Maryland Schools: Engagement Is Key Factor in Top-Rated Schools

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Maryland Schools: Engagement Is Key Factor in Top-Rated Schools
We look at research by Gallup that shows the schools in Montgomery County that achieved the highest ratings in the recent U.S. News rankings also rated highest in terms of student engagement.

The annual ranking of the top-performing high schools in the country was recently published by U.S. News and World Report. Two criteria were used to create this list; standardized test scores in math and reading and performance on Advanced Placement exams. However, Gallup is taking the process a step further to look at other factors that might contribute to top performance across the nation. The polling company focused on one of the largest school districts in the country, Montgomery County Schools, for their analysis.

The Gallup Student Poll

Gallup brings decades of experience in data collection and analysis to the table in establishing their new Student Poll. According to the website, this poll is designed to utilize student factors in measuring academic performance and success in schools. The poll is focused on three key indicators of student success:

  • Engagement – This indicator gauges a student’s enthusiasm and participation in his school. Gallup has found that students that are more engaged in their school environment tend to perform better academically as well.
  • Hope – A student’s hope for his future motivates him to show up for class, earn credits toward graduation and maintain a solid grade point average. The scores for this indicator actually provide more insight to a student’s success than grade point average or scores on college examinations.
  • Wellbeing – A student’s well-being is a window into what that student thinks of himself and the world around him. Student well-being provides information on how a student is doing in school and how successful he will be.

These intangibles are measured through a series of questions answered by participating students. The survey is short, taking 10 minutes or less to complete. It covers 20 core subjects involving how students feel about themselves, their families, their schools, and their community life.

The Gallup Student Poll will be administered online during the fall of each school year. Public schools may participate in the survey at no cost to them. Participation is purely voluntary. Gallup plans to track survey results over the next 10 years to accurately understand how much engagement, hope, and well-being impact a student’s academic success. Schools will be able to use this data to make improvements to the school environment that will make a positive difference in student performance.

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Montgomery Schools Signs On

The Gazette reports that Montgomery County Schools became a participant in the Gallup Student Poll this year, with 76 percent of the staff and 53 percent of students taking the survey. The results showed that both employees of the school system and students are slightly less engaged in their school environment than in other school districts across the country. The poll indicated that around 53 percent of students in Montgomery say they are engaged in their schools, while 57 percent of students nationwide said the same.

By the same token, approximately 36 percent of school staff said they were engaged in their Montgomery school versus 45 percent of school staff on a national level. Interestingly, Montgomery school principals are very engaged in their school environment, which can breed academic success even when other factors are somewhat lagging.

Montgomery students ranked in a similar fashion to their peers across the country in terms of hope for the future but slightly lower than the national average in well-being. However, Tim Hodges, director of research for Gallup Education, told the Gazette that individual school results were a more significant measuring tool than the numbers attributed to the entire district.

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Higher Scores Mean Higher Performance

The Gallup Blog reports that a direct correlation between high scores and high academic performance could be seen when individual school scores were evaluated. According to the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings, seven Montgomery high schools made the list of gold medal schools, with six of those schools appearing as the top high schools in the state of Maryland as well. The ranked Montgomery schools made up one-third of all the top-ranking schools in Maryland.

Nearly 70,000 students in Montgomery participated in the Gallup poll, ensuring sufficient results to accurately correlate the two. Gallup compared the scores of their Student Poll with the U.S. News rankings and found that the top schools in the rankings also had the highest scores in hope, engagement, and wellbeing. Even though the school district received relatively low marks on the Gallup poll overall, the schools that bucked that trend also appeared to have the highest scores on standardized tests and college prep examinations, suggesting the Gallup factors are also strong indicators of student achievement.

Hodges, the author of the Gallup blog, stated in his post, “We believe that the high schools ranked highest on the 2012 Gallup Student Poll measures of hope and engagement will rank highly on the U.S. News and World Report’s list for next year. For now, we encourage every school in the country to sign up for the Fall 2013 administration of the Gallup student poll.

At a time when standardized test scores are closely scrutinized to the point where funding and curriculum begin to revolve around those exams, it is refreshing to see new criteria used to gauge student success. While the Gallup indicators are more subjective and intangible than test scores, there are very real actions schools can take to improve those factors to improve students’ academic performance overall. Over the next 10 years, the Gallup Student Poll may prove its place on the academic scene as a starting point for improving student achievement across the country.

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