Because the all-school results changed very little from 2009-2010, we kept the graphs simpler and less cluttered by using the 2009 all-HSSSE  school results as the baseline.

However, in several of the data points we track, our school-wide results declined from 2009 to 2010.  After careful review and scrutiny, we believe this is primarily due to the school’s population having reconfigured quite significantly from 2009 to 2010:  the population surveyed went from only 19% freshmen in 2009 to 33% in 2010, and so in  areas where 9th graders are less likely to respond positively (as an example, 9th graders are likely to experience less opportunity to have a  “voice in the classroom” because our 9th grade classes are more content-driven and more lecture-0riented), our overall numbers declined.  Another example is that 9th graders are not asked as often to write papers of more than five pages in length, so our results in that area declined.  This is not to say we will not give ongoing attention to these areas, or that we will not give continued attention to improving them.  We will.

A very positive result for us is in the kind of discussions we are facilitating.   A year ago we gave particular attention to this question:  How Often Have you Discussed questions in class that have no clear answers? (Slides 5 and 6) While other school’s students reported they did so often or sometimes 72% of the time, our students in 2009 reported that to be the case 82% of the time.    In reviewing it last year, we discussed the importance of having students do so; this also came up repeatedly in our discussions as a faculty last fall in reviewing our 2009 summer reading, Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap.   The new results are in, and students answering often or sometimes soared to 92%.  (Those answering “often” remained even at 45%, so there is still room for improvement there).

We added this year new attention to the section 25 questions: What engages and excites you in learning? If we are serious about engaging students in their learning and in respecting their voice, we need to be serious about what they tell us engages them.   On slide 9, you can find the St. Gregory student results and compare them to all students in the HSSSE survey group.   One thing to be found there is although our students, across the board, find everything in learning more exiting and engaging than the full HSSSE student population, the two lines line up remarkably consistently.

Students here and everywhere report that discussion and debate in class (87 StG, 65 all)  is far more engaging and exciting than teacher lectures (51 StG, 28 all), and both groups report that group projects (66 St.G, 60 All) and projects involving technology (74 StG, 55 All) are near the top.   This is especially good news for us, because with our new WINGS initiative with laptops for every students, we are making a big, school-wide shift, to more project based learning using technology.

I was glad to see that nearly twice as many of our students report lectures to be exciting/engaging as compared to the national average (we have some fine lecturers on our faculty!).

We also added to our review (Slide 10) the numbers on what our students reported to be their plans after high school:  99% report college, compared to 70 percent across the board; more meaningfully, nearly twice as many St. Gregory students report planning to attend graduate/professional school after college when compared to this national norm group (85 St.G, 44 All).   Sometimes I think we should change the name from St. Gregory College Preparatory School to St. Gregory Graduate School Preparatory School.

Two areas where student responses from the 2010 administration last March disappoint happen to be exactly the two areas of greatest reform and progress in the school this year. First, in slide 3, we want to see progress upwards in students feeling they have a voice in the classroom and the school, and we also want a higher number of students who report there is at least one adult who knows me well.   Our new faculty advisory program is intended, and it may take a little bit of time, to advance our success in both these areas.   As school head, I know I need to do more to provide ways for students to have, and to recognize and feel they have, a voice at the school; this is a place where my principles and ideals are not being matched by my practices effectively enough.

On slide 8, we experienced a downward trend in students agreeing with the statement that the school emphasizes using computers for class.  I think this might be again the result of the 9th grade disproportionate skew from 2009 to 2010, but nonetheless, we believe that computers are used by professional adults in their learning and problem-solving very, very often, and our educational program needs to align with that.  Hence, our Wings 1:1 laptop program, and the expectation that this number will climb dramatically in the future.

Earlier this week, our faculty spent an hour reviewing this report: six groups each had 2-4 slides to analyze, and then were asked to discuss which data points they found most interesting, how they interpreted those data points, and what actions they suggested we take to improve our results (and in improving our results, improve our students’ engagement)?  Below are some notes from that meeting.

1.  About the declining percentage of our students reporting writing papers more than five pages in length often, part of the answer is the ninth grade skew.  But not all.  One teacher group answered:

We may be assigning more projects than papers; teachers may be assigning shorter and/or more frequent papers; not having a senior paper could have led to this decrease in percentage.  It would be great to have a major paper for seniors in preparation for their college career.

2. About the important issue of discussing questions with no clear answer, where the number of our student reporting this happened sometimes or often improved, but the number of students reporting this happened often remained the same, a teacher group said we should consider:

Possible requirement of teachers to include at least one open-ended question on an exam; discuss open-ended questions in class; solicit questions from students; assign papers on open-ended topics.

3.  About our school’s success in the response rate to the question does the school emphasize analyzing ideas in depth and exploring new ideas (slides 7 & 8), our teachers said:

Higher ratings for emphasizing analytical ideas; we are very excited about this.

  • Small classes have an impact on our higher numbers;  low student-teacher ratios, etc.
  • Teaching for analytical ideas is conducive to project-based/problem-based, seminar structure and mind-set.
  • Keep it up!

4.  In reviewing the slide about student perceptions of learning being exciting and engaging, the responses included the following:

1.  teach more to college level; incorporate more information; require more responsibility for their own learning; if 91% of the student body is “all” or “most and all” challenged, then we’re trying to appeal to 9%; is that 9% challenged or simply discouraged/apathetic?
2. improve relevance; incorporate more debate, discussion, technology; however, learning doesn’t have to be entertaining. Students develop virtue through the discipline of work. (side note: this survey would be really interesting (and relevant) to give freshman year in college, when they can look back on their education and compare it more to the “real world” — did it pay off?)
3. incorporate more discussion, debate, and technology

HSSSE results matter to us, and we are going to continue to take them seriously.   We think that these results, on the whole, represent an excellent endorsement of the quality of learning at St. Gregory.  But, even where they don’t, it is my hope that readers appreciate our willingness to be transparent about those disappointments and respect our commitment to improving our results.    Excellence in schooling is two-fold: it is both excellence of results and also excellence in seeking and reflecting upon data about effectiveness and being serious about using these data for improvement.   At St. Gregory, we are proud to say, both of these qualities of excellence are happening.