Student engagement drops – again – during the pandemic

Idaho’s student engagement dropped to a new low during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data released Tuesday by the State Department of Education.

Only 45.7% of students reported being engaged with school during a 2021 survey. That’s down from 52.6% in 2019 and 65% the year before that. (Engagement scores dropped in 2019 when high school students were added to the survey). The data wasn’t collected in 2020 amid pandemic disruptions.

The engagement survey measures students’ degree of curiosity, interest and optimism. It’s an important measure in Idaho education because it’s one measure of accountability that state superintendent Sherri Ybarra chose to use in Idaho’s plan to comply with a federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act. Officials chose student engagement over other potential indicators, including chronic absenteeism, after administrators and educators pushed back saying they couldn’t be responsible for student attendance.

EdNews previously reported on a breakdown of the engagement survey results across three key indicators (behavioral, cognitive and emotional), but the comprehensive engagement scores were not available at the time.

The category breakdown shows that student’s emotional engagement suffered especially during the pandemic.

Just over 20% of the 185,000 students who responded to the survey were emotionally “disengaged” from school. Emotional engagement measures a student’s feelings about their classroom and school, their sense of belonging and feelings of connectedness.

Comparatively, about 9% of students were disengaged either “behaviorally” or “cognitively.” Behavioral engagement measures student’s positive conduct, effort or participation. Cognitive engagement measures a student’s investment in school and learning.

“Plainly put, some students did not feel safe or struggled to find meaningful connections with peers, which thwarts their emotional well being and engagement with school,” Molly Strauss, president of the Idaho Association of School Psychologists told EdNews in June.

Granular data shows that engagement declined as students got older. Nearly 70% of third  graders were considered engaged this year, but that dropped below 40% for middle-schoolers. Only one in three high school students was considered engaged with school.

Nine of the 10 school districts with the highest student engagement scores this year are public charter schools:

  • Mosaics Public School: 73%
  • Doral Academy of Idaho: 71.5%
  • Pinecrest Academy of Idaho: 69.8%
  • The Village Charter School: 66.4%
  • Treasure Valley Classical Academy: 66.2%
  • Future Public School: 65.7%
  • North Star Charter School: 65.6%
  • Preston Joint District: 64.8%
  • Syringa Mountain School: 64.6%
  • Legacy Public Charter School: 63%
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