Scott Small Discusses Student Engagement with Parents

At this week’s “Sessions with Small,” Scott Small, Head of Upper School, shared information with parents about student intellectual engagement, achievement and wellness, and academic schedule and pressure points. There was time for a question-and-answer session and meaningful discussion on this important topic. 

One key takeaway — according to their rating of their classroom experiences, Upper School students are both enjoying the overwhelming majority of their classes and are finding them challenging at the same time.

How do we know this? Well, as you may know, MICDS is a data-driven school. The School employs measurement and survey tools to track student engagement. One such tool is the Wellington Student Engagement Grid where students rank their classroom experiences on a grid with “hate it” to “love it” on the horizontal axis and “unchallenged” to “challenged” on the vertical axis. Students complete this simple but elegant feedback grid once per trimester in the Upper School. This longitudinal data allows the Upper School to measure growth over time at grade levels within specific disciplines and across the division. It also provides anonymous and aggregated data to teachers so that they can measure their own impact in the classroom. In addition, it allows the Student Support Group the opportunity to identify students who are not feeling fully empowered in their academic experience to ensure appropriate support and intervention. While this tool has only been used for a couple of years, the data is compelling: the vast majority of student ratings fall in the first quadrant with both “love it” and “challenged” as positive indicators.  Students are reporting that, on average, they both love and are challenged by the majority of their classes in the Upper School.

The High School Survey for Student Engagement is another tool used to both measure and inform practices in the Upper School. All Upper School students participated in this survey last spring. From that survey, students report that they are challenged to their full academic potential in most of their classes. The specific question asked on the survey is, “About how many of your classes challenge you to your full academic potential? (1=None, 2=Some, 3=Most, 4=All).” The MICDS Upper School mean score result for this question is 2.91. The National Association of Independent Schools’ mean is 2.68; thus, MICDS is about 9% higher than independent schools are reporting nationally (the HSSSE Public School mean score is 2.39).
Upper School administration is also evaluating how best to balance student achievement and wellness given the many demands that students encounter. Currently, Upper School students report spending more than 7 hours per week on homework. While this number is just a starting point, the Upper School faculty is working to understand what the student experience is as our students work their way through Upper School. Mr. Small shared some thoughtful questions that are guiding their continued work on this initiative, such as “What stresses are meaningful learning experiences (productive struggle being an important one)? What stresses are we perpetuating that are harmful to development? And what “stresses” are really over-inflated?” 
Given the strong correlation between both engagement and wellness in shaping student achievement, the ongoing goal in the Upper School is to ensure an environment where our young men and women are both challenged and supported to reach their full potential.