The Memorial Crusader News recently distributed a survey to students about their school engagement last year, this year, and their feedback about quarter one. In just five short days the survey received 207 responses so the results are being broken down into multiple stories. This article examines student engagement at Memorial comparing last year’s in-person first quarter to the remote final quarter.
First off, students were asked how engaged they felt in their classes during the face-to-face quarter. The survey defined “engagement” as the action of actually participating. On a scale of one to five with one being “very low” and five being “very high,” 4.3% of students answered one, 9.7% answered two, 28% answered three, 36.2% answered four, and 27.7% answered five. Clearly, a majority of the students involved in the survey felt moderately engaged or better during the first quarter of last year. Now, compare that to the last quarter of last year where 14.5% answered one, 21.3% answered two, 27.5% answered three, 23.7% answered four, and only 13% answered five. Those results on their own may not seem bad, but there is a 10.2% increase in the number of students who had “very low” engagement in their remote classes. That same trend continues with the rest of the number. More students were reporting engagement levels of one through three and there were far fewer fours and fives.
The second set of questions compared student engagement in individual classes. This category was a little tricky because it was set up as a checklist. If students felt engaged in a class, they checked it off. If they did not feel engaged, they left it blank. However, subjects like business and family and consumer science reported very low engagement because not many students were taking those classes to begin with. For that reason, rather than examining the percentages of engagement from the first quarter and last quarter, only the difference in percentages will be looked at. In the survey, the subjects were listed in alphabetical order. For clarity in this article, though, they will be in order from least to most affected. There was a 1% drop in engagement for family and consumer sciences, a 1% drop for special education classes, a 1.5% drop for business classes, a 1.5% drop for English language learning, a 2.4% drop for physical education/health classes, a 4.4% drop for technology education classes, a 6.3% drop for social studies classes, a 6.8% drop for art classes, a 6.8% drop for music classes, a 6.8% drop for world languages, a 9.2% drop for English classes, a 12.5% drop for science classes, and a 13% drop for math classes. Student engagement in every single subject suffered. The largest drops in engagement were for math and science classes. This could be due to the way these classes are structured. Science tends to be very hands-on with lab experiments and in-class demonstrations. Math is similar with an abundance of board notes and going over homework questions. If teachers and students are glued to a computer screen for six or more hours each day, experiments and board notes become difficult or even impossible and the ability for students to pay attention is, understandably, shot.
Third, students were asked to select statements that applied to their teachers. These statements all started with “I felt like most of my teachers…” and then branched off into “tried to build positive relationships with me,” “cared about more than just my grades,” “were understanding of the outside factors that could impact my learning,” and “made assumptions about things outside of school that might impact my learning.” Students had the ability to select one or more of these statements that they felt applied to their teachers during the first quarter and last quarter. For the first quarter, 60.4% of students said their teachers tried to build positive relationships with them, 40.6% said teachers cared about more than just their grades, 48.8% said teachers were understanding of the outside factors that could impact their learning, and 20.3% said teachers made assumptions about things outside of school that could impact their learning. As far as the remote quarter results, the first category dropped to 38.2%, the second category raised to 43%, the third category raised to 50.7%, and the fourth category raised to 28%. Aside from teachers building positive relationships with their students, which dropped 10.6%, all of the categories increased which is a largely positive thing. Even if remote learning made engagement more difficult, students felt that their teachers cared more about their grades and were more understanding of outside factors that could impact their learning. The last category about teachers making assumptions about things that could impact students’ learning also increased, but that does not seem as blatantly positive as the prior two statements. However, all three increases were likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, teachers started caring more about students’ mental health during this time of crisis, understood outside factors like technology issues or a relative getting the virus, and made assumptions about school being harder since the whole world was suffering. Some anonymous survey-takers pointed out that the question did not have a “none of the above” option and that they would have selected that if there was one. However, as long as these students selected the same option(s) for both the first and last quarters, it should not have dramatically skewed the data.
Overall, the switch to remote learning at the end of the 2019-2020 school year caused student engagement to take a dip. Although, teachers seemed to gain more of an understanding of how difficult life is for high schoolers, even if a lot of that difficulty was due to a global pandemic. Be sure to look out for the next article in this mini-series, “The Remote Impact on Students: Engagement This Year.”