Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new state-by-state analysis of student surveys that looks at the rigor of school work and how much students are engaged in an education that will prepare them for college and the modern workplace.
The report found, for instance, that in Pennsylvania, 39 percent of fourth-graders say that their math work is often or always too easy. Also, 34 percent of eighth-graders report that they read less than five pages either in school or at home. And in a competitive global economy where the mastery of science is increasingly crucial, 77 percent of eighth-grade science students say they aren’t being taught engineering and technology, according to the analysis of a federal database. What’s more, a significant number of students across grade levels say they don’t clearly understand what their teacher is saying.
“Over the past few years, many states have engaged in promising reforms that address the issues raised by this report. But our findings suggest we need to do far more to improve the learning experience for all students,” said Ulrich Boser, co-author of the report and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. “We hope that the findings and recommendations outlined in this report foster new and better ways to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.”
The findings come at a key time. Researchers increasingly believe that surveys of students can provide important insights into a teacher’s effectiveness. When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released findings from their Measures of Effective Teaching project last year, they found that student feedback was a far better predictor of a teacher’s performance than more traditional indicators of success such as whether a teacher had a master’s degree. The mounting evidence on the importance of student surveys has been shaping policy at the state and local level as well. Still, this important source of information—the student—has yet to find its full voice.
The report’s authors, Ulrich Boser and Lindsay Rosenthal, examined one of the richest sources of national student survey data and conducted an analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s background surveys. Key national findings from the analysis include:
- Many schools are not challenging students, and large percentages of students report that their school work is “too easy.” Nearly one-third of eighth-grade math students nationwide report that their math work is often or always too easy. Among high schoolers, 21 percent of 12th graders say their math work is often or always too easy, while more than half report that their civics and history work is often or always too easy.
- Many students are not engaged in rigorous learning activities. Almost a third of eighth-grade students report reading less than five pages a day either in school or for homework. They also report that they rarely write lengthy answers to reading questions on tests, and just a third of students write long answers on reading tests less than once or twice per year. Thirty-nine percent of 12th-grade students say they hardly ever or once or twice a month write about what they read in class.
- Students don’t have access to key science and technology learning opportunities. Most teenagers say their schools don’t provide important learning opportunities in science and technology. For instance, 72 percent of eighth-grade students say they are not taught about engineering and technology.
- Too many students don’t understand their teacher’s questions and report that they are not learning during class. Nationwide, less than two-thirds of middle-school students and just under 50 percent of 12th-grade students report they feel like they are always or almost always learning in math class. Students also report difficulty understanding their teacher’s questions.
- Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have access to more rigorous learning opportunities. Seventy-four percent of higher-income fourth-grade students say they often or always understand what their science teacher is saying, compared with just 56 percent of lower-income fourth-grade students.
Based on these key findings, the analysis provides the following recommendations:
- Policymakers must continue to push for higher, more challenging standards. Districts, states, and the federal government must invest in raising the bar so all students graduate from high school ready for college and the workplace. This includes expecting more of teachers, parents, and our schools.
- Students need more rigorous learning opportunities, and our nation needs to figure out ways to provide all students with the teachers—and the teaching—that they deserve. For instance, we need to do more to promote next-generation teacher evaluation systems that give teachers the feedback that they need.
- Researchers and educators should continue to develop student surveys. While the National Assessment of Educational Progress surveys clearly tell us something about students’ experiences in their classroom, more sophisticated survey instruments must be developed to capture student perspectives.
Read the report: Do Schools Challenge our Students? What Student Surveys Tell Us About the State of Education in the U.S. by Ulrich Boser and Lindsay Rosenthal
- Interactive Map: How Much Are Students Learning
- State Data: A State-by-state breakdown of selected student survey results
To speak with a CAP expert on this topic, please contact Katie Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.741.6285.