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Volume 24, Number 6
November/December 2008

Answers and Questions

Schools survey their students—and grapple with the results


The most common open-ended response on the High School Survey of Student Engagement is perhaps the most revealing.

“Many kids say, ‘Why are we taking this survey? No one will listen to us,’” says Ethan Yazzie-Mintz, survey director at the Center for Evaluation and Policy at Indiana University, whose 2008 High School Survey of Student Engagement reached 68,000 students in 29 states. Although it may sound like a throwaway line, says Yazzie-Mintz, their comment nails the problem precisely: students don’t feel heard.

While principals, teachers, and education policymakers are constantly parsing data on student achievement, there is growing concern that data on student engagement—and other aspects of students’ experience—are missing. A significant body of evidence links student engagement to graduation rates and academic success. But while educators may think they are involving students intellectually, socially, and emotionally, students often see it differently.

Large-scale student surveys are fast becoming valuable tools for educators. Access to student perceptions, proponents say, offers better information on everything from how welcoming a school is to how well students understand the nuts and bolts of the college application process.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

W. Damon. The Path to Purpose: Helping Our Children Find Their Calling in Life, New York: Free Press, 2008.

J.D. Finn. “Withdrawing from School.” Review of Educational Research 59, no. 2 (Summer 1989): 117–142.

K. Marquez-Zenkov, J. Harmon, P. van Lier, and M. Marquez-Zenkov. “If They’ll Listen to Us about Life, We’ll Listen to Them about School: Seeing City Students’ Ideas about ‘Quality’ Teachers.” Education Action Research 15, no. 3 (September 2007): 403–415.

High School Survey of Student Engagement,

Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations,

Tell Them From Me Survey,