The Impact of Student Engagement on Learning: The School Improvement Process Is Moving Too Slowly for Many of Our Young People. Student Engagement Is Usually the Missing Link to Providing a Stimulating and Challenging Education

By Kidwell, Cricket F. L. | Leadership, March-April 2010 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Student Engagement on Learning: The School Improvement Process Is Moving Too Slowly for Many of Our Young People. Student Engagement Is Usually the Missing Link to Providing a Stimulating and Challenging Education


Kidwell, Cricket F. L., Leadership


Something is amiss in the education accountability system. While significant gains in reading and math have been made at primary grades over the course of California's testing program, recent research data has identified issues that pose barriers to effective student learning. More specifically, the question of how well are we preparing young people to assume roles in the workforce, as citizens, and as leaders in the 21st century has met with disappointing conclusions.

The bad news is reinforced by current research that reports low graduation completion rates, stagnant scores in history-social science and science, minimal increases in proficient and advanced scores at upper grade levels, and insufficient attention to writing skills and life skills across the curriculum. In addition, we have seen negligible progress in the integration of career tech, 21st century skills, civic education and student engagement. The time has come to focus attention on the quality of instruction for students and student engagement.

The National Dropout Prevention Center (2009) has reported a dismal picture of California high school graduation rates, with only 69.2 percent of enrolled freshmen completing high school. Over the course of the state testing program, California has shown minimal improvement in state standards testing scores and high school exit exam results. School improvement efforts continue to move very slowly for many students in California schools.

Monitoring system not complete

In response to the need to support the lowest performing schools in the state, the California Department of Education has established a school improvement monitoring system using academic program surveys to evaluate school improvement efforts. While each of the components is important and critical in the school improvement process, the omission of one very critical element has helped to create a very incomplete school improvement process.

Fortunately, many educational leaders recognize that student achievement is far more complex than data analysis, and high quality teaching and learning cannot be happenstance. Unfortunately, the widespread use of the monitoring system reinforces the problem.

Monitoring school improvement minus one

What if the educational leaders in California improve testing frequency, data collection, data analysis, assessment monitoring systems and school schedules, and still find that students are not adequately progressing as they move through the system?

What if we require that teachers have state-approved instructional materials, meet with colleagues regularly, test students regularly, analyze assessment data and develop pacing guides, and still find that students are feeling disenfranchised and unmotivated?

What if, in spite of all the administrative and operational changes, students perceive the curriculum to be irrelevant, meaningless and unconnected to real life? There is a part of the educational improvement equation that is not adding up. Where is student engagement?

The California Department of Education school improvement process is centered on nine Essential Program Components (EPCs) that measure school structures that support academic achievement. Of the nine EPCs, six measures are focused on reading-language arts and math (instructional materials, instructional time, lesson pacing, school administrator training, instructional assistance and support for teachers, and a student monitoring system).

The above EPCs, along with the three that focus on credentialed teachers and professional development, teacher collaboration meetings, and fiscal support, are all focused on administrative operations. None of the nine components address student engagement, student involvement in the learning process, development of higher-level thinking skills, or application of skills.

None of the EPCs mention strategies for active learning. …

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